April 8, 2024 | Sarah Ng

17 Accidental Inventions That Changed Our Lives Forever


Thank Goodness For Happy Accidents

There are so many inventions that we take for granted today—but these are the ones that were created completely by accident.

Accidental-Inventions-Msn

The Microwave

Percy LeBaron Spencer stumbled upon microwave cooking by accident. His work involved magnetrons, which are high-power vacuum tubes that produce microwaves. He had a sudden revelation when the candy bar in his pocket melted. 

Using black microwave oven, close up photo.Kostenko Maxim, Shutterstock

They Cooked His Candy Bar

Spencer realized that the magnetrons were responsible for melting his candy bar. The engineer made the wise decision to patent a box capable of cooking food with microwaves.

Magnetron from the microwave oven.Raimond Spekking , Wikimedia Commons

Penicillin

In 1928, Dr. Alexander Fleming accidentally discovered one of the first antibiotics—and changed the world of medicine as we know it.

Most Incredible People quizTopical Press Agency, Getty Images

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A Moldy Revelation

Fleming left out a petri dish holding cultures of Staphylococcus for a couple of weeks. Upon his return, he inspected them and made a shocking realization: the cultures hadn't grown thanks to a mold known as Penicillium notatum.

Professor Alexander Fleming At Work In His LaboratoryMinistry of Information Photo Division Photographer, Wikimedia Commons

Chocolate Chip Cookies

100 years ago, chocolate chip cookies hadn't been invented yet. It wasn't until 1930 that the co-owner of the Toll House Inn, Ruth Graves Wakefield, created the recipe by accident.

Photo of Ruth Graves WakefieldUnknown Author, ShareAlike License 4.0 ,Wikimedia Commons

A Happy Mistake

Wakefield had intended to bake her guests some delicious chocolate cookies, but unfortunately, she had no baker's chocolate on hand. Instead, she decided to experiment. She cut up a Nestle semi-sweet chocolate bar, hoping that it would melt into the cookie batter. NOPE.

Instead, Wakefield's cookies were the first chocolate chip cookies ever.

A Close-Up Shot of Chocolate Chip CookiesMarcia Salido, Pexels

The X-Ray Machine

On the fateful day of November 8, 1885, Wilhelm Conrad Rontgen made a wild discovery. As a physicist, Rontgen's laboratory was in Wurzburg, Germany. While testing out a vacuum tube covered in cardboard, he saw that the screen nearby had a bizarre glow.

Photo of Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen - 1900Unknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

A Mysterious Glow

This glowing screen had a chemical coating. Fascinated, Rontgen soon realized that if he placed his hand in front of the glow, he could see his bones. He decided to call these rays "X-rays," because he wasn't sure of where they came from.

Wilhelm Conrad RöntgenBrbbl, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

Artificial Sweetener

In 1878, Constantin Fahlberg invented the very first artificial sweetener. He was a Russian chemist. While working in the lab one day, he unintentionally tasted some of the chemicals—and made a shocking discovery. They were sweet.

Laboratory of Constantin FahlbergSteve Lew, Flickr

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A Recipe For Sweetness

Investigating the sweet flavor, Fahlberg realized that the benzoic sulfimide (saccharin) resulted from ammonia and phosphorus (V) chloride reacting with o-sulfobenzoic acid.

Close up of woman hand throwing saccharin pills on coffee cup on a desk at homePheelings media, Shutterstock

Post-It Notes

Dr. Spencer Silver was a 3M scientist hoping to produce a strong adhesive, but instead, created the opposite—a light adhesive that didn't stick permanently to surfaces. However, it was thanks to one of his peers, Art Fry, that the idea became a million-dollar idea.

photo of a person medicinal gloves holding laboratory flask surrounded with other medicinal equipmentChokniti Khongchum, Pexels

It Was The Perfect Bookmark

Art Fry saw that he could use this adhesive on bookmarks because it didn't damage the paper. This would eventually become the Post-It note we know and love today.

Black and Silver Laptop with Blue Sticky NotesTara Winstead, Pexels

Potato Chips

Snacking just wouldn't be the same without the glorious invention of the potato chip. 

In 1853, Chef George Speck went out of his way to please some unhappy patrons at the Moon Lake Lodge Resort. The guests were unsatisfied with their French-fried potatoes, complaining they were too soft and thick.

Selective Focus Photo of a Glass Bowl with Potato ChipsYan Krukau. Pexels

All Thanks To An Annoying Customer

Speck decided to slice a batch of potatoes very thinly, and fry them up. It was an unbelievable success. The guests adored the potatoes, AKA the first potato chips ever.

Close-Up Shot of Potato Chips on a TrayAlesia Kozik, Pexels

Safety Glass

Thank goodness for a little mistake in the lab. In 1903, the scientist Edward Benedictus knocked a flask onto the floor. When he looked down at the broken glass, he made a startling discovery.

broken glass in science laboratorybiDaala studio, Shutterstock

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The Perfect Coating

The glass hadn't completely shattered. Instead, for the most part, the flask remained completely intact—just cracked. The reason? Thanks to the coating on the glass's interior—cellulose nitrate—the glass wasn't utterly destroyed. This became what we know now as safety glass.

Close-up of shattered tempered glass against the skySylvie Bouchard, Shutterstock

Pap Smear

Today, the pap smear is a literal lifesaver and plays a huge role in cancer prevention. Dr. George Nicholas Papanicolaou wanted to observe the cellular changes in a woman's uterus during a menstrual cycle.

Portrait of shocked senior doctorInesBazdar, Shutterstock

A Life-Changing Sample

Papanicolaou took some cells from a patient's uterus to inspect them, but discovered that she actually had uterine cancer. He realized he could use a microscope to detect the cancer cells.

Scientist Using MicroscopeChokniti Khongchum, Pexels

Champagne

The monks of Champagne lived at high altitudes, which was a blessing and a curse. Though they had access to high-quality grapes, they had to pause fermenting them during the chillier months.

Person Pouring Champagne.cottonbro studio, Pexels

Where There's A Will, There's A Monk

Because of this process, by the time spring came around, the wine would be undesirably carbonated. The Catholic Church wanted to find a solution to this problem, so in 1668, they turned to Dom Pierre Perignon for help. 

Does that name sound familiar?

Statue Of Dom Pérignon At Moët & ChandonMichal Osmenda, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

People Loved The Carbonation

Dom Pierre Perignon was a French monk. His task? To solve the problem of the wine's fermentation. But there was a plot wist. By the end of the century, people had become rather big fans of the carbonate wine. 

Man looking drunk and holding a bottle and glass of wine.benzoix ,Freepik

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The French Method

To meet the demands of the people, Dom Pierre Perignon pivoted. He sought to make the wine even more carbonated, eventually coming to the official process of producing champagne. This was was called the French Method.

Pouring Champagne in a GlassTaryn Elliott, Pexels

Tea Bags

The patent for the mesh "Tea-Leaf Holder" originated with two women in 1901. However, the tea bags we think of today are all thanks to a tea merchant named Thomas Sullivan. 

Hands Closing Reusable Tea BagsAnna Pou, Pexels

For The Love Of Convenience

Beginning in 1908, Sullivan shipped out tea samples, storing them in tiny silk pouches. However, he never intended for customers to use these silk pouches as tea bags, but they did. It was a convenience that caught on—one we still enjoy today.

Tea beg pulled from a Cup.Xuân Thống Trần, Pexels

Bubble Wrap

Bubble wrap was originally... wallpaper? Yes, Alfred Fielding and Marc Chavannes—two engineers—had decor plans in mind when the invented their bubbly wallpaper. However, when this dream failed, they decided to reinvent their product's purpose.

The hands pull the bubble wrapmdbildes, Shutterstock

They Reinvented It

Fielding and Chavannes didn't let their bubbly wallpaper go to waste. Instead, they changed their marketing scheme. First, it was used as greenhouse insulation, and secondly, as the safeguarding bubble wrap we all love to pop.

Kid holding a bubble wrap.cottonbro studio, Pexels

Velcro

What would my childhood be like without my velcro sneakers? Well, turns out, velcro has a delightful origin story. It all began with the Swiss engineer, George de Mestral.

Hook-and-loop fastener aka Velcro in closeupStocksnapper, Shutterstock

Looking At Cockle-Burs

In the 1940s, George de Mestral went on a hiking trip that changed all of our lives forever. In the Jura Mountains, he found cockle-burs attached to his pants. When he looked at them under a microscope, he observed how the burs' hooks attached to the loops of the fabric.

Hook And Loop Fastener - Macro Photograph Of VelcroKamranki, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

Imitating Nature

Witht he help of some friends, Mestral was able to recreate nature's process with velvet and crochet. Today, we know this as "Velcro".

Black Velcro Tape.Lily MAP, Flickr

Smoke Detectors

Today, smoke detectors save lives, but it was discovered by accident by a Swiss physicist named Walter Jaeger. You see, Jaeger had been trying to create a different kind of sensor—one that picked up on poison gas. But one move changed everything.

Family SecretsFlickr, The EnergySmart Academy

Lighting Up

Lighting a cigarette around the sensor was a game-changer. Jaeger realized that his his invention was more sensitive to smoke than poison. However, as helpful as his invention was, it was too expensive to produce in large numbers.

Person's Hand Installing Smoke Detector On CeilingAndrey_Popov. Shutterstock

It Took Time

It wasn't until 40 years later that they arrived at an affordable smoke detector—one that could be installed in every home.

Smoke Detectors, Smoke AlarmsMike Mozart, Flickr

Ice Cream Cones

Reportedly, the ice cream cone was invented at the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904 when an ice cream vendor ran through all of his ice cream dishes. 

Ice cream sales man holding an ice cream.Snapwire, Pexels

Waffles To The Rescue

Coming to the ice cream vendor's rescue was Ernest A. Hamwi, who'd been manning the adjacent vendor. His brainchild? To take his waffles and mold them into a shape that could hold the ice cream. Brilliant and delicious.

Two Ice Cream Cones On StandBatuhan Alper Bilginer, Pexels

Vaseline

Robert Augustus Chesebrough was only 22 years old when he discovered the benefits of petroleum. He visited the town of its inception to investigate some more.

A tin of Vaseline, bronze, yellow and black in colour.Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums, Wikimedia Commons

The Cure-All Jelly

Cheseborough made an astute observation. While watching workers drill for petroleum, he noticed they used its byproduct—rubbing it on their burns or abrasions for relief. And that's where the idea for Vaseline began.

Workers working on a drilling rig - 2008National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Wikimedia Commons

Super Glue

In 1942, Harry Coover was trying to find the best materials to produce plastic viewfinders. However, he discovered something else entirely.

Experiments in a chemistry lab.David Tadevosian, Shutterstock

People Disregarded It

Coover stumbled upon a formula for a chemical that adhered to everything it came in contact with. Nobody saw any benefit to his invention, so it didn't have its moment in the sun until 1951.

hand with glove and cyanoacrylate adhesive glueJCharles73, Shutterstock

It Came Back With A Vengeance

In 1951, Coover and one of his peers, researcher Fred Joyner, filed a patent for "Alcohol-Catalyzed Cyanoacrylate Adhesive Compositions/Superglue".

close up instant adhesive glueDavid.Rk, Shutterstock


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