Nuclear Submarine

Nuclear submarines can stay underwater for an unlimited amount of time, or at least until the food runs out. Prior to nuclear subs, there were diesel-electric subs, that still exist today. However, these subs use diesel engines to recharge batteries. Therefore, diesel subs must surface to turn on the diesel engines and recharge their batteries, limiting their range.

Nuclear submarines, including the first one, were designed to remain underwater indefinitely. Rather than remaining close to coastal waters, nuclear submarines are able to travel the globe. In particular, nuclear sub routinely sail under the polar ice caps and are capable of breaking through the ice to surface.


The first nuclear submarine is the Nautilus, launched Jan. 21, 1954. It was tested for years, becoming the first ship to reach the North Pole on Aug. 3, 1958. Eventually, in 1960, it was assigned to the Sixth Fleet as an active-duty submarine. However, by 1966 new technologies rendered Nautilus obsolete and it was retired as a training submarine.

Nuclear submarine technology evolved and, eventually, the ships were equipped with all manner of weapons besides ordinary torpedoes. Nuclear submarines can launch cruise missiles and even full-blown nuclear ballistic missiles. Since they’re quiet and travel under the polar ice caps it is virtually impossible to destroy a nuclear submarine before it launches missiles unless an enemy submarine is nearby.

The USSR eventually developed their own nuclear sub but the early versions, and even some more recent models, lack reliability. The first Soviet nuclear submarine, the K-19, launched in 1958 and earned the nickname “the widowmaker.”

Both the US and USSR/Russia developed two basic types of nuclear submarines, bombers that launched ballistic missiles and hunters that destroyed other submarines and supported special operation missions. There is a broad consensus that the combination of a nuclear submarine armed with nuclear ballistic missiles is the most powerful weapon developed in history.

Nuclear Weapons

Caltech professor Robert Oppenheimer lead a team of researchers at Los Alamos to invent the atomic bomb. Along with some of the most noteworthy physicists in the world, he oversaw the development of the nuclear bomb.

The Manhattan Project, like the code-breaking at Bletchley Park, was intensely secretive. Los Alamos, in New Mexico, was built to house the many scientists, technicians, and other soldiers working on the bomb.

Nobel Laureates Enrico Fermi and Niels Bohr worked alongside countless others towards the goal of creating a super-weapon to defeat Hitler’s Nazis. Einstein did not live in Los Alamos but consulted on the project. von Neumann did not live at Los Alamos but visited frequently, helping to develop the technology.

On August 6, 1945, the US dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. Furthermore, three days later, August 9, the US dropped the second and last nuclear bomb ever used in war on Nagasaki, Japan. Thereafter, Emporer Hirohito announced an unconditional surrender on August 15, 1945, ending WWII.

“We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people cried. Most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad Gita; Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty and, to impress him, takes on his multi-armed form and says, ‘Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.’ I suppose we all thought that, one way or another.”

Oppenheimer, 1965.

On Dec. 21, 1953, the US government revoked Oppenheimer’s security clearance due to his opposition to war. He died in 1967, age 62.

The Gadget in the test tower. Photo courtesy of Los Alamos National Laboratory.
First Nuclear Weapon

Tetraethyllead (Leaded Gasoline)

Leaded gasoline prevented engine ping, making driving safer and more pleasant. Correspondingly, it also caused an enormous amount of extremely toxic pollution.

Working for GM under the direct supervision of Charles Kettering at Dayton Research Laboratory, Midgley discovered the benefits of adding lead to gasoline. They named their innovation Tetraethyllead, avoiding any mention of lead, a known toxin.

Eventually, Tetraethyllead leaded gasoline became the standard, with tailpipes emitting poison throughout the world.

Eventually, the catalytic converter enabled lead-free gasoline. Virtually all countries banned Midgley’s leaded gasoline by the mid-1990s and early 2000s.

Speculation remains that the lead pollution had profound health and environmental impact. A substantive decline in violent crime is sometimes attributed to the banning of Midgley’s Tetraethyllead.

Midgley’s lead plant both killed many people and drove others insane.

Midgley also invented CFC’s putting him in the running for the most destructive scientist of all time, short-listed with the likes of Fritz Haber.

Eventually, Midgley died from a pully contraption he invented.

Chemical Warfare

Chemical warfare refers to using chemicals as a weapon of mass destruction, killing many people at once. Fritz Haber, the inventor of the ammonia extraction process, is also the father of modern chemical warfare.

On Jan. 31, 1915, Germany used a type of tear gas on allied troops. Due to the temperature, the chemicals failed to vaporize.

On Apr. 22, 1915, Germans launched 168 tons of chlorine towards allied positions, killing about 6,000 people and blinding more. Fritz Haber, the scientist personally supervised the release of the chlorine.

Haber’s first wife committed suicide after realizing his role in the countless deaths in WWI.

Haber, who was Jewish but tried converting to Christianity, also invented Zyklon A. That is the poison that would evolve into Zyklon B, used during the Holocaust to murder Haber’s extended family.

Towards the end of his life, the Nazis turned on Haber due to his Jewish origin. After locking him out of his lab, Haber fled Germany and died, soon after, in 1934.

Related image
Haber (pointing) instructing the use of chemical weapons

Synthetic Ammonia

Fritz Haber arguably saved and killed more people than any other single person in history.

Synthetic ammonia vastly lowered the cost of making fertilizer, explosives, and other chemicals.

The process to create synthetic ammonia was a concurrent invention. That is, two scientists came up with it at the same time independently of one another.

Because it allows for inexpensive fertilizer, the Haber-Bosch is responsible for approximately half the food grown in the world today. Fritz Haber, who both invented and also commercialized the process, saved billions of lives.

However, there is a darker history. Haber was a German Jew, a key German chemist developing chemical weapons for Germany in WWI. He oversaw their first use at the Second Battle of Ypres, where approximately 67,000 allied troops were killed in one gassing. His first wife committed suicide after learning how many people he helped kill.

Later, the institute he founded invented Zyklon A. Nazis used a successor chemical, Zyklon B, to murder millions in death camps including many members of Haber’s family. This caused his second wife to leave him, with the marriage ending in divorce.

Both, like Haber, converted from Judaism to Christianity though the Nazis did not care and banned Haber from his lab. He escaped Nazi Germany but died soon after the Nazi’s ascent to power in Basel, Switzerland.

Haber won the 1919 Nobel Prize in Chemistry but died a miserable man.

Multi-Shot Revolver

“God created men equal, Sam Colt made them equal.”

Samuel Colt


Colt’s revolver reduced the cost and risk of settling the US. Before the revolver, Native Americans could shoot arrows faster than pioneers could reload muskets, making westward travel and settlement dangerous. The Colt revolver reversed the dynamics and is widely credited with winning “the Indian wars.” Colt extensively relied on standardized parts ー especially modern bullets ー to make reloading his guns faster and less expensive.


Colt had many false starts. Besides the weapon itself, historians argue it is a leap in standardized manufacturing, especially in the use of easy to load, inexpensive bullets. Collier had built and patented a multi-shot musket in 1813, that Colt likely saw while in the army. But the user was required to turn the barrel by hand to load the next bullet. Colt’s barrel automatically switched and locked into the next position (hence the name, revolver).

Colt’s gun wasn’t seen as especially useful until used, by the army, in a fight where they were vastly outnumbered by Native Americans. Whereas single-shot muskets were slow to reload, Colt revolvers ー quickly firing shot after shot ー decimated Indian tribes. A June 1844 battle led by Capt. Hayes where a small group of rangers killed a much larger group of Comanches. Colt’s weapon decisively won the battle and changed the opinion for Colt’s gun.

Colt was a strong marketer, creating popular slogans to build mythology about his guns that exists until today: “God created men equal, Col. Colt made them equal.”[1] “There is more law in a Colt six-gun than in all the law books.”


Walter Raleigh popularized tobacco, grown in the America’s, in England. He set sail in South America searching for El Dorado, the mythical city of gold. Raleigh never found the golden city but he did find tobacco, bringing it back to England. He committed a crime and was pardoned but, on a second journey in search of El Dorado, his people ransacked a Spanish outpost. To keep the peace, Raleigh was executed in 1618.

The English developed a taste for tobacco, the then popular strand which did not grow well in North America. Colonialist John Rolfe smuggled some South American tobacco seeds, cross-pollinated those, and, in 1611, created Nicotiana tabacum, modern sweet tobacco that grew abundantly in Virginia and had a high nicotine content. This became the primary cash crop for North American British colonialists. To secure more land, and keep peace, Rolfe married a native American woman, Pocahontas (who was baptized and renamed Rebecca). Eventually, they had a son, Thomas, and Rolfe returned with Pocahontas to England where she was well treated but died.

Caravel Oceanic Ship

Before the Caravel, ships were limited to coastal navigation. The Caravel, with its relatively small hull and large sails, enabled long-distance navigation over large bodies of water; it was the jetliner of its era. Invented in the mid-1400s, the Caravel — among other things — enabled Columbus to navigate from Europe to North America. Other famous Caravel explorers include Diogo Cāo, Bartolomeu Dias, and Miguel Corte-Real.

The Caravel had to types of sails, lateen which allowed it to navigate close to shore and Atlantic; heavy sails used for long-distance navigation. This flexibility made the Caravel lower cost than larger, slower ships, affording a substantive trading and military advantage to Portugal and Spain, which both quickly transformed into world powers of their day.

As time went by, sails evolved from triangular to square shapes, that are familiar in medieval drawings. Eventually, the more efficient Carrack ship superseded the Caravel.