Accidental Inventions: How These Common Things Were Discovered
Not all accidents are a bad thing, and these inventions are proof! From clumsy chemists leaving out petri dishes for weeks, to shaky chefs dropping noodles into deep fryers, some of the most incredible inventions are byproducts of human mistakes.
We make mistakes all the time, but none of ours have ever ended up becoming household items or making us millions of dollars.
Even so, plenty of everyday items came to be through trial and error. That’s a great reason not to be so hard on yourself the next time you make one. In fact, maybe make them more often and see what happens. Here’s a tutorial on how to make really cool mistakes . . .
Art Fry, a 3M scientist, took a yellow piece of scrap paper from his lab and turned it into a sticky note, now known as the Post-It, by adding some adhesive to the back of it. His inspiration came after attending a colleague’s seminars, as well as his desire to hold a bookmark in place.
Believe it or not, Corn Flakes were originally born out of stale wheat. Kellogg brothers John and Will created the cereal after they came up with the idea to roll out wheat they left out too long. The result? Flakey particles that many people now recognize as Corn Flakes.
Silly Putty dates all the way back to World War II, when Japan started taking over rubber production. During this time, the government encouraged people to learn more about synthetic rubber, as an attempt to recover from the rubber shortage. Crayola attributes James Wright as the main proprietor of Silly Putty, mainly because he was the one who invented it before anyone else. The putty was first discovered after he combined boric acid and silicone oil and quickly became a toy sold in plastic eggs.
After decades of proper marketing, Silly Putty became extremely popular-enough to make it into the National Toy Hall of Fame in 2001.
The Slinky wasn’t always a toy. In fact, its inventor, naval mechanical engineer, Richard James, stumbled upon the idea while he was trying to create spring support for ship instruments in 1943. When a spring fell off a shelf, it jumped from one object to another, and from there, James decided to create a toy that kids in his neighborhood would play with. He engineered the metal springs just right so that they would arc and sit up straight.
Before getting the name “popsicle,” the frozen treat we enjoy so often in warm weather was created on accident by an 11-year-old. The inventor, Frank Epperson, had mixed lemonade powder into a glass of water but left it outside, where it froze overnight. The result? A frozen treat on a stick, which he quickly dubbed the “Epsickle” until its ownership turned over to the Popsicle brand in the 1920s.
The first real creation of the potato chip dates back to 1853, when a New York Chef, George Crum, tried to appease an unhappy customer by thinning his French fries. Crum also added extra salt and fried them again to make up for the so-called “soggy” fries.
Physician Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin after returning home from a two-week vacation, when he noticed he left a Staphylococcus petri dish out and a Penicillium mold spore had entered the dish. He soon realized that the mold had actually killed off the Staph bacteria. 17 years later in 1945, Dr. Fleming earned the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his discovery. Today, penicillin is prescribed as an antibiotic to treat infections, including ear infections.
In 1952, two 3M chemists created Scotchgard by mistake. They were instead attempting to create a rubber for jet fuel hoses but instead came up with a stain and water repellant. Under 3M, Scotchgard has been revamped over the years to be used to protect furniture and other household items from deterioration.
Most people would never believe it, but even X-rays were created on accident. Wilhelm Röntgen, a German physics professor, ran into a “new ray” when he was working with Lenard tubes and Crookes tubes in 1895. As it turns out, his research was so important, it earned him the first Nobel Prize in Physics.
Belgian chemist Leo Baekeland first coined the word “plastics” in 1907, when he invented Bakelite synthetic plastic. The invention, no surprise, was accidental. Baekeland was messing with a coal waste product, which he subdued in heat. His original intention was to create a different substance, but instead, he came up with synthetic plastic, a material used for countless products today.
A St. Louis food staple, toasted ravioli was indeed created by accident in the city’s Italian neighborhood, The Hill. A chef accidentally dropped a ravioli into a deep fryer, and out came the first-ever toasted ravioli. Ever since, the dish, often called “t-ravs,” has become popular across Missouri, and multiple restaurants on The Hill debate on who was actually the first to discover the appetizer.
Chocolate Chip Cookie
Yet another tasty food on our list that was supposedly created on accident is the popular chocolate chip cookie. In 1938, two chefs, Ruth Graves Wakefield and Sue Brides, attempted to make a chocolate cookie by adding chocolate chips into their cookie batter. The story goes that they had hoped the chips would melt and seep into the batter, but instead, they stayed in place, creating the chocolate chip cookie.
Most of us are too young to remember a time without airbags. Yet, until the 1970s, the critical safety invention did not appear in commercial vehicles. And, it took nearly 20 years for the item’s patent to get serious recognition. American industrial engineer an Navy member John W. Hetrick submitted a patent for the airbag in 1952 after reconsidering his knowledge on navy torpedoes. His intention was to increase vehicular safety.
A mechanic by the name of Walter Hunt created the safety pin while paying back a friend. His goal was to make enough money to afford the $15 he owed his friend. His genius safety pin invention, which he sold the patent for about $400 at the time, turned out to be a multi-million-dollar deal for the company that bought it. Who knew that such a small item could have such a big impact?
Before Play-Doh was a toy, it served as a cleaning agent to remove coal from wallpaper. Eventually, the need to use the putty to clean off coal from walls became less necessary, leading it to become Play-Doh. One of the business partners knew a school teacher, who suggested they let kids play with the putty. The idea saved their business, and today Play-Doh is one of the most popular toys around.
The idea of Velcro originally came from the prickly burdock seed, a circular bulb with protruding spikes that attach to what they touch. George de Mestral, an electrical engineer, discovered the seeds during a hike and in turn, patented Velcro in 1955.
In 1826, John Walker, a chemist, discovered the potential for a patented friction match when a nearby wooden stick with chemicals on it caught fire after striking a surface. Ever since Walker’s discovery, many other people have patented updated versions of the match. Still today, many people use matches instead of lighters to light candles or start fires.
In so many ways, it took a couple tries before super glue became what it is today. Multiple people technically discovered its main compound, cyanoacrylate, at different times, but it wasn’t until 1958 that the substance became fully commercialized. Today, the compound is found in various adhesives, including Gorilla glue, Loctite and certain 3M products.
Most people don’t credit him, but Thomas L. Jennings, an American tailor, was the true pioneer of dry cleaning, despite the fact that he referred to it as “dry scouring.” He notably became the first Black patent-holder in 1821.
Shortly after, in 1845 France, dye-works operator Jean Baptiste Jolly accidentally knocked a kerosene lamp over on a tablecloth and realized it had cleaning potential. The result? A new cleaning method that involved kerosene and gasoline and the first-ever dry-cleaners in Paris.
Pennsylvania oil workers were the first to “discover” the healing potential an oil like Vaseline could have. They used rod wax, a remnant of their oil pumps, to treat small injuries they got on the job. In 1859, inventor Robert Chesebrough picked up on the idea and ultimately created Vaseline, a topical petroleum jelly that could be used to treat minor cuts and burns.