The Greatest Accidental Inventions That Changed The World

It’s incredible to realize that stuff we use every day could’ve been invented completely by accident. I mean, in some cases it kind of makes sense. But other times, an item like plastic is just a lab experiment gone wrong.

I guess it’s safe to say that we put too much negative energy into our accidents. We should do what all of the inventors in this article did, and turn something negative into a positive.

Radioactivity

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Henri Becquerel was trying to get fluorescent matierals to produce X-rays by leaving them in the sun. Well, that didn’t happen, but after leaving all of his materials in a drawer for a week, he found that the uranium rock he had left managed to imprint its image on a nearby photographic plate.

He was astonished because there was no light around. Thus, radioactivity.

Potato Chips

James Leynse/Corbis via Getty Images
James Leynse/Corbis via Getty Images

A New York City chef named George Crum (perhaps where the word "crumbs" comes from), accidentally invented the potato chip.

After a customer kept sending back his french fried potatoes because they were too soggy, Crum decided to cut the potatoes thin and fry them to a crisp out of spite. Well, the customer ended up loving them and they would become the first serving of potato chips.

Mauve

Twitter / @flwlssan
Twitter / @flwlssan

Imagine being 18 and creating your own color that would slowly take over the world? Well, that was the reality for chemist William Perkin. He was researching a cure for malaria when he ended up creating this murky mess in his lab.

The experiment was totally wrong but he saw a beautiful color radiating from the dish. It became the world’s first synthetic dye and introduced the world to the color mauve.

Plastic

Photo Credit: Eric Lafforgue/Art In All Of Us/Corbis via Getty Images
Photo Credit: Eric Lafforgue/Art In All Of Us/Corbis via Getty Images

Shellac was the material of choice in the early 1900s when it came to insulation. But it wasn’t cheap to import from Asia, so a chemist took to find a cheaper insulation.

He came up with a moldable material that could be heated to extremely high temperatures without being distorted, and we now know it as plastic.

Saccharin

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This one goes all the way back to 1879. Ira Remsen and Constantin Fahlberg were at work in their laboratory and paused to eat, but forgot to wash their hands. That usually leads to a quick death if you’re a chemist, but instead, the meal had a sweeter taste.

The duo ended up publishing their findings and ended up patenting the artificial sweetener (Saccharin).

Coca-Cola

Only Coca-Cola
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Civil War veteran turned pharmacist John Pemberton set out to create a medication for opiate addiction and an upset stomach. Instead, he created one of the world’s most popular drinks.

Yes, the rumors are true. The original Coke did, in fact, contain cocaine on its list of ingredients, which is hilarious.

Post-It Notes

Twitter / @lorettamilan
Twitter / @lorettamilan

Spencer Silver was a chemist working for the company 3M. He stumbled across an adhesive that he found was just strong enough to hold paper to a surface, but weak enough that it wouldn’t rip the paper.

There were many failed attempts at finding a marketable product, but they finally stumbled on the idea of a no-slip bookmark. Boom, the post-it note was born.

Pacemaker

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What started as a ruined project by an assistant professor at the University of Buffalo, turned into a life-saving device. Long story short, and very simplified, Wilson Greatbach picked a 1-megaohm resistor to test on a heart instead of the desired 10,000- ohm resistor.

He realized the 1-megaohm resistor replicated the pulse of a heartbeat and could potentially regulate it. That turned into the pacemaker.

Microwave

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Percy Spencer was an engineer at Raytheon after he spent some time in the Navy for WWI. In 1945, Spencer was fiddling with a microwave-emitting-magnetron and noticed a burning sensation in his pants.

It turns out that his chocolate bar was melting from the microwave radiation. He realized the culinary potential and the end result was the microwave oven.

X-Rays

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No, that’s not an Oreo cookie stuck to someone’s finger. It shouldn’t surprise you, but just stumbling across an x-ray is fairly complicated. So, in 1895, a German physicist was conducting an experiment involving cathode rays.

He noticed a piece of fluorescent cardboard lighting up from across the room. A thick screen was placed between his cathode emitter and the radiated cardboard which proved the light particles were passing through solid objects. Blah, blah, science, blah, it was found that the radiation could take really cool pictures that are called x-rays.

Super Glue

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It was a very messy, but necessary discovery. Could you imagine living without superglue? In 1942, Dr Harry Coover found that a substance he created called cyanoacrylate was a big failure. It was not what he was looking for, but it did stick to almost everything it touched.

He left it for six years, and was attempting to oversee a new design for airplane canopies when the goo was back. He saw the potential and slapped a patent on it. Voila.

Slinky

Twitter / @spicyspedicey
Twitter / @spicyspedicey

In 1943, Navy engineer Richard James was trying to figure out how to use springs to keep the sensitive objects on ships from crashing all over the place. He knocked over one of his springy prototypes and it gracefully sprang downward.

It’s so pointless, yet so much fun. They sold 300 million of them.

Anesthesia

Twitter / @APSorg
Twitter / @APSorg

There’s no single credit that can be given to someone for discovering anesthesia. There were a few people, William Morton, Crawford Long, Charles Jackson, who were all contributors to finding a practical use for it.

They noticed that drugs such as nitrous oxide, or laughing gas being used for recreational purposes and it was an effective sedative. Eventually, the surgeons started to use them more and more, which led the way to anesthetics as we see them today.

Stainless Steel

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An English metallurgist was asked to develop a gun barrel that wouldn’t rust. He tested his creation on some corrosives, like lemon juice, and he realized that his rust-free metal is perfect for cutlery.

I guess we can thank arms manufacturers for hiring that English metallurgist for the rust-free knives we used today.

Safety Glass

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Twitter

A French chemist accidentally knocked a flask off of his desk and it didn’t shatter. Instead, it just cracked, which was a shock to him. The flask was filled with plastic cellulose nitrate which had evaporated and left a thin, durable film.

This led the French chemist to file a patent for safety glass which is most commonly used in vehicle windows.

Cornflakes

Twitter / @Pule_Mokhuane
Twitter / @Pule_Mokhuane

This one makes me a little uneasy. When Will Keith Kellogg began helping his brother John cook meals at a Sanitarium, he left some bread out for a few hours.

Will decided to bake the bread anyway and it ended up flaking. Well, that flaking birthed the first batch of Cornflakes ever made.

Dynamite

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Let’s be real here, it’s not like humans just figured out how to blow things up. Gunpowder and nitroglycerin have been around for centuries it feels like.

The problem with nitroglycerin was that it was very unstable. It wasn’t until Alfred Nobel came around and discovered a method of containing the substance without hindering its power.

Penicillin

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Microbiologist Alexander Fleming added some bacteria to a petri dish while he was studying staphylococcus. He left the dish for a few days while he went on vacation, and came back to a surprise.

While he had expected the bacteria to grow, it ended up creating a mold. A close inspection found that the mold actually released a byproduct which inhibited the growth of the staph, giving birth to the first antibiotic — penicillin.

Play-Doh

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It’s kind of ironic, but Play-Doh was actually originally created as a cleaning product. The paste was first marketed as a treatment for filthy wallpaper.

But, kids started taking it and using it for their arts and crafts. So, Kutol Products, who created Play-Doh, decided to take out the cleanser compounds and added color and a fresh scent.

Velcro

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A dog kind of invented velcro. Well, not entirely, but kind of. A Swiss engineer was out for a hunting trip with his dog and noticed that burrs would stick to his socks and his pup’s fur.

Later, under a microscope, he realized there were little hooks that stuck burrs to fabrics. He tried out a bunch of fabrics, but eventually landed on nylon.