Thank God for these accidental inventions

Sep 15, 2016 | Science

A long time ago, in about 250 B.C., the famous Greek mathematician, physicist and inventor, Archimedes, was working on a problem to know if any silver had been mixed in the king’s gold crown. Still stuck on the problem, he went to take a bath when he noticed that as he stepped into the tub, the water level rose. This gave him an insight that volume of the water that was displaced must be equal to the volume of the part of his body that was submerged in water. So excited was he by his discovery, that he apparently ran naked on the streets crying “Eureka” (meaning ‘I have found it’). This discovery gave him an idea to solve the problem of the crown and led to the invention of the famous Archimedes’ principle!

“To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk.”

Thomas A. Edison

Most inventions are born out of tireless effort by their inventors (It took Edison more than 3000 attempts to create the first practical incandescent light bulb!). But sometimes all it takes is chance – a small accident or luck, to land on the ‘Eureka’ moment. Here, we look at some of these accidental inventions that happened not by choice, but by chance!

Accidental Inventions, Science stories, Potato Chips invention story, Potato chips origin story

Potato chips

Inventor: George Crum, 1853

 

On August 24, 1853, George Crum, a cook at Moon’s Lake House, was having a hard day. He was trying hard to appease an unhappy customer, who kept sending his French-fried potatoes back, complaining they were too thick. Finally, frustrated, he sliced the potatoes razor thin, fried them until they were crisp and doused them with extra salt so that the customer couldn’t use a fork. Hoping to teach the customer a lesson, he was surprised when the customer loved them. Thus, the potato chips were born!

Accidental Inventions, Science stories, Ice cream cone invention story, Ice cream cone origin story

Ice-cream cone

Inventor: Ernest Hamwi, 1904

 

At the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904, Ernest Hamwi, a Syrian, had a waffle booth where he sold wafer-like pastries ‘zalabi’. His booth was next to an ice cream vendor, who ran out of cups. Hamwi decided to help him and rolled a waffle to contain the ice cream. Thus, the first ice cream cone was born!

Accidental Inventions, Science stories, Microwave Oven invention story, Microwave Oven origin story

Microwave oven

Inventor: Percy Spencer, 1945

 

Percy Spencer was a self-taught engineer who was employed by Raytheon, a major U.S. defense contractor. One day, he was experimenting with magnetrons and noticed that microwaves from an active radar set started melting a peanut butter candy bar in his pocket. He then tried it with popcorn, which started popping all over the place and an egg, which exploded in the face of one of the experimenters. With this finding, he fed microwave power into a metal box containing food and found that its temperature rose. The microwave oven had well and truly been invented!

Accidental Inventions, Science stories, Cornflakes invention story, Cornflakes origin story

Cornflakes

Inventors: John and Will Kellogg, 1894

 

The Kellogg brothers, John and Will, were trying to develop new food for vegetarians. One day, they left cooked wheat to sit while they attended to other pressing matters. Upon returning, they found that the wheat had gone stale. Due to budget constraints, they still forced the wheat through rollers, hoping to get sheets of dough. Instead, they got flakes. They toasted it and served it to people. It turned out to be a hit and the brothers then experimented with flakes from other grains!

Accidental Inventions, Science stories, Post-it invention story, Post-it origin story

Post-it

Inventors: Spencer Silver & Arthur Fry, 1977

 

In 1968, Dr. Spencer Silver, a scientist at 3M, was trying to develop a super-strong adhesive for the aerospace industry. Instead he made a weak, pressure-sensitive adhesive that would stick even after several uses. For 5 years, he promoted his adhesive within 3M but failed to get any acceptance. In 1974, Art Fry, one of his colleagues, came up with the idea of using it to anchor his bookmark in his hymnbook. The idea was developed and Post-it was born. The yellow color was not exactly by choice – the lab next to the Post-it team had only yellow scrap paper to use!

Accidental Inventions, Science stories, Slinky invention story, Slinky origin story

Slinky

Inventor: Richard James, 1943

 

In 1943, Richard James, a naval mechanical engineer, was developing springs that could support and stabilize sensitive instruments aboard ships in rough seas. Accidently, he knocked one of the springs from a shelf and watched it as it wobbled in “steps” down a stack a books and stood upright on the floor. He got an idea- “I think if I got the right property of steel and the right tension; I could make it walk”. He fine-tuned it and after neighborhood children expressed an interest in it, he started selling it as a toy. His wife, Betty, coined the word for the toy – Slinky (meaning sleek and graceful).

Accidental Inventions, Science stories, Pacemaker invention story, Pacemaker origin story

Pacemaker

Inventor: Wilson Greatbatch, 1958

 

In the 1950s, Wilson Greatbatch left Navy to become a medical researcher. In 1956, while working on building an oscillator to record heart beats, he installed a wrong-sized resistor by mistake. After assembling the device however, it began to emit a rhythmic electric pulse similar to the human heart! He then realized he could use this device as a pacemaker and spent the next 2 years refining it, thereby inventing the first implantable pacemaker.

Accidental Inventions, Science stories, Choco chip cookie invention story, Choco chip cookie origin story

Chocolate chip cookie

Inventor: Ruth Graves, 1938

 

Ruth Graves Wakefield was the owner of Toll House Inn, a very popular restaurant featuring home cooking in Massachusetts. As the story goes, one day while making chocolate butter cookies, Ruth ran out of baker’s chocolate. So she used chopped-up pieces from a Nestle chocolate bar. However, the pieces didn’t melt or mix during preparation and the chocolate chip cookie was born! Ruth, though, stated that she deliberately invented the cookie and that she didn’t really expect the chocolate chunks to melt. Accident or deliberate, we are thankful to her!