Maybe it comes as no surprise that the smelly, gooey stuff kids have been playing with for decades was originally intended as wallpaper cleaner. In the early 20th century, however, people stopped using coal to heat their homes, which meant that their wallpaper stayed relatively clean. Luckily for Cleo McVicker, the original inventor, his son discovered another use – modeling clay.
Harry Coover, a researcher at Kodak Laboratories, was developing plastic lenses for gun sights when he stumbled across a synthetic adhesive made from cyanoacrylate. At the time, 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 in 1948 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 in the 1960’s and began using the material in its space program that this “zipperless zipper” was really popularized.
In 1895, Wilhelm Roentgen was performing an experiment using cathode rays, and he realized that some fluorescent cardboard across the room was lighting up. This was in spite of the fact that there was a thick block between the cathode ray and the cardboard. The only explanation was that light rays were actually passing through the solid block.
Édouard Bénédictus, a French chemist, accidentally knocked a flask off of his desk one day. It fell to the ground, but rather than shattering, it had only cracked. The flask had been filled with plastic cellulose nitrate, or liquid plastic, which had evaporated and left a thin but durable film on the inside. This led Bénédictus to securing the first patent for safety glass, which is most commonly used in vehicle windshields.