World War One Innovators: Patriots or Capitalists?

WW1 innovators

World War One happened to pave way for what is now known as the ear of industrialization, great innovations were made. The Great War (as it became known as) lasted four years (it began in July 1914 and ended in November 1918) resulting in the deaths of 16 million people. The warfare relied heavily on new technologies and millions of pounds were spend on this war.

Britain entered the war on 4th August 1914 because it wanted to defend the liberty of other nations.  At that time, the Marconi Company was in the business of telecommunications and had made groundbreaking strides in wireless long distance communication.  During the war, the company offered the British government use of their pioneering wireless technology and even offering to train officers. This saw significant work being carried out, such as intercepting and breaking enemy codes. Whilst Marconi Company’s work might appear patriotic, after a year the company made complaints about not being compensated for their work. Meanwhile, Germany had invested quite heavily in its warfare and this soon became clear to the British that they too should do the same. In 1915, the Department of Scientific Industrial Research (DSIR) was established.

The department hired scientists and researchers to develop advanced machineries and pumped millions of pounds into it. Private industries were invited to establish collaboration with the department, going as far as extending the Defence of the Realm Act (1914) whereby industries should prioritize their work with government. When America put in its brainpower, the outcome resulted in aviation aerial combating and the tank.

When the war ended in 1918, a Royal Commission rewarded inventors for their warfare innovations. Even though Britain was reeling from a war, almost left bankrupt, as much as £1.5m (equivalent to £75m today) was handed out, The H Word reports

Technology played quite an important role in the war. Innovations such as the Marconi wireless interceptor were crucial to gaining ground on the Germans. However, the Marconi Company’s involvement in the war were heavily rewarded. This, after the company engaged into a legal battle with the British government, demanding compensation for their efforts.

This begs the question as to what prompts intelligent innovators to conceive revolutionary technologies?  Is it the huge pay check at the end of the “rocket” or is it simply a patriotic move with money merely a cherry on top?

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE