10 Monumental Inventions Discovered By Complete Accident
During World War 2, Japan invaded key countries that produced rubber. This worried America since they needed a ton of rubber in manufacturing for the war effort. So, the American government wanted to find a synthetic form of rubber that they could use. Right away, Dr. James Wright, an engineer for the company General Electric, got to work in his lab to find such a thing.
He didn’t find a substitution for rubber, but he did make the goopy stuff we know today as “Silly Putty”. Dr. Wright continued to study the substance and tried to find a practical use for it. But because of Silly Putty’s unusual properties he didn’t know what to do with it. He then gave samples to other engineers to see if it they could find a use for it.
One day, an advertising agent, Paul Hodgson saw some people at a party playing with the Silly Putty. After noticing how entertained they all were, he decided to put it in a toy catalog as “Nutty Putty”. The rest is history, within its first five years it sold over 32 million units worldwide and would continue to be sold as a toy for decades.
In 1968, a scientist named Spencer Silver was given the task to make a super adhesive to be used in the aerospace industry. He was working for the company that would later become the massive multinational conglomerate known as 3M. He didn’t make a super adhesive but instead discovered a glue that could only hold a bit of paper. You could say it was a complete fail. Art Fry, another employee at 3M started using the adhesive on paper as a bookmark because he liked that the glue didn’t damage the page. He told Silver and they worked to perfect the Post-It note. According to inside information the reason the Post-It notes were yellow was because they had a surplus stock of yellow paper no one was using.
Swiss Engineer, Georges de Menstral was walking his dog through the woods in 1941. When he returned home he noticed some burrs sticking to his clothes. This peeked his interested and he studied how the burrs were able to hold on so well. He found that the burrs had tiny hooks that would cling on to the tiny loops of the fabric. This gave him the idea to make a two-sided fastener that would become Velcro. He got it patented in 1955, but it didn’t gain in popularity until it was used in outer space. The Velcro kept equipment from floating around when there was zero gravity.
In 1826, John Walker was stirring a mix of sulfur and other chemicals with a wooden stick in his lab. Later, he accidentally scraped the stick with the dried substance on its tip across the floor and it burst into flames. Walker thought it was cool so he made more to show his friends.
Weeks later, a guy named Samuel Jones saw John Walker giving a demonstration of his invention. Since Walker never patented it, Jones took the idea and set up a match business in London. He marketed the matches as “Lucifers” and they made smoking more popular in London.
Charles Goodyear saw that there was good money to be made in the rubber business. However, his business struggled in its early years, until one day an accident changed his life. While working with rubber, Goodyear dropped some on a hot stove with sulfur on it. He was surprised it did not melt but it actually hardened the rubber. Goodyear saw the potential industrial use of this and patented his discovery. It was called vulcanized rubber and it drastically rose his rubber business sales. Unfortunately, his success was short lived because he spent all his money fighting patent infringements. In 1898, The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company was founded in his honor.
In 1799, the young English inventor named Humphry Davey decided he would experiment by inhaling artificially produced gasses. After producing a gas he made by heat-treating ammonium nitrate crystals he inhaled it. Instantly, he was overcome with euphoria and amazed by its affects. He had invented Nitrous Oxide, or commonly known as laughing gas. Davey liked it so much he would inhale it at home after drinking alcohol. Every time he did it he would take notes of his experiences. He published the research paper in 1800, called Researches, Chemical and Philosophical, chiefly concerning Nitrous Oxide and its Respiration. The paper is 80 pages of entertaining experiences while he was on the gas. Davey also gave it to his friends. Among whom, were the famous poets Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Southey. Davey went as far as building an air tight room where they could inhale nothing but Nitrous Oxide. Today, Nitrous Oxide has significant medical uses, especially in dentistry and surgery, for its anesthetic and pain reducing effects. It’s also used in rockets and motor racing to increase the power output of engines.
In 1895, a German physicist named Wilhelm Conrad Rontgen, was running tests on cathode rays in his lab. Out of the corner of his eye he saw a screen (previously treated with chemicals) begin to glow. He witnessed the first X-ray, which he named it because of its mysterious properties.
X-rays are waves of electromagnetic energy very similar to light except X-rays waves are 1,000 times shorter. This allows the X-rays to pass through soft substances like skin and muscle but not hard ones like bone or muscle.
Conrad Rontgen wasn’t interested in studying more about the X-rays and it became a novelty item at circuses. It wasn’t until much later when it was applied in the medical field. Its earliest medical use was locating bullets in bodies on the battlefield. For decades, people thought X-rays were harmless to humans. But we know now, that’s not the case.
In 1938, the Swiss chemist Albert Hoffman was tinkering with lysergic acid derivatives to make medicine. When he wasn’t getting anywhere he set it aside and moved on to something else. Five years later he decided to try again with the lysergic acid and accidentally absorbed some through his fingers. Little did he know he just accidentally dosed himself with pure LSD.
It wasn’t long until he started to feel its effect on him. He described what he felt; “affected by a remarkable, restlessness, combined with a slight dizziness. At home I lay down and sank into a not unpleasant intoxicated-like condition, characterized by an extremely stimulated imagination. I perceived an uninterrupted stream of fantastical pictures, extraordinary shapes with intense kaleidoscopic play of colors.”
In 1947, LSD was made into a medicine under the name Delysid for various psychiatric uses. Throughout the 50’s LSD had a good reputation in the psychiatry field, even Time magazine reported on its positive effects. It wasn’t long until people started taking it recreationally at higher doses. By the mid 1960’s there was a backlash against LSD resulting in it being made illegal. It was considered immoral for Western middle-class values. Since then LSD has been a prominent drug in the psychedelic sub culture. Limited research is still being done for its medical use. It has been proved to have positive effects with alcoholics and drug addicts staying sober.
In 1946, Percy Spencer, an American engineer, was working for the company Raytheon. While working with a magnetron, the main component of a radar, he noticed the candy bar in his pocket completely melted. He experimented with the magnetron rays by putting an egg right by it and the egg exploded. This gave him the idea if he could make popcorn. He got some corn kernels and sure enough it worked. Shortly after this discovery, Raytheon made the first microwaves and called them “Radarange”. The Radarange and the microwave prototypes after it were too big and expensive for widespread commercial use. It wasn’t until the late 1970’s when the company Sharp made an affordable microwave oven that sat on a counter. Now, 90% of American households have a microwave.
In 1956, Wilson Greatbatch was trying to invent a device that monitored and recorded the human heart beat. During the process he accidentally attached a transistor (the part that regulates voltage) that was 1,00 times powerful then what he needed. The result was the device sent an electric pulse that perfectly emulated a human heart beat. He discovered that instead of recording a heartbeat, he had created a heart beat. Seeing the huge potential for his device he built the first pacemakers that were as big as televisions that had to be plugged in.
His invention worked. People who were on pacemakers went on living by helping their heart beat but they couldn’t go anywhere because they were tethered to the large machine. This prompted Greatbatch to make them smaller and actually place then inside the patient. In 1958, He inserted a pacemaker that was about as big as a hockey puck into a dog and it proved successful. The first human to have an internal pacemaker lived for 18 months. The second lived for 30 more years. Modern pacemakers fit in the palm of a hand and are as big as a 50 cent coin and are 3 times as thick. However now, there are brand new pacemakers that are the size of a pill and actually go inside the heart. In 1986, Wilson was inducted in the National Inventors Hall of Fame with over 350 patents. Today an estimated 600,000 pacemakers are implanted every year.