What everyday item did World War I soldiers help to popularize?
Prior to the invention of the wristwatch, pocket watches for men were the norm. Although they weren't always accurate, pocket watches remained popular for centuries.
Wristwatches were invented in the 1800s, but didn't really catch on, particularly in the United States, until the 1910s. Consumers suspected (often correctly) that wristwatches were less accurate than their larger pocket-dwelling cousins. In addition, wristwatches were considered to be feminine (thus to be avoided by the self-respecting gentleman).
When World War I broke out in 1914, however, that opinion changed rapidly. As it turned out, pocket watches were not particularly combat-ready. For foot soldiers and aviators, wristwatches made a lot more sense. On land, artillery gunners needed quickly-read timepieces in order to coordinate barrages and troop movement. Pilots in the open-air cockpits of fighter planes were also quick to recognize the advantage of a wristwatch over fumbling in one’s pocket while flying.
By 1917 the wristwatch was deemed so essential to soldiers that the British War Department began issuing wristwatches to all combatants. This led to the wristwatch becoming an integral part of the modern soldier’s uniform.
Eventually, people accepted that the wristwatch was here to stay. Soldiers continued wearing their watches after they returned home, and the rest of the population, male and female, also began wearing them - so much so that by 1930 the ratio of wrist- to pocket- watches was 50:1.