15 Accidental Inventions That Changed The World

Necessity isn’t always the mother of invention.

Lots of the things we rely on to cure our diseases, cook our meals, and sweeten our days weren’t designed — they were accidentally discovered.

Alyson Kreuger contributed additional research to this article.


Inventor: Joseph McVicker, head of a Kutol Products Company, a soap manufacturer in Cincinnati, Ohio

What he was trying to make: In the early 1950s, Kutol created a doughy clay to take off soot in coal-burning homes. But as the Christian Science Monitor reports, people soon switched from coal to gas to warm their homes, and company was headed toward bankruptcy.

How it was created: McVicker learned that his schoolteacher sister was using the 'dough' as a modelling clay in her classes. Eureka! It was a toy, not a cleaning product. By 1957, coloured Play-Doh was sold at Macy's and hawked on kids' TV shows -- turning its creators into millionaires.


Inventor: Frank Epperson, an 11-year-old

What he was trying to make: In 1905, Epperson was chilling out on the back porch of his family home in San Francisco. In a very fortunate case of playing with his food, Epperson was stirring powdered soda and water in a cup with a stick. He went inside for the night, but left the cup.

How it was created: The next morning, as Gizmodo writes, Epperson discovered a 'sweet icicle on a stick.' He named his invention after himself: the Eppsicle! He made them for his friends, and later his kids, who called it Pop's-icicle, or Popsicle. In 1923, he applied for a patent and the Popsicle was properly born -- saving overheated Americans for many summers to come.


Inventor: John Pemberton, a pharmacist

What he was trying to make: Living in Atlanta in the 1880s, Pemberton sold a syrup made of wine and coca extract he called 'Pemberton's French Wine Coca,' which was touted at a cure for headaches and nervous disorders.

How it was created: In 1885, Atlanta banned the sale of alcohol, so Pemberton created a purely coca-based version of the syrup to be mixed with carbonated water and drank as a soda. The result was a perfect beverage for the temperance era -- a 'brain tonic' called Coca-Cola.

LSD as a drug

Inventor: Albert Hofmann, a chemist

What he was trying to make: He was researching lysergic acid derivatives in a laboratory in Basel, Switzerland, in 1938.

How it was created: Hofmann unintentionally swallowed a small amount of LSD while researching its properties. He subsequently had the first acid trip in history, marking the entry of a drug that would become a theme of undercurrent culture, most signified by the Beatles' 'Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.'

The psychedelic has had its mark on tech, too: Steve Jobs said that taking LSD was 'one of the two or three most important things' he had done in his life.

Post-it notes

Inventor: Spencer Silver and Art Fry, researchers in 3M Laboratories

What he was trying to make: In 1968, Silver made a 'low-tack' adhesive at 3M, but he couldn't find a use for it.

How it was created: Silver's adhesive was remarkable for the fact that you could stick something light to it -- like a piece of paper -- and pull it off without damaging either surface. What's more, the adhesive could be used again and again. He tried to find a marketable use for the product for 3M for years, to seemingly no avail.

Years later, his colleague Fry found himself frustrated when he couldn't find a way to stick papers into his book of hymns at the church choir. And like that, the idea for the Post-it was born -- though it wasn't until 1980 that it was launched nationwide.


Inventor: Patsy Sherman, a chemist for 3M

What she was trying to make: In 1953, Sherman was assigned to work on a project to develop a rubber material that would not deteriorate from exposure to jet aircraft fuels.

How it was created:An assistant accidentally dropped the mixture Sherman was experimenting with on her shoe. While the rest of her shoe became dirty and stained, one spot remained bright and clean. She retraced her steps and identified the stain resistant compound, known today as Scotchguard.

Now that you've seen the inventions, here's how brilliant people come up with ideas.

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