The 1940s saw technological advancement grow by leaps and bounds in response to the challenges of World War II. University, government and private industry scientists worked together to turn ideas into inventions. A huge influx of government money into research and development led to an explosion of technological innovations -- and numerous commercial products.
The first atom bomb was set off on July 16, 1945, in the Jemez Mountains of northern New Mexico. The Manhattan Project -- code name for the U.S. government's secret project that culminated in the nuclear bomb -- started in late 1939 after Albert Einstein warned Franklin Roosevelt that the Germans were developing nuclear weapons. The research and weapon-design scientists at Los Alamos, New Mexico, collaborated with the Harold Urey guided uranium enrichment team at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, to build the bomb.
The invention of the microwave oven was a byproduct of the rapid advancements made in radar technology during World War II. In 1946, Dr. Percy Spencer, a Raytheon Corporation engineer, noticed that a magnetron vacuum tube could melt candy, pop popcorn and explode eggs. Spencer invented a box that trapped and condensed microwave energy to quickly cook food. Raytheon developed the device into the first commercial microwave oven in 1947. It was 5-1/2 feet tall, weighed 750 lbs. and cost $5,000.
The world's first electronic digital computer was built by John Atanasoff and Clifford Berry in 1942 at Iowa State University. The builders designed the ABC special-purpose computer to solve linear equations. With funding from the United States Army, physicist John Mauchly developed the rudimentary computer into the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer. The 18,000 vacuum tube powered machine solved the Army's problem of computing artillery and bombing tables. The machine replaced more than 200 women working with mechanical desk calculators.
The first color television receiver was demonstrated by John Logie Baird in 1940. The monochromatic picture tube TV featured 600 lines of resolution. A rotating disc fitted with transparent color filters and placed in front of the screen supplied the color. By 1944, the Telechrome tube was developed with color projected onto a fluorescent screen by three internal electron guns. The screen's embedded phosphors glowed in three colors from exposure to the electron stream.