The 10 Most Popular Accidental Inventions

By the very nature of evolution, humans have been inventing since the beginning of time. From the invention of the wheel, through the advent of the telephone, all the way up to the birth of Google, it

By the very nature of evolution, humans have been inventing since the beginning of time. From the invention of the wheel, through the advent of the telephone, all the way up to the birth of Google, it's clear that mankind has a flare for curiosity, investigation and discovery.

The great inventor Thomas Edison once said that "there is no substitute for hard work". This pearl of wisdom certainly hold true, as some of the most important inventions of all time only came to fruition due to hard work. For example, DNA fingerprinting and profiling was developed after many years of research by Sir Alec Jeffreys. This Englishman has devoted his life to DNA research, which is now one of the most important sciences of the modern age. Important research like this is the reason forensic police can catch criminals and put them behind bars more quickly than ever before. This is the result of years of hard work and concentration.

But does Edison's quote apply in every situation? Not exactly...

Some of the most well known products available today are, in fact, the result of happy accidents, mistakes or complete fluke. It may be unbelievable, but in some cases one small mistake has led to enormously popular inventions which have made millionaires out of their inventors. These products range from snack foods to revolutionary medicines. Although hard work is important in life, these inventions show that chance can be equally important. Accidental inventions make up some of the most important products on the market today. The inventors behind these accidental inventions are intelligent people who saw the potential their invention had to bring joy to others, or in some cases, to change the world.

Take a look at our list of The 10 Most Popular Accidental Inventions for a definitive look at the most brilliant mistakes of all time. You may be surprised at how many you use every single day!

10 1827: Matches

Humans have depended on fire for centuries, but the laborious old technique of rubbing two sticks together eventually started to get dull,  and people looked for an easier way to light fires. In 1827, an English pharmacist named John Walker noticed a lump of dried chemicals at the end of a stick he had used for mixing. Walker tried to scrape off the dried chemicals, which resulted in sparks and a flame. Walker quickly developed what was an early version of the modern match. He decided not to patent it, because he wanted it to be available to everyone.

9 1853: Potato Chips

Believe it or not, the potato chips began life as a prank by a hotel chef on a grumpy guest. In 1853 at the upscale Moon Lake Lodge resort in Saratoga Springs, NY, a guest turned his nose up at chef George Crum's fried potatoes, complaining that they were too thick. Crum was insulted, and decided to fry some extremely thin slices of potato and then cover them in salt to serve to the customer as revenge. However, the customer loved Crum's invention, and the concept soon spread across the US. Now, potato chips are an industry worth $7 billion a year in the United States alone!

8 1879: Artificial Sweetener

Diet drinks and sugar-free sweeteners as we know them began in a laboratory in Maryland, NY, where Russian scientist Constantin Fahlberg was experimenting with the effect of chemicals on coal tar. Returning home to eat, Fahlberg noticed that the bread he was eating was strangely sweet. Realising it was the effect of a solution he had spilt on his hands earlier that day, Fahlberg had unintentionally invented Saccharine. The product was not immediately popular, but since diet culture became commonplace in the United States in the late 20th century, artificial sweeteners have become extraordinarily popular.

7 1894: Corn Flakes

In 1894, Will Keith Kellogg was working in a hospital and was in charge of designing new foods for the patients. Kellogg accidentally soaked some wheat for too long, which was flakey when he rolled it out. Instead of throwing it away, Kellogg toasted the flakes and served them to the patients. They were a hit, and Kellogg soon began to experiment with other grains, eventually settling with corn. The Kellogg's Corn Flakes brand was born and soon became popular worldwide, making W. K. Kellogg a multi-millionaire within a few short years. Despite his riches, he focused mainly on philanthropy, having started the W. K . Kellogg Foundation in 1930.

6 1904: Tea Bags

Although many would expect the tea bag to have originated in England, it was actually an American entrepreneur named Thomas Sullivan who invented them at the beginning of the 20th century. Sullivan was a tea merchant, who decided to pour small amounts of tea into little silk bags as samples for customers. However, his customers thought the silk bag should be submerged in water rather than emptied, and thus by mistake the tea bag was born! Sullivan developed the concept by making the bags out of gauze rather than silk, as well as attaching a string to the tea bag for easy removal.

5 1928: Antibiotics

In 1928, scientist Alexander Fleming was growing a culture of the bacteria Staphylococcus in a petri-dish, but by accident the petri-dish had become contaminated with mould. However, what Fleming observed was fascinating. The mould had killed the disease causing bacteria in the petri-dish. Fleming conducted a lot of research and found that it was effective on other forms of bacteria. What he had discovered was the first example of an antibiotic. Fleming named the substance Penicillin, which remains one of the most frequently used antibiotics today. This was undoubtedly one of the most important inventions of all time. Antibiotics have resulted in the highest human life expectancies ever recorded.

4 1930: Chocolate Chip Cookies

It is pretty hard to imagine a world without chocolate chip cookies, but believe it or not they have only existed since the 1930s! They were invented accidentally by Ruth Wakefield, who owned a small lodge called the Toll House Inn in New England. Ruth would often bake for her guests. Ruth added chunks of Nestlé chocolate into cookie batter one evening, expecting the chips to melt completely into the batter. They didn't, and the Toll House Cookie was born! Ruth struck up a deal with Nestlé who began marketing her creation soon afterwards.

3 1942: Super Glue

In 1942 during the war, Dr. Harry Coover was trying to develop a new type of plastic that could be used in gun sights. However, the plastic that was designed was extremely sticky and difficult to work with, infuriating Coover. The substance was abandoned, and for many years Coover did not realise how much potential the product had. Coover then realised how impressive it was for a substance to be able to bind things together so strongly without using complicated methods or heat. Coover saw its commercial value and developed SuperGlue, a product that remains extremely popular to this day.

2 1968: Post-It Notes

One of the most popular office supplies of all time started out life in a laboratory, where a man named Spencer Silver was trying to create a very strong glue. He failed, creating a glue that could easily be pulled off other objects. No use could be seen for the glue until years later, when Silver's friend used it to stick markers to a choir book, realising that he could mark pages and then pull off the marker when he was finished without damaging the book. In just a few short years, Silver's apparently useless invention had become a huge success, and today we have his failure to thank for our post its.

1 1989: Viagra

In 1989, scientists were trying to design a pill that would help men with high blood pressure and heart disease. Although the drug didn't work well, it did result in quite an unexpected side effect. Pfizer Pharmaceuticals quickly patented the pill. It was the first treatment for male impotence that did not require surgery or have any risks, so naturally it became a massive success. Today, Viagra's popularity is stronger than ever. Pfizer sold almost $300 million worth of Viagra in the first three months of 2013, making it one of the most lucrative accidental inventions of all time.

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The 10 Most Popular Accidental Inventions