You know that pink packet of fake sugar that’s always sitting on the restaurant table? Well, as sweet as it is you may be surprised to know where it came from. In 1879 Constantin Fahlberg, a chemist trying to find alternative uses for coal tar, came home after a long day of work only to notice that his wife’s buscuits tasted a lot sweeter. After asking her about it he realized he hadn’t washed his hands after work, and voila.
Although most students would be a bit upset if their homework all of a sudden exploded in their face, Jamie Link, a graduate student at the University of California made the most of the situation and ended up changing the world. After the silicon chip she was working on was accidently destroyed she realized that the individual pieces could still function as sensors. Today they are used to detect everything from deadly tumors to biological agents.
In 1853 George Crum, a chef in New York, accidentally invented potato chips when an annoying patron kept sending his french fried potatoes back to the kitchen because they were soggy. In an attempt to teach the customer a lesson, Crum sliced them extra thin, fried them to a crisp and drowned them in salt. To his surprise, however, the complaining customer actually like them and thus potato chips were born.
Although these days its almost common knowledge, this list wouldn’t be complete without civil war veteran turned pharmacist John Pemberton and what he originally intended as nothing more than a medication (this is also why the original coke actually did include cocaine on its list of ingredients)
It was 1905 and soda pop had just become the most popular drink on the market. 11 year old Frank Epperson decided he wanted to try saving some money by making his own at home. Using a combination of powder and water he got pretty close but then absentmindedly left the concoction out on the porch all night. Temperatures ended up dropping severely and when he came out in the morning he found his mixture frozen with the stirring stick still in it.
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Ice Cream Cones
Although ice cream had been served on dishes for years, it wasn’t until the 1904 World’s Fair that the ice cream cone was born. An ice cream stall at the fair was doing so well that they were quickly running out of plates while the neighboring persian waffle stall was hardly selling anything. The two stall owners then had the idea of rolling up the waffles, plopping the ice cream on top and voila…the ice cream cone is born.
If you have ever cooked an omelet you can thank Roy Plunkett, a chemist who worked for DuPont in the early 20th century for accidentally stumbling across the non reactive, no stick chemical while experimenting with refrigerants. Dupont quickly patented it and today we know it as teflon.
Charles Goodyear had spent ages trying to find a way to make rubber resistant to heat and cold. After a number of failed attempts he finally stumbled across a mixture that worked. Before turning out the lights one evening he accidentally spilled some rubber, sulfur, and lead onto a stove resulting in a mixture that charred and hardened but could still be used.
In the early 1900s shellac was the material of choice when it came to insulation. But due to the fact that it was made form Southeast Asian beetles the material was not the cheapest thing to import. For this reason chemist Leo Hendrik Baekeland thought he might be able to make some money by producing an alternative. What he came up with however, was a moldable material that could be heated to extremely high temperatures without being distorted aka plastic.
The year was 1896 and physicist Henri Becquerel was trying to get fluorescent materials to produce x-rays by being left in the sun. His experiment however, suffered a week of cloudy, overcast skies. After leaving all of his materials in a drawer he returned one week later only to find that the uranium rock he had left there had managed to imprint its image on a nearby photographic plate without any exposure to light.
Strangely enough it was while 18 year old chemist William Perkin was busy researching a cure for malaria that he accidentally ended up changing the fashion world forever. The year was 1856 and one of his experiments ended up going terribly wrong, creating was seemed to be nothing more than a murky mess. As he examined it, however, William noticed an beautiful color radiating from the petri dish. And thus the world’s first synthetic dye was born.
Wilson Greatbatch was working on a contraption that would record human heart beats when he accidentally inserted the wrong resistor. It ended up perfectly mimicking the heart’s rhythm and thus gave birth to the first implantable pacemaker.
In 1968 Spencer Silver, a chemist working for 3M stumbled across a “low-tack” adhesive that he found was just strong enough to hold paper to a surface but weak enough that it wouldn’t tear upon removal. After many failed attempts at finding a marketable application, one of Silver’s colleagues, Art Fry, realized that it would be perfect as a no-slip bookmark and the post-it note was born.
Every single guy in the world should be grateful to Percy Spencer, a navy radar specialist who was tinkering around with microwave emitters when he felt the chocolate bar in his pocket start melting. The year was 1945 and the world, or rather the kitchen, hasn’t been the same since.
During World War II, when navy engineer Richard James was trying to figure out a way to employ springs aboard navy ships to keep sensitive instruments from bouncing around, he accidentally dropped one of them. To his amusement the spring immediately righted itself and landed upright on the floor. Since then kids everywhere have enjoyed playing around with this pointless toy.
Maybe it comes as no surprise that the smelly, gooey stuff kids have been play with for decades was originally intended as wallpaper cleaner. In the early 20th century, however, people quit using coal to heat their homes which meant their wallpaper stayed relatively clean. Luckily for Cleo McVicker, the original inventor, his son discovered another use – modeling clay.
While developing plastic lenses for gun sights, Harry Coover, a researcher at Kodak Laboratories, stumbled across a synthetic adhesive made from cyanoacrylate. At the time, however, he rejected it as being far too sticky to be of any use. Years later though, it was “rediscovered” and is today sold under the trade name of “super glue”
Swiss engineer George de Mestral was on a hunting trip with his dog when he noticed how burrs would stick to its fur. Eventually he managed to replicate the effect in his laboratory but it wasn’t until NASA came along that the technology was really popularized.
They’re not the first electromagnetic wave that was discovered by accident but in 1895 when Wilhelm Roentgen was performing an experiment using cathode rays he realized that some fluorescent cardboard across the room was lighting up in spite of the fact that their was a thick block between the cathode ray and the cardboard. The only explanation was that light rays were actually passing trhough the solid block.
After Édouard Bénédictus, a French chemist, accidentally knocked a flask off of his desk it fell to the ground but rather than shattering it only cracked. Upon closer inspection he realized that it had recently contained plastic cellulose nitrate which had coated the inside of it and kept it from coming apart on impact.
When Will Keith Kellogg began helping his brother cook meals for patients at the Sanitarium at which he worked, he ended up accidentally stumbling across the recipe for Corn Flakes after leaving some bread dough sitting out for several hours. Upon finding the flaky dough he decided to see what would happen so he baked it anyway, and the rest is history.
It’s not like humanity just recently discovered how to blow things up. Gunpowder and nitroglycerin have been around for ages. The issue however, especially in the case of nitroglycerin, was its instability. It wasn’t until Alfred Nobel accidentally discovered a method of containing the substance without hindering its power that people could really start having a blast.
Although there is no single person that can be definitively credited with discovering anesthesia, if you have ever had an operation you can thank the likes of Crawford Long, Wiliam Morton, and Charles Jackson, all who first noticed the anesthetic effects of various drugs such as nitrous oxide, or laughing gas, due to the fact that they were used extensively for recreational purposes.
Next time you enjoy your dinner by way of a rust-free fork remember to thank 20th century arms manufacturers for hiring Harry Brearly, an English metallurgist, to develop a non rusty gun barrel. Shortly after testing his creation on various corrosives, one of which was lemon juice, he realized that it wold be perfect for cutlery.
While studying staphylococcus, Alexander Fleming added some of the bacteria to petri dishes before leaving for a vacation. Although he had expected the bacteria to grow, upon returning he was surprised to find a mold growing in the dishes instead. After a close inspection he found that the mold released a byproduct which inhibited the growth of the staph thus giving birth to the first antibiotic in the world.