Throughout history, some of the greatest inventions were created by accident. In many cases, it was a happy coincidence that changed the way we live, work, and play. Here are 10 of the most significant accidental inventions of all time.
10- Post-It Notes
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3M Company’s Spence Silver accidentally invented Post-it notes in 1968. He was experimenting with a special type of adhesive. He found the adhesive created a strong bond yet allowed the paper to be easily removed. Silver shared his discovery with colleague Art Fry, who developed the idea for a bookmark that would not fall out of a hymnal. Fry and Silver began to develop the idea and the Post-it Note was born. It took almost a decade before the product was ready to be released to the public. It was released in stores in 1977 and became an instant success. The product was revolutionary, as it allowed people to quickly note and remember important information. Post-it Notes have become a staple in offices and homes around the world. They are now available in all shapes, sizes, and colors. Post-it Notes have become an indispensable tool in everyday life.
Kevlar, one of the accidental inventions, was discovered in 1965 by DuPont chemist Stephanie Kwolek. She was attempting to create a lighter-weight alternative to steel for use in tires. Instead, she stumbled upon a strong and lightweight material now known as Kevlar. This material revolutionized the way the world thinks about protection from bullets and other ballistic threats. It is five times stronger than steel and up to 40% lighter. Kevlar is also fire resistant and can withstand extreme temperatures and chemicals. Due to its strength and flexibility, Kevlar is now used in many industries, including protective body armor, cut-resistant gloves, rope, and even tires. Its many applications have made it an invaluable asset in the world today.
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In 1992, a Finnish engineer named Matti Makkonen had an idea for a new way of communicating. He conceived of a system for sending and receiving messages electronically. This system eventually became known as text messaging. It was an accidental invention, as Makkonen hadn’t intended to create anything of the sort. Nonetheless, his idea was revolutionary. Texting allowed people to communicate instantly, without the need for expensive phones or complicated hardware. It was easy to use, and quickly gained popularity. Soon, text messaging was being used worldwide. It became an integral part of modern life, eventually supplanting traditional forms of communication like email. Today, text messaging is so ubiquitous that it’s hard to imagine life without it.
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Roy Plunkett accidentally invented Teflon while experimenting with refrigerants in 1938. He combined tetrafluoroethylene gas with hydrochloric acid to form a white, waxy solid. On further testing, Plunkett discovered the solid was extremely slippery and had a great resistance to heat and chemical reactions. This material, now known as polytetrafluoroethylene, was patented in 1941 and commercialized in 1946 under the name Teflon. Today, Teflon is widely used in many applications, from cooking utensils and fabric coatings to industrial components and medical implants. Its unique properties make it ideal for use in a range of industries. Its ability to resist corrosion and heat make it especially useful for high-temperature environments. Additionally, its non-reactive nature has allowed it to be used in the medical industry for various implants and surgical equipment.
6- Super Glue
In the late 1940s, Harry Coover stumbled upon an unexpected discovery. He was experimenting with cyanoacrylates, hoping to create a clear plastic for precision gun sights. Unexpectedly, the cyanoacrylates stuck together everything they touched. Coover realized this could be a powerful adhesive and so, Super Glue was born. He tinkered with the formula and perfected it, creating an adhesive that was strong, fast and easy to use. Coover patented his invention in 1958 and it quickly gained popularity. Today, Super Glue is used in millions of homes and businesses around the world, from repairing broken toys to sealing wounds quickly. It’s a remarkable example in the world of accidental inventions that have changed the world.
5- Microwave Ovens
In 1945, Percy Spencer, an American self-taught engineer, and inventor, was working on an active radar-related project at the Raytheon Corporation. While he was working on the project, he noticed that a chocolate bar in his pocket had started to melt. After further investigations, he realized that microwaves from the radar had caused the chocolate to melt.
Spencer then decided to conduct further experiments with food placed in front of the radar to see if it would cook. He found that the microwaves were able to cook popcorn and an egg, which exploded when placed in front of the device. The same year, Raytheon filed a patent for Spencer’s invention, and the first microwave oven was born. By 1967, the first commercial microwave oven was introduced to the public, and by the 1970s, they had become a fixture in homes around the world.
Wilhelm Röntgen accidentally discovered x-rays while experimenting with a cathode ray tube. He observed a faint light coming from a nearby chemically coated screen. Wilhelm realized that the light was coming from the tube and was being produced by invisible rays. He studied the rays and found that they could penetrate through solid objects. Röntgen experimented further and discovered that the rays could be used to create an image of the inside of an object. He named the rays x-rays due to their unknown nature. He tested these rays on his wife’s hand and was able to produce a shadow-like image of her bones. Röntgen went on to win a Nobel Prize for his accidental discovery. X-rays have since been used in medical imaging, security systems, and materials research.
Alexander Fleming accidentally discovered Penicillin in 1928. He noticed a mold growing on a staphylococcus culture plate and observed that the colonies around it were being destroyed. He isolated and identified the mold as a Penicillium fungus. Fleming then observed that the mold released a substance that could kill certain harmful bacteria. He called it Penicillin and it became the first antibiotic. Fleming tested the antibiotic on mice and found it to be effective. He then tested it on humans and found it to be incredibly effective in treating bacterial infections. Fleming’s accidental discovery of Penicillin revolutionized medicine and saved countless lives. It is now used to treat a variety of illnesses, from ear infections to pneumonia.
2- Corn Flakes
W.K. Kellogg and his brother John accidentally invented corn flakes when they were experimenting with wheat and rice dough. They boiled it, then rolled it out to create flat sheets. Then passed the sheets through the rollers and the flakes were created. They toasted the flakes, which gave them the characteristic crunch and flavor. The brothers recognized the potential of their invention and started selling their corn flakes in 1906. They even added sugar to the flakes to make them even more appealing to the public. This was a very successful venture, and soon the Kellogg Company become one of the most successful cereal companies in the world.The Kellogg brothers’ accidental invention of corn flakes revolutionized the breakfast cereal industry, and the Kellogg Company continues to be a major player in the market today.
In 1879, Constantin Fahlberg accidentally discovered saccharin while working in a laboratory in Johns Hopkins University. He noticed the sweet taste on his fingers after handling one of the coal tar derivatives he was working with. Fahlberg recognized the potential of his discovery and started working to develop it. He soon realized that saccharin was more than 200 times sweeter than sugar. He managed to isolate the compound and later filed a patent for it. After further tests and trials, Fahlberg successfully produced the first commercial saccharin in 1884. This was a huge breakthrough in the sweetener industry and Fahlberg’s accidental invention changed the course of history.