25 Accidental Discoveries That You Should Be Thankful For

Posted by , Updated on March 27, 2014

From plastics to potato chips these are 25 accidental discoveries that you should be thankful for!

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accidental inventions

When Scottish biologist Alexander Fleming came back from vacation he noticed that his bacteria were all being killed off by a strange fungus. Modern medicine has never been the same.


The Microwave

accidental inventions

After Percy Spencer, an engineer working for Raytheon, walked in front of a Magnetron he noticed that the chocolate bar in his pocket melted. Several years later he successfully put together the first microwave oven.



accidental inventions

While on a hiking trip in 1941 Swiss engineer Georges de Mestral found burrs clinging to his pants and realized that the burr’s hooks would cling to anything loop shaped. All he had to do was recreate the loops.



accidental inventions

Roy Plunkett, a scientist at DuPont, was looking for ways to make refrigerators more home friendly by replacing their somewhat dangerous refrigerants. One of the samples he was working with ended up leaving a strange, slippery resin that was resistent to heat and chemicals.


Vulcanized Rubber

accidental inventions

Although in the 1830s the inability of rubber to withstand extreme temperatures led many to write it off, Charles Goodyear saw things differently. After years of experimenting he accidentally dropped one of his concoctions on the stove and it didn’t burn. Rubber was now weatherproof.



accidental inventions

John Pemberton was not a businessman. He just wanted to cure headaches. His recipes consisted of two things – coca leaves and cola nuts. When his lab assistant accidentally mixed the two with carbonated water Coke was born.



accidental inventions

In 1896 French scientist Henri Becquerel was working on an experiment where uranium enriched crystal was burning an image onto a photographic plate using sunlight…or so he thought. When dark clouds rolled in one day he put the equipment in a drawer to continue another day. When he came back a few days later he found that the crystal had somehow still managed to emit rays that “fogged the plate”.


Smart Dust

accidental inventions

When chemistry graduate students working on a silicon chip accidentally shattered it they discovered that the tiny bits of the chip were still sending signals. They coined the bits “smart dust” and today they play a role in technologies used to attack and destroy tumors.


Corn Flakes

accidental inventions

Keith Kellogg was assisting his brother who worked as a doctor at Battle Creek Sanitarium with patients and their diets when he accidentally left the bread dough sitting out one day. He decided to bake it anyway and the flaky snack that emerged was a hit among the patients.



accidental inventions

Alfred Nobel, a Swedish chemist and engineer was trying to stabilize nitroglycerin so that it could be stored when a series of accidents eventually led to the death of his brother in an explosion. Some say this pushed him even harder. One day while he was transporting some of the compound a can started leaking. The packing mixture, however, started absorbing the liquid. Since nitroglycerin is most dangerous in its liquid form he had found his answer…absorb it.



accidental inventions

Constantine Fahlberg, a scientist at John Hopkins University accidentally carried some compounds from the lab home with him. While eating dinner he realized the bread tasted strangely sweet in spite of the fact that he hadn’t used any sugar. He then realized it had come from the lab.



accidental inventions

While building an ocillator to record heart beat sounds in animals at Cornell University Wilson Greatbatch accidentally grabbed the wrong transistor. After switching on the device he found it to have a very familiar rhythmic pulsing sound, very similar to a human heart.


Modern Anesthesia

accidental inventions

Although alcohol has long been the drug of choice when it comes to amputations and other painful battlefield style procedures, in the 1800s several doctors realized that ether and nitrous oxide (laughing gas) inhibited pain in people under the influence.


Silly Putty

accidental inventions

During World War II, while attempting to create a synthetic rubber substitute, James Wright dropped boric acid into silicone oil. The result was a bouncy substance that had no apparent use. In 1950 marketing expert Peter Hodgson saw its potential as a toy and now we have Silly Putty.


Post-it Notes

accidental inventions

In 1974 3M employee Arthur Fry used what 3M had deemed a useless sticky substance to hold bookmarks in his hymnal while singing in the church choir. Although 3M was initially skeptical about selling adhesive notes, today they are glad they did.



accidental inventions

In 1943, naval engineer Richard James was trying to develop a spring that would support and stabilize sensitive equipment on ships. When one of the springs accidentally fell off a shelf, it continued moving, and James got the idea for a toy


Potato Chips

accidental inventions

Chef George Crum came up with the snack in 1853 when he was fed up with a customer who kept sending his fried potatoes back to the kitchen saying they weren’t crunchy enough. Annoyed, Crum sliced them as thin as possible, fried them in hot grease, and doused them in salt. The customer loved them.



accidental inventions

Invented 2,000 years ago in China, legend has it that a cook accidentally mixed charcoal, sulfur, and saltpeter, all items commonly found in a kitchen back then. The mixture burned and when compressed in a bamboo tube, it exploded.



accidental inventions

Play-Doh was accidentally invented in 1955 by Joseph and Noah McVicker while trying to make a wallpaper cleaner. It was marketed a year later by toy manufacturer Rainbow Crafts.


Super Glue

accidental inventions

In 1942 Dr. Harry Coover found that a substance he created, cyanoacrylate, was a failure. It stuck to everything it touched just a little too well.



accidental inventions

Yes, we know X-Rays are not an “invention” but their discovery was still a pretty cool accident. In 1895 German physicist Wilhelm Roentgen was performing an experiment with Cathode ray tubes when he notice a piece of fluorescent cardboard lighting up from across the room in spite of the fact that a thick screen was between the cathode ray emitter and the cardboard. Light was apparently passing through a solid object.


Chocolate Chip Cookies

accidental inventions

According to legend the owner of Toll House Inn, Mrs. Wakefield, was making chocolate cookies but ran out of regular baker’s chocolate so she substituted broken pieces of semi-sweet chocolate thinking they would mix into the batter. She was wrong.



accidental inventions

In 1905 11 year old Frank Epperson left a mixture of powdered soda and water on the porch with a stir stick in the cup. That night temperatures dropped below zero and he discovered his treat the next morning. As any humble 11 year old would do he named it after himself – the epsicle. Nearly two decades later he went public with his snack and changed the name to Popsicle.


Stainless Steel

accidental inventions

Although steel has been forged for millenia, because it is mostly iron, it rusts. For centuries metallurgists had attempted to add other substances to steel to prevent the inevitable with only modest success. In 1912, however, Harry Brearly was trying to create a gun barrel that would resist erosion. After several months he realized that one of his failures retained its luster. It contained 12 percent chromium and that was just enough.



accidental inventions

Chances are you are currently within arms reach of something plastic, especially if you are reading this. In 1907 Belgian chemist Leo Baekeland set out to find a replacement for shellac. Although his combination of formaldehyde and phenol failed to catch on he noticed that by controlling the temperature and combining the mixture with wood flour, asbestos, or slate dust, he could create a compound that was moldable, robust, non-conductive, and heat-resistant. He called his invention Bakelite and today it has without a doubt completely transformed our world.

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