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World changing inventions that happened by accident (22 Pics)

It’s hard to believe, but sometimes an accident can be a good thing. Artistic pioneer and all-round comforting father figure, Bob Ross, once referred to a bad brush stroke as a “happy accident,” and he’s right. Sometimes there are happy accidents, in life and we need to embrace them.
Like with these inventions. No one set out to create these things, they just happened because of inattention, or just the right combination of chemicals. And for that, accidental inventors, we thank you.
Especially for the waffle cones, I love those.
Probably one of the best known accidental inventions, Coca-Cola was invented by a pharmacist named John Pemberton. He was hoping to create a cure for headaches and anxiety, and came up with a syrup from wine and coca extract (the root ingredient in cocaine). When his hometown of Atlanta banned the sale of alcohol in 1885, he removed the wine from the recipe and added in carbonated water.
It became a hit.
LSD was one of the most popular psychedelic drugs popular with the counter-culture and youth in the 60’s. Accidentally created by Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann, Lysergic Acid Diethylamide was first created in 1938 as a stimulant for the circulatory system. It didn’t go anywhere.
5 years later, he made another batch because he really appreciated the chemical structure of the substance, and accidentally ingested some. This was the first acid trip in history, and the start of a really tricked out counterculture.
Chocolate Chip Cookies
While these seem like they’ve been around forever, they were actually accidentally invented. Back in 1936, the Toll House Inn was a bed-and-breakfast in Whitman, Mass. One morning, the co-owner Ruth Graves Wakesfield was making her popular butter drop dough cookies and she ran out of baker’s chocolate. Grabbing some sweetened chocolate she had on hand, she chopped it up and added it in.
To her surprise, it didn’t melt, but instead, stayed in chip form. Being the clever woman that she was, she contacted Nestle and sold her recipe in return for a lifetime supply of chocolate. Thus, the amazing cookie was born.
If anyone is going to invent a happy accident, it’s going to be a kid. Eleven-year-old Frank Epperson was making a fruit-flavoured soda with power and water, and he left it outside in the snow to chill. He forgot about it overnight, with his stirring spoon still inside, and when he found it hardened, he pulled it out by the stick and loved his accidental treat.
Years later, he decided to serve this crazy treat at a fireman’s ball and it was a hit. He began mass-producing them as Eppsicles, until his kids told him that the name sucked. He renamed his company Popsicle, and a legend was born.
As it turns out, not all bacteria is out to get you. Scottish scientist Sir Alexander Flemming discovered this first hand. He was looking for a cure-all type of drug and was experimenting with various bacteria, when he noticed that a rapidly growing mold was preventing bacteria from growing, in one of his discarded petri dishes. He isolated the mold, grew it individually and was able to create the powerful antibiotic Penicillin from it.
Microwave Oven
This is one of my favourite accidental inventions of all time. Created in 1946, a United States aerospace/defense contractor Raytheon hired Percy Spencer to develop radar technology. While he was experimenting with a vacuum tube using micro-waves, he noticed that a candy bar in his pocket was melting.
With a flash of inspiration, he grabbed popcorn kernels and held them near the tube and they began popping, making them the first thing ever cooked by a microwave oven.
We can pretty much blame the military-industrial complex for a lot of these accidental discoveries, even for one’s that don’t seem like the fit a military purpose. The Slinky came out of a case of slippery fingers on a naval battleship. Naval engineer Richard Jones was designing a meter to measure power on the ship and dropped a tension spring. As he watched it bounce around the floor, he had the idea that it’d make a great toy. He was right.
Stainless Steel
While we’ve been producing metals and practicing metallurgy for millennia, no one had figured out how to prevent rust. In 1912, a metallurgist named Harry Blearily was experimenting with making gun barrels that wouldn’t wear down, he developed a steel alloy that wouldn’t erode. After several failed attempts, he looked down at this reject pile and saw that there was a sample that wasn’t rusting like the rest. Thus, stainless steel came to be.
Perhaps one of the most celebrated inventions of the Twentieth Century, this drug actually started off as a way to treat high blood pressure. In testing, they found that it didn’t do much about lowering the BP, but male participants spoke of frequent erections. It was then re-tested as a remedy for erectile dysfunction, and the happy blue pill was approved and shipped in 1998.
Artificial Sweetners – Saccharin
This is a gross accident and one that might turn you off of the sugar alternative. In 1879, Constantine Fahlberg was a researcher at John’s Hopkins University, and he was working on new uses for coal tar. That evening he found his wife’s biscuits to be far sweeter than normal. As he tried to figure out why, he discovered that he hadn’t washed his hands and he had remnants of his lab tests – saccharin, on his hands. Now you’ll find this coal tar derivative in Sweet N’ Low packets.
For hundreds of years, bran gruel was a thing. Typically a peasant food, gruel is a cereal grain boiled in water or milk. A Washburn Crosby Company book was making a batch one day, when he accidentally dropped some mixture on a hot stove. It hardened and cracked into flakes. Trying some, he found that it was far more appetizing than the gruel, and Wheaties were born.
Fun fact: originally the company wanted to call them Washburn’s Gold Medal Whole Wheat Flakes, then Nukeys. Finally, it went to an employee contest, and they settled on Wheaties.
Right after the Industrial Revolution, things were happening all over the place. In the late 1800’s, a German physicist was working with cathode-ray tubes. Wilhelm Röntgen, was working with the vacuum sealed tubes, and adding electricity. He wrapped them with black cardboard, and noticed that a nearby chemical was also glowing.
He soon began to test the invisible rays on his wife’s hands, and found that the rays would pass through flesh, wood and other substances, but not metals and bone. Not knowing why, or how, he called his accidental invention X-Rays; the “X” standing in for unknown.
Invented by Alfred Nobel (the same guy who’s the namesake of the Nobel Peace Prize), he was working with nitroglycerin and blasting caps to create a controllable explosion, when he accidentally killed his brother. Undeterred, he was working on how to make it more stable, when he dropped a can of nitro, but noticed that it didn’t explode, but was soaked up by the kieselguhr, a sedimentary rock mixture that was sued to pack the cans.
He refined the mixture, added in some sawdust and dynamite was soon born.
John Hopp, an electrical engineer, was researching hypothermia in the mid part of the century, and trying to use radio frequency heating to boost body temperatures after a major drop. What he discovered was that the electrical impulses didn’t do much for body heat, but was able to restart the heart and gently shock it back into rhythm.
Post-it Notes
3M is a powerhouse of inventions, but not all of them are intentional. In 1968, researchers Spencer Silver and Art Fry developed a soft adhesive but couldn’t find any use for it. Later on, Fy was practicing hymns with his church choir and was feeling frustrated that his bookmarks were falling out. Then he remembered their old idea and resurrected the formula. 12 years later, in 1980, it launched, and now everyone’s got a drawer full of multicoloured post-its.
This was a result of four men in the 1800’s, who each independently realized that ether and nitrous oxide helped with pain management. At the time, vapour parties were all the rage, where people would get together and get high. In 1844, a man at one of these parties fell and injured his leg, but he was feeling absolutely no pain. Horace Wells, then realized that the gas was to blame. He later removed his own tooth under the gas’ influence and found that he had no pain. That’s metal.
While it’s rumoured that NASA invented this, it’s not true. It was actually electrical engineer George De Mestral, who was walking his dog and found cocklebur fruits on his dog’s coat. Putting it under a microscope, he found that the hooks on the fruit allowed them to connect to other objects. A short time later, he decided that nylon was the best material to recreate this phenomenon, and named it Velcro.
Potato Chips
It’s hard to believe that these are an accident, because they’re delicious. In 1853, George Crum was a chef working at the Carey Moon Lake House in NY, and he had a tough customer who kept sending his french fries back, complaining they weren’t thin or crispy enough. Finally, Crum got pissed off, sliced the potatoes paper thin and fried them until they were crunchy and served them. The diner loved them and they were added to the menu.
Even though an early incarnation of the match was invented in China over 1,000 years ago, it wasn’t practical. Earlier this century, English chemist John Walker was stirring chemicals, when he found a dried lump on the end of his mixing stick. He went to scrape it off, and it ignited.
Realizing what he had, he started selling his “friction sticks” in a tin box with sandpaper.
You’d think something this commonly used would have been intentionally made, but no. Initially discovered by Charles Goodyear, of the tire company, he was mixing rubber and sulfur, and accidentally put it on a stove. What he found was a strong and durable material that could be moulded.
Then other people ran with his discovery and created the plastic we know today.

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