TNT’s original use was not for explosives at all, it was originally used as a yellow dye. It seems particularly confounding now that the world’s most popular explosive wasn’t originally used to blow things up.
The original TNT use
When it was developed in 1863, Trinitrotoluene, or as it’s more commonly known, TNT was originally used as a yellow dye because of a few factors. Compared to more popular explosives of the day it was less powerful, in other words it gave less bang for your buck. Another problem with TNT was that it was extremely difficult to detonate. It could be easily transported and melted for easy pouring, and it was very safe to handle. It was so safe in fact that it was removed from the UK’s Explosive Act in 1910 and not considered an explosive. But the Brits had missed the boat by 8 years, and an important military discovery in Germany was revealing the hidden potential of this big bang material.
As TNT was relatively safe and wouldn’t detonate on impact like other explosive compounds of the day, the Germans found a way to exploit its unique properties. What the Germans did was fill armor piercing shells with TNT so they would first penetrate a ships hull, then explode causing much more damage. With the shell exploding within the ships hull the damage was massive. In contrast the British used an explosive that detonated on impact, expending much of its potential on the ships exterior armor.
Today TNT’s original use is confined to the history books. It is the most commonly used explosive in military’s around the world and is also used extensively in the construction industry. It’s also a popular choice among the Looney Tunes, and a personal favorite of Wile E Coyote.