Game Theory

Game theory serves as the foundation of systematized decisionmaking and modern economics.

Indeed, Minimax game theory underlies modern economics and is responsible for countless economic insights, many of which won Nobel Prizes.

Besides game theory, von Neumann eventually modeled the lenses behind the Los Alamos plutonium nuclear bomb.

As a Jewish refugee from Europe whose home country was occupied by the Soviets, von Neumann was a vehement anti-fascist and anti-communist. Eventually, he used game theory to urge the US to destroy the Soviet Union with nuclear weapons.

“If you say why not bomb [the Soviets] tomorrow, I say, why not today? If you say today at five o’clock, I say why not one o’clock?”

John von Neumann, 1950

Like many involved in early nuclear work, von Neumann died young, from cancer, at 53.

Assault Rifle

Assault rifles can shoot repeatedly and rapidly without reloading.

Nazi’s realized that in most fire-fights soldiers were less than 400 meters. While traditional machines guns could shoot considerably further, their range was unhelpful. Furthermore, the weight of both the weapons and ammunition became a liability.

In response, Nazi’s invented a light weapon with smaller and lighter ammunition. Their weapon combined a traditional rifle with a machine gun. It was light and easy to handle. After several prototypes, they settled on Sturmgewehr 44, the first mass-produced modern assault rifle, in 1943.

The Soviet Army a rifle to counter the German weapon. Their rifle needed to be light and fire rapidly but, given the large number of uneducated Russian troops, also easy to operate. After several earlier attempted, Soviet Mikhail Kalashnikov invented the AK-47, completed soon after WWII.


Early bell suits that contained air hoses allowed people to function underwater. These bell diving suits were heavy and dangerous. Later systems relied upon compressed air and regulators, yet these were still large and impractical.

In 1942 Nazi-occupied France, Frenchmen Cousteau and Gagnan invented the first practical underwater breathing apparatus, Aqua-Lung.

In their system, called open-circuit, the air is expelled as the diver breathes out. This is sub-optimal for commandos, because the bubbles may reveal their location. However, it functioned well enough that Cousteau used the system to fight fascist Italy.

In 1952, American Major Christian Lambertsen invented and patented a closed-circuit “rebreather” used by underwater commandos since it does not create bubbles. He named this Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus, or SCUBA. Eventually, SCUBA became the term for both closed and open-circuit systems.

Cousteau made early underwater films during the war and increased his visibility after the war, becoming a well-known advocate ocean environmentalist.

Nuclear Power

One of the great physicists, Fermi won the Nobel Prize in 1938, at the age of 37. No sooner did he receive his prize than he fled from his home in fascist Italy to New York City, taking US citizenship.

Eventually, Fermi and the other nuclear scientists had convinced President Roosevelt that the Nazis could and would produce a nuclear bomb, which led the US government to grant them virtually unlimited funding.

On Dec. 2, 1942, Fermi’s reactor ー under the squash court at the University of Chicago ー went critical to become the first self-sustaining nuclear reaction.

Fermi would eventually work on the Manhattan Project, to develop nuclear weapons and the Atomic Energy Commission.

Like many early nuclear scientists, Fermi died of cancer at the young age of 53.

Eventually, in 1951, Walter Zinn connected a Fermi reactor to the rest of the equipment needed to generate electricity. This created the first working nuclear power plant.


Igor Sikorsky was a Russian aircraft designer. He created various aircraft for the Russian army, including early helicopters. No sooner did the Bolshevick’s take over than Sikorsky fled to the US after the Russian Revolution in 1919.

In the US, he created a business, Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation, designing aircraft.

His first American airplane was a fixed-wing transatlantic “flying-boat” produced for Pan American Airways.

Afterwards, he turned his attention solely to helicopters. Sikorsky theorized a secondary propeller at the back enabled pilots to control the aircraft.

Sikorsky’s first helicopter, the VS-300, flew in 1939. Eventually, by 1942, his company was manufacturing and selling the first mass-produced helicopter, the Sikorsky R-4.

Up to this time Sikorsky Helicopter, today a division of Lockheed-Martin, remains a leading designer and manufacturer of helicopters.

Jet Engine

An RAF pilot he thought up the jet engine and tried convincing the English military to fund development. When they refused, he created a private company to develop his jet engine, Power Jets Ltd. Undercapitalized, development of the new engine plodding along slowly.

During WWII, the Allied forces realized the military potential of the jet engine.

The United Kingdom nationalized Whittle’s company, Power Jets, in 1944. Rolls-Royce and GE received Whittle’s work under the assumption they could accelerate the production of workable engines. Investors tripled their initial investment, but Whittle received nothing. A lifelong soldier there is no record that he complained.

Knighted in 1948, Whittlemoved to the US in 1977. He spent the remainder of his life in military academia, never from his jet engine.

Later in life Whittle met former Nazi jet engineer Hans von Ohain who proclaimed Whittle was years ahead of the Germans. But for a lack of funding the jet engine would have been finished significantly sooner.

“If Hitler or Goering had heard that there is a man in England who flies 500mph in a small experimental plane and that it is coming into development, it is likely World War II would not have come into being.”

Hans von hain


The origin of Radar is secret. Even after commercialization, the inventors remained in the shadows, secret warriors who enabled the Allies to shoot down the Nazi Lufthansa with eerie precision. Consequently, it was as if the Allies could project through the clouds exactly where the planes were. Of course, that would be impossible…

Specifically, Watt supervised, Wilkins sketched, and Bowen built the first radar system for locating aircraft.

Earlier, Watt, a meteorologist, originally designed a more primitive system for detecting lightning.

The project started, ironically, with a German. Heinrich Hertz described a system but seems never have built one. Radio can transmit and receive electromagnetic waves.

Allied forces relied extensively on Wilkins radar in WWII. Shrouded in secrecy radar, considered vital to the war effort, radar was secret. Wilkins is as a “forgotten man.” For decades nobody knew he invented one of the great technologies of the modern world.

“Many things were adopted in war which we were told were technically impossible, but patience, perseverance, and above all the spur of necessity under war conditions, made men’s brains act with greater vigour, and science responded to the demands.”

Winston Churchill, June 1935

High Fidelity Sound Recording & Playback


German engineer Eduard Schüller created and patented the Magnetophon, a high-fidelity audio recording and playback machine. Working for German company AEG, he patented the invention in December 1933. AEG was a leading electrical company that had evolved from the Deutsche Edison Gesellschaft, the German Edison Company.

Schüller perfected an earlier tape-recording device invented by Oberlin Smith, an American engineer, though Smith’s device never functioned well. Schüller used magnetic tape, invented and manufactured by Fritz Pfleumer and eventually owned by BASF, to record sound.

By the time of Shüller’s invention, AEG was a Nazi supporter. The AEG recording technology was unknown outside Nazi Germany.

Due to the high playback fidelity, recordings sounded live. Hitler routinely recorded himself and the recordings were portrayed as live speeches in one city, to make it sound like he was there, when was actually somewhere else. After the war, allies found 350 Hitler recordings.

Magnetophon worked well for speeches but not for music until Pfleumer, from German company BASF, invented a better type of recording tape.


After the war, US engineer Jack Mullin brought Schüller’s device, called a Magnetophon K (K stands for Koffer, or suitcase; portable), to the US. There it came to the attention of engineers at AMPEX, a US electrical engineering business then focused on small motor design.

AMPEX realized their expertise in small precision motors overlapped with the need to mass-produce the recording devices and built a highly successful audio recording business. AMPEX recorders marked the beginning of recorded radio broadcasts; before the Magnetophon commercial radio broadcasts were live. Decades later, AMPEX would innovate the video recorder and do the same for television broadcasts.


In 1914, Goddard patented the first rocket and, in 1926, Goddard fired the first liquid-fueled rocket. Goddard predicted rockets would one day enable space flight, a prediction widely ridiculed as science fiction.

Eventually, in 1929, Oberth fired his modern liquid-fueled rocket. Oberth eventually taught Wernher von Braun, who perfect modern rocketry. In time, both Oberth and von Braun built rockets for the Nazis and may have been Nazi Party members.

Rockets were first used as weapons. No sooner did they perfect the technology than nazi’s launched their V-2 rockets indiscriminately into the United Kingdom towards the end of WWII. Slave labor in Nazi concentration camps built the V-2 rockets. Consequently, after the Nazi surrender, the German rocket engineers – including von Braun – surrendered to the United States. The Soviet Union also captures significant Nazi rocketry technology.

Eventually, on Oct. 4, 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the first manmade orbital satellite. After several attempts with monkeys (and, some say, people), the Soviets followed up launching Yuri Gagarin into space on April 12, 1961.

In a rocketry program overseen by former Nazi von Braun, the US followed up by blasting American Alan Shepard into Space. von Braun went on to oversee the US space program, supervising the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo missions.

Electronic Cipher (Enigma)

Enigma is a cipher, a machine that implements an algorithm to encrypt and decrypt messages.

On Feb. 23, 1918, Scherbius applied for his first patent for what would become the most well-known cipher machine in history, the Enigma. Initially marketed for commercial purposes the German army modified a version for military encryption in 1926.

Nazis used Enigma extensively during WWII. They believed the encryption was unbreakable.

Decrypting Enigma messages required a new type of soldier, one more reliant on pencils and slide rules than rifles. These mathematicians and puzzle solvers were stations in the nondescript Bletchley Park.

Their work, led in large part by Alan Turing, both broke the Enigma encryption and eventually led to the innovation of the modern computer.

Scherbius died in an accident in 1929, long before WWII and the widespread use of his machine.

“The intelligence which has emanated from you before and during this campaign has been of priceless value to me. It has simplified my task as a commander enormously. It has saved thousands of British and American lives and, in no small way, contributed to the speed with which the enemy was routed and eventually forced to surrender.”

Letter from Gen. (later President) Eisenhower to the workers of Bletchley for breaking Enigma, Jul. 12, 1945