Putting together a list of 10 amazing things invented by accident was always going to be a tall task.
However, we at The Richest are up for anything.
A list on Rant Lifestyle suggested that the three greatest inventions of all time are the wheel, fire, and electricity. While the invention (or discovery) of these three quantities was impressive, groundbreaking and significant in the largest possible sense, there’s no way they can compare to some of the items on this list.
Consider: electricity versus the chocolate chip cookie. Fire versus the slinky.
But really, some accidental inventions have altered the course of humanity (not that the chocolate chip cookie hasn’t).
What are they? Keep reading to see.
10. The Slinky
When a spring fell off a nearby table and sprung way, toymaker Richard T. James was struck with a lightning bolt of inspiration. After tinkering with weight and proportions, James unveiled the Slinky in 1945.
James sold his initial inventory of 400 Slinkys in 90 minutes at a department store demonstration in 1945. He and his wife then founded James Industries, manufacturing and distributing the Slinky and other Slinky-related products, such as the Slinky Dog (who later starred in Toy Story).
Oddly, 15 years after inventing the Slinky, James joined (what has been referred to as) a cult and moved to Bolivia.
Alexander Fleming returned from vacation in 1928 and checked his petri dishes of Staphylococcus cultures. He noticed that the bacteria failed to grow in an area where a mold, Penicillium Notatum, was growing. Fleming noticed that a liquid emanating from the mold appeared to inhibit bacterial growth.
Fleming had his assistants isolate pure penicillin from the mold and he published his findings in the British Journal of Experimental Pathology in June 1929.
8. Chocolate Chip Cookies
Proprietor of the Toll House Inn (you see where this is going, right?), Ruth Wakefield baked delicacies for her guests.
The former dietitian and food lecturer found she was out of baker’s chocolate while making a batch of cookies for her guests. The resourceful Ms. Wakefield substituted pieces of Nestle’s semi-sweet chocolate, assuming they would melt in the oven.
However, when she opened the oven door, she found that the pieces hadn’t melted into chocolate cookies, but rather, they remained intact. Thus, chocolate chip cookies were born.
Microwave technology was used during World War II. However, the application wasn’t making TV dinners, but rather spotting Nazi planes.
Percy LeBaron, who worked at Raytheon, discovered that during an experiment with microwave technology, a candy bar in his pocket began to melt. Experimentation revealed that applying microwaves to food raised internal temperatures significantly faster than conventional ovens were capable of.
Seeing an opportunity, Raytheon brought the Na 1161 Radarange commercial microwave to market in the mid 50s. The 1600-watt device was both large and expensive, so it was limited to commercial use. However, in 1967 a subsidiary of Raytheon introduced the domestic Radarange microwave oven, which steadily gained market traction.
Perhaps apocryphal, the story behind fireworks is that they were invented by a Chinese cook who accidentally spilled saltpeter (which is one of the ingredients in gunpowder) into a fire. The result: a dynamic and multi-colored flame. It was later discovered that dumping a saltpeter mixture in a bamboo tube and lighting it produced, well, a firework.
That’s right, you have a Chinese cook to thank for the masterpiece that is Katy Perry’s “Firework.”
Thanks, Chinese cook.
A gentleman by the last name of Rontgen was experimenting with electrical currents and cathode-ray tubes (whatever those are). He discovered that barium platinocyanide (whatever that is) inside a tube was glowing through cardboard, even though it was physically across the room from the currents. Thus, Rontgen assumed that some type of radiation must be traveling through the room.
Rontgen, realized he could capture an image of the inside of an object thanks to the waves and employed the services of his wife. He captured an image of the bones of his wife’s hands in what became the first x-ray.
4. Chewing Gum
“Chewing gum” had been around for centuries in a variety of forms when Thomas Aiden decided to try and turn the sap of the sapodilla tree into rubber-based products. Aiden failed in his endeavor, and in his rage, decided to munch on the substance. Aiden decided to add flavoring to the substance and market it as chewing gum, selling it for a penny. He later became the first individual to mass-produce chewing gum when he opened a factory dedicated to the purpose.
Spencer Silver, who worked for 3M, was trying to develop strong adhesives for the aerospace industry in 1968. Rather than creating a strong adhesive, he made the opposite: a weak, pressure-sensitive adhesive.
Obviously, the compound had little utility in the aerospace world. However, the company was intrigued by the fact that when the compound was stuck to a surface it could be easily peeled off without leaving any residue. They were also interested in the compound’s reusability and how it didn’t break down. Still, they couldn’t find much use for the stuff.
Several years later, the company realized that when the compound was applied to the back of a piece of paper, it would stick to anything and could be peeled off easily without leaving any residue behind. Thus, the Post-It note was born.
2. Corn Flakes
In 1894, Seventh-day Adventist, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg was the superintendent of The Battle Creek Sanitarium in Michigan. Kellogg believed that a vegetarian diet consisting primarily of bland foods was best, as spicy and sweet foods could awaken lust and other passionate drives.
Kellogg and his younger brother left cooked wheat sitting out. Upon returning, the Kellogg’s found that the wheat had gone stale. Still, they put it through rollers, in an attempt to produce sheets of dough. Instead of sheets of dough, however, the brothers got flakes. They toasted the flakes and served them to patients at the sanitarium.
First of all, the name “Kotex” was derived from the words “cotton texture.”
The story of the origin of Kotex is such a compelling one, we’ll quote directly from Kimberly-Clark’s website.
In hospitals and first aid stations during World War I, Kimberly-Clark’s cellulose wadding often replaced cotton which was in short supply. Through the ingenuity of army nurses, the wadding was adapted for menstrual purposes. In 1920 it was introduced as Kimberly-Clark’s first consumer product.
Though no soldiers were charging about the battlefield with sanitary napkins tied to their arms, a new type of material which had proved so effective as bandages in that conflict was years later revamped into Kotex. What was invented to meet a critical need in a war soon afterwards found a valuable peacetime use.
Kotex is a product of the Kimberly-Clark company. In 1914 this (then) conservative supplier of paper developed an absorbent wadding from processed wood and dubbed it Cellucotton. Five times as absorbent as cotton and costing only half as much, Cellucotton was used to bandage wounds in World War I. (Kimberly-Clark agreed to provide it to the War Department at cost, refusing the chance to make a healthy profit.)
After the war (1919), Kimberly-Clark faced the question of what to do with Cellucotton. The company hit upon the notion of marketing disposable sanitary napkins. Prior to this invention, women used and reused cloth rags — this was indeed groundbreaking stuff.
The resulting product was first marketed as Cellunap, a contraction of “Cellucotton napkins.” Immediately upon hire, Kimberly-Clark’s first marketing agency (Charles F.W. Nichols Company) suggested changing the name to Kotex, short for “cotton textile”.
Though there were still battles to be waged in getting magazines to accept ads for this product, stores to stock it, and women to buy it, by 1945 nearly all American women were using commercially-made pads and tampons. (Tampax came on the market in 1936.) The days of the cloth rags were over.