Humans are responsible for a host of accidental inventions. It makes sense when you think about it. As humans, we’re essentially walking accident-machines. Some of these accidents are simple – such as stubbing our toes on the coffee table or tripping on our own shoe laces – and some are major – such as instigating an avalanche while skiing. But then there are the accidents which revolutionize our world. Accidents that gift humanity with an illusive piece of a puzzle resulting in an extravagant masterpiece. It’s here this list will focus on – accidents which resulted in inventions that changed our world for the better (or, maybe some weren’t so revolutionary, such as Silly Putty, but it depends on who you ask). Some accidental inventions such as the microwave, stainless steel, or our #1 accidental invention play principal roles in our daily lives and it would be difficult to imagine life without them (which makes you wonder, how did they manage to live back then…I digress). Necessity may be the mother of invention, but accidents are the bases of our best inventions. Read on to find out what might not have existed today had it not been for a mistake in this list of 25 accidental inventions that revolutionized our world.
By the way, some invention were not born out of accident but rather from dreams. It’s true, check out these 25 Dreams that Forever Changed Society to find out more.
One of the best accidental inventions of all time, the microwave oven was created in 1946. United States aerospace and defense contractor Raytheon hired Percy Spencer to work on radar technology. While experimenting with a vacuum tube using micro-waves, a candy bar in Spencer pocket began melting. He ran to grab some popcorn kernels, holding them near the tube and they began popping, making popcorn the first food ever cooked by microwave oven.
Research for the weapons industry has resulted in a host of accidental inventions for general society, even fun ones. The Slinky, many a child’s favorite toy, was made by naval engineer Richard Jones. While designing a meter to measure power on battleships, he dropped one of the tension springs he was working with. As it bounced around the floor, he realized its potential as a toy.
Humans have been practicing metallurgy (producing and purifying metals) for millennia; we’ve come a long way since the Bronze and Iron Ages. Steel – iron with added carbon – was a useful metal for many years other than its likelihood to rust. After years of humans trying to produce non-rusting steel, metallurgist Harry Brearly from Sheffield, England, was successful in 1912. Experimenting to make gun barrels which wouldn’t wear down, he tried developing a steel alloy which wouldn’t erode. After many experiments, he found a sample reinforced with chromium which hadn’t rusted in his rejected alloy pile. The mixing of chromium with air created a thin, protective film which prevented rusting, thus stainless steel was born and revolutionized industries from cutlery to mechanics.
Men (and plenty of women) rejoiced after two Pfizer Pharmaceuticals employees, Simon Campbell and David Roberts, found an accidental use for their drug intended to treat high blood pressure. Unfortunately, it didn’t do much to lower blood pressure, but male participants reported frequent erections while taking the pill. Next tested as a remedy for erectile dysfunction, the “blue pill” (Viagra) was approved in 1998 by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
One of the grosser starts to an accidental invention, Saccharin – commonly seen today in the pink Sweet n’ Low packets – was first produced by Constantine Fahlberg, a John’s Hopkins University researcher. Trying to find new uses for coal tar, Fahlberg found his wife’s biscuits much sweeter than normal one evening in 1879. Rushing to figure out what caused it, Fahlberg found remnants from his lab tests – namely, saccharin – on his hands.