When we hear the word “inventions”, the first thing that comes up into our minds are images of intricately designed laboratories and bespectacled scientists possessing superior intelligence—holding and examining blueprints too complicated to be understood by the average mind. Indeed, many inventions were discovered in an orderly, scientific manner. But did you know that some of the great inventions that have revolutionized the way we live were discovered out of mere luck? Did you know that some items that we see, eat, or might be using daily were invented accidentally? Here are ten everyday objects you would have never guessed were invented unintentionally.
Contrary to what many of us would assume, Play-Doh was not originally manufactured as a toy. In fact, you’d be surprised to find out what it was initially intended for.
Play-Doh was discovered by Kutol, a Cincinnati-based company that specialized in selling soaps. The owner of Kutol, Cleo McVicker, commissioned the creation of Play-Doh in response to a request made by a client named Roger. This man asked McVicker if his company manufactured wallpaper cleaners. Surprisingly, McVicker said yes even though no one at his company knew how to create wallpaper cleaners back then. Fortunately, Cleo’s brother—Noah McVicker—was able to create a compound that could be used to clean non-washable wallpaper.
For many years, Play-Doh was marketed as a wallpaper cleaner. It was a huge commercial success. However, its sales started to dwindle when vinyl wallpaper was introduced to the market.
Kay Zufall, a school teacher and the wife of Joe McVicker (the son of Cleo McVicker) is credited for elevating the status of Play-Doh from that of a lowly wallpaper cleaner to a much-loved children’s toy. She read in a magazine that wallpaper cleaners could be used to create Christmas decorations. She gave this idea a try, and the results were spectacular! The kids had a great time playing with the then Play-Doh wallpaper cleaner. Kay told the idea to her husband who then asked his uncle—Noah McVicker—to manufacture a batch of Play-Doh that were free of detergent and had the scent of almond. Later on, Play-Doh was marketed as a toy and became available in various colors like yellow, blue, and red.
9. Chocolate Chip Cookies
Can you imagine a world without chocolate chip cookies? If your answer is no, then you’re not alone. There are millions of people worldwide who have completely integrated this delightful snack into their lifestyle that it would be difficult for them to live a day without eating it. Okay, I’m exaggerating, but c’mon. Who doesn’t love chocolate chip cookies?
But did you know that without a certain woman named Ruth Wakefield we would never have experienced the joy of eating chocolate chip cookies?
Ruth Wakefield, together with her husband—Kenneth—bought an inn in Whitman, Massachusetts, which they called the Toll House Inn. In this traveler’s lodge, Ruth was the chief cook and baker. Being a dietician and food lecturer, she knew how to cook meals that would definitely please her guests.
One day, while she was baking cookies for her guests, she realized that she had run out of baker’s chocolate. She saw pieces of Nestle semi-sweet chocolate lying around and decided to substitute them. At the back of her mind, she was expecting for the chunks of semi-sweet chocolate to completely melt, but much to her surprise, they didn’t’. The cookies tasted good so she decided to serve them to her guests. She called them the “Toll House Crunch Cookies”.
Andrew Nestle became so interested with Wakefield’s recipe that he offered her a lifetime supply of semi-sweet chocolate in exchange for it. Wakefield agreed and thanks to that deal, the chocolate chip cookie recipe became available to the public.
8. Super Glue
Over the years, Super Glue has become a very important household item. But did you know that it was discovered by accident, and it was used during the Vietnam War to heal wounds? Yes, you read that right! Aside from fixing appliances and bonding together a host of other household and industrial items, Super Glue can also be used for medical purposes.
Dr Harry Coover, an employee of Kodak, accidentally discovered Super Glue in 1942 while working with cyanoacrylates. Coover and his colleagues were trying to figure out if they could manufacture a specific type of clear plastic that could be used in guns out of these chemicals. Much to their dismay, cyanoacrylates were extremely difficult to handle since they were very sticky. After six years, Coover realized that these chemicals had amazing adhesive qualities. They did not need to be pressured or heated to bond objects together. Coover saw a huge commercial potential in them.
Kodak manufactured the first ever Super Glue and sold it to the public. Thanks to a 1959 national TV demonstration carried out by Dr. Coover, Super Glue became a huge, commercial hit.
In 1966, Super Glue was tested by a trained team of surgeons on the battlefields. The results were astonishing! They found out that Super Glue was highly effective in stopping wounds from bleeding, which could have otherwise caused the death of many wounded soldiers. Despite the fact that the FDA did not approve the use of Super Glue during the Vietnam War, the Military still continued to use it. Super Glue helped save the lives of hundreds, if not thousands, of wounded soldiers.
7. Corn Flakes
For some of us, cereal—especially corn flakes—is synonymous with the word breakfast. But did you know that without two brothers—John Harvey Kellogg and Will Keith Kellogg—who made an accidental discovery in 1894, corn flakes would have never existed?
John Harvey was the chief physician at the Battle Creek Sanitarium while his brother, Will Keith, worked as the manager and the bookkeeper of the said hospital. The two brothers were trying to discover new kinds of food that would help improve the diets of their patients when they accidentally discovered corn flakes.
Their amazing accidental discovery happened when Will Keith unintentionally left a boiled pot of wheat, which became hardened throughout the night. When they rolled out the tempered dough the next day, they found out that it resulted into thin flakes and not into loaves. Instead of dismissing their new discovery, they decided to serve it to their patients. Surprisingly, the patients liked it.
After the discovery and success of the corn flakes, Will Keith founded the Kellogg Toasted Flake Company, which later on became Kellogg Company. On the other hand, his brother, John Harvey, continued to run the Battle Creek Sanitarium.
6. Tea Bags
Drinking tea on a regular basis can bring numerous health benefits to the body. Thanks to an accidental discovery made by an American entrepreneur named Thomas Sullivan, we can easily make a hot cup of tea anytime and anywhere we want to and enjoy its amazing health benefits.
In 1908, Sullivan came up with a brilliant idea that would forever revolutionize the way people prepared tea. Instead of sending tea balls and tea eggs to his potential customers, Sullivan sent them tea bags made of silk. Inside these silk bags were the dried tea leaves. It is interesting to note that Sullivan did not intend for his customers to dip the tea bags into hot water. It was the customers who assumed that the tea bags fulfilled such a purpose.
Later on, Sullivan used gauze instead of silk in creating the bags due to the complaints he received from his clients. Without Sullivan’s brilliant idea and his customers’ false assumption, tea bags would have never been used as they are today. As tea bags became more popular, the material from which they are made of was changed into filter paper.
Saccharin is an artificial sweetener accidentally discovered by a German-American scientist named Constantine Fahlberg. The discovery of this artificial sweetener would definitely amuse you and would somehow prove that sometimes the best things in life happen out of mere luck.
One day, Dr. Fahlberg became so engrossed with his experiments in his laboratory that he forgot to wash his hands before eating dinner. While eating a piece of bread, he noticed that it tasted surprisingly sweet. He dismissed the idea that something was anomalous, thinking that the bread might have been a cake or some type of sweet pastry. After eating his meal, Dr. Fahlberg washed his mouth. While drying his moustache with a napkin, he noticed that the napkin tasted, once again, surprisingly sweet. In fact, it was sweeter than the bread!
At this time, he knew that something was definitely not right—something was causing the bread and the napkin to taste incredibly sweet. It was then that he tasted his own thumb and discovered that it was his hands that were causing the objects around him to become magically sweet.
Realizing that it was the residue in his hands that were causing such a bizarre phenomenon, Dr. Fahlberg rushed to his laboratory and tasted the chemicals he was experimenting with. Fortunately, none of them were toxic.
4. Potato Chips
It is an undeniable fact that Americans love potato chips, but did you know that this delightful snack was discovered due to a customer’s complaint?
George Crum whose real name was George Speck is credited for accidentally inventing potato chips. At the time he unintentionally discovered potato chips, he was working as a chef at Moon Lake Lodge in Saratoga Springs. This establishment was well-known for having French-fried potatoes as a specialty on their menu. One day, a certain guest at Moon Lake Lodge complained that his fries were too thick. Chef Crum tried to fix the problem by sending out a batch of thinner fries. Unfortunately, the guest still complained and rejected the new batch. Annoyed at the guest’s somewhat irrational complaint, Crum decided to cook a batch of fries that were too crisp and were paper-like in thinness—he wanted to irritate the guest! However, much to Crum’s surprise, the guest loved the thinner, crispier “fries”. Other guests at the restaurant were also intrigued by these ultra-thin, crisp potatoes that they ordered them too. Now you know how potato chips were accidentally discovered.
3. Post-It Notes
Though they are very simple in design, Post-It notes are very useful. They can be placed anywhere, and they effectively remind us of the things or tasks we need to do. But despite their simplicity and practicality, did you know that it took more than a decade before the public discovered the underrated usefulness of Post-It notes?
Post-It notes had their humble beginnings in the laboratories of 3M. In 1968, Spencer Silver—a scientist who worked for 3M—was trying to produce a strong type of adhesive that could be used in manufacturing airplanes. However, his experiments led him to accidentally discover a weaker adhesive instead. Because the new adhesive was very weak, Silver did not find any commercial or practical value to it.
Thankfully, a chemical engineer named Art Fry came along who suggested a creative way of using the weak adhesive to Silver. Fry loved to sing and was a church choir member; he had one big problem though—he was clumsy. His bookmarkers would constantly fall out of his songbook as he was singing in the choir. Luckily, he was able to attend one of Silver’s seminars. The learning he gained from Silver made him realize that he could use the adhesive to solve his simple problem. And it did solve his problem! Fry told the 3M management that they were doing it wrong. They should put the adhesive on the back of a piece paper instead of spraying it on a bulletin board.
With this new idea in mind, Silver and 3M tried to market the first prototypes of Post-it notes to the public. Unfortunately, they achieved very little success. Later on, the management of 3M gave free samples to the public. This strategic action proved to be effective since it helped them dramatically increase their sales. Thanks to this successful campaign, we still have Post-It notes today.
The discovery of matches revolutionized the way we live. With the use of these simple sticks, we can easily create fire—an element that is essential to life—anytime and anywhere we want to. But did you know that the first match was invented simply because a pharmacist got irritated?
The story goes like this.
There was a certain English pharmacist named John Walker. While working with a concoction of chemicals in his laboratory, he realized that the rod he was using to blend the chemicals accumulated a mixture of dried substances. He tried to clean off the accumulated lump. Unfortunately, he failed to get rid of it. Irritated, he dragged the stick across the floor hoping that doing so would remove the lump. While dragging the stick, it suddenly produced fire. He called this discovery “friction lights”.
Though Walker is credited for inventing the first match, it was Samuel Jones who came up with the brilliant idea of placing the matches inside tiny cardboard boxes. He called his matches “Lucifers” or “Lucifer matches”.
Okay, I know. Viagra is not an everyday item for many of us, but who knows? We may need to use this little blue pill one of these days just to get things right up.
So how was Viagra accidentally discovered?
During the 90’s, the scientists working at Pfizer were conducting experiments on a certain substance called sildenafil—the main active ingredient of Viagra. These scientists saw the potential of sildenafil to lower blood pressure and to treat cardiovascular diseases. To test the efficacy of this drug, samples were given to human test subjects. After a period of time, the scientists were surprised to find out that the people involved in the tests were reluctant to give the medications back. Their reason? Taking sildenafil helped them achieve rock-hard erections that lasted for quite a long time.
The scientists realized that the beneficial side effect caused by their new drug could be used to treat the disease that almost all men fear the most—impotence. On March 27, 1998, Viagra was approved by the FDA. Since then, it has helped renew and improve the sex lives of millions of people around the world.