Ten things invented by accident, in alphabetical order
Cellophane is not a kind plastic. It is made of cellulose—processed plant fibers. It was invented in 1908 by a Swiss chemist who was trying to make stain-resistant table cloths. Cellophane was ‘way too flimsy for tablecloths but its inventor realized it made excellent food wrap.
The region of Champagne is not ideal wine-making country. Relatively cold Autumn weather shortens both the growing season and the fermentation process that converts the sugars in the grape juice into alcohol. Wine-making monks of the region, struggling with less-than-optimum growing conditions, devised a method in which a second fermentation takes place in the bottle the following Spring. Hoping for a drinkable conventional wine, they accidentally created a bottle full of carbon dioxide bubbles and gave the world sparkling wine.
3. Corn Flakes
The Brothers Kellogg, in charge of patients in their sanitarium in Battle Creek, Michigan, were ever searching for nourishing foods that conformed to their strict vegetarian principles. They accidentally left some boiled wheat sitting around and it was stale by the time they found it. Rather than throw it away, they put it through rollers, hoping to get sheets of dough. They got flakes instead, which were a big hit with the patients.
4. Electric Blankets
In 1912 American inventor s.i. Russell patented an electric heating pad intended to warm the chests of tuberculosis patients. The wiring left a lot to be desired, as the heating pads had a habit of bursting into flames. Though many inventors tried for years to create an electric blanket, none was successful until WW2, when the US Air Force invented an electrically-heated flying suit and the technology was applied to make a functioning blanket.
What we know as Kleenex started as air filters for GI’s gas masks in World War I. At war’s end, the company that made them was left with a huge surplus so they marketed them as Celluwipes, sanitary cold cream removers. Women liked the product but complained that their husbands and kids kept blowing their noses in their cold cream wipes. The company got the message, changed the product’s name to Kleenex and re-introduced them as disposable hankies.
6. Microwave Ovens
Percy Spencer, working for the Raytheon Corporation, was experimenting with a new vacuum tube called a magnetron. When a candy bar in his pocket started to melt, Spencer saw he was onto something and tried an experiment with popcorn. The popcorn popped right on cue and the microwave oven was born.
In 1955 Joseph and Noah McVicker accidentally invented the modeling clay while trying to make wallpaper cleaner. A year later, when colors were added and it was marketed as a toy, it became a classic. The formula for nontoxic Play-Doh has always been a secret.
8. Silly Putty
During World War II, James Wright was trying to make a synthetic substitute for rubber. He added boric acid to silicone oil and got a new polymerized substance that bounced. It took several years before its potential was understood and it was marketed as a child’s toy.
Naval engineer Richard James was trying to develop a spring to stabilize sensitive ship-board equipment when one of his springs accidentally fell off a table and continued walking! Richard’s wife, Betty, thought of the name Slinky and the rest is history.
One Winter day in 1905, eleven year-old Frank Epperson accidentally left a jar of powdered soft drink and water on the back porch overnight. In the morning he found it, frozen solid with the stirring stick still in it, standing upright. Frank realized he had accidentally made a good thing. The following Summer, he made them in the family icebox and sold them in the neighborhood for a nickel apiece.