Over the centuries, many inventions have brought massive changes to life as we know it. However, not all of them were by design. Even mistakes could lead to some inventions which, to this day, figures heavily in our everyday lives. Here are some of the most notable accidental inventions that we are benefiting from:

15. Coca Cola

Old Coca Cola Coupon

As a pharmacist, Dr. John Stith Pemberton, or simply “Doc”, failed multiple times at inventing drugs and medicines that sell. It wasn’t until 1886 that he thought he’d try his hand at creating a medicinal tonic meant for people suffering from nerves, exhaustion and fatigue, as well as provide relief to those suffering from soreness of the teeth and gums. The syrupy tonic he came up with was mixed with ice water. By accident, however, his assistant mixed carbonated water to the second batch instead of ice water. This resulted to the fizzy beverage that the world now knows as Coca Cola.

14. Teflon

Teflon Formula

Roy J. Plunkett was merely one of the many research chemists employed at DuPont back in 1938, when the company was working with GM on coming up with a refrigerant for GM’s Frigidaire line of refrigerators. During one of Plunkett’s experiments where he combined hydrochloric acid with TFE (tetrafluoroethylene) in a canister, he found white flakes, instead of gas, inside. Further experiments showed that these white flakes have excellent lubricating properties while remaining non-reactive. These flakes were used to coat surfaces of cookware, thus giving the world non-stick cookware.

13. Pacemaker

Pacemaker

Jewish-American cardiologist Paul Zoll could be credited for the creation of a smaller external pacemaker which runs on a replaceable battery power supply. It was large, almost the size of a small television, and its electric pulses were so strong they could burn the patient’s skin. In the late 1950s, Wilson Greatbatch, a medical researcher and professor at the University of Buffalo, was working with cardiologists on an experimental device meant to record sounds made by the human heart. However, instead of installing a 10,000-ohm resistor to the device, he used a 1 mega-ohm resistor. The insertion of the wrong resistor simulated the perfect heartbeat, making Greatbatch realize that he just came up with a pacemaker. Soon enough, he was able to come up with world’s first implantable cardiac pacemaker, which was just the size of a baby’s fist.

12. Mauve Color

Mauve

Mauve is probably the world’s first artificial color, and it was invented by accident. The grandson of an alchemist and a chemistry student himself, 18-year-old William Perkin was keen on finding a cure for malaria. The process involved the synthesis of artificial quinine. This resulted in a murky residue which Perkin was loathe to dispose off. The color of that residue was – you guessed it – mauve.

11. Vulcanized Rubber

Vulcanized Rubber

In 1839, American inventor Charles Goodyear spent almost five years looking for for ways and means to weatherize rubber and make it impervious to rotting. To accomplish this, he mixed sulfur, lead and rubber. While doing this, a piece of the new rubber accidentally broke off and fell on a stove which, at that time, was turned on. The result, a charred yet hardened mixture, was vulcanized rubber which, after some improvements, became even stronger than regular rubber.

10. Ice Cream Cone

Ice Cream Cones

Ice cream used to be served on dishes. During the 1904 World’s Fair, however, an ice cream stall found themselves running out of plates to serve their ice cream on. As a last resort, they bought the waffles being sold by the stall close by and rolled each waffle into a cone, then putting ice cream on top. Thus was borne the world’s first ever ice cream cone.

9. Plastic

Plastic Ribbon Art
Plastic Ribbon Art by Megan Geckler (Credit: MeganGeckler.com)

Christian Friedrich Schönbein was working in his home kitchen when he spilled a bottle of concentrated nitric acid on the kitchen table. He wiped it using a cotton apron and hung the apron on the stove door. As soon as the apron became dry, it exploded with a flash. This is how celluloid had its start.

8. Popsicle

Popsicle

Inventor Frank Epperson was only eleven years old when he mixed some soda water powder with water in order to come up with soda pop. Unfortunately, it slipped his mind and was left overnight in his back porch, with the stirring stick still stuck in the mixture. When he woke up the next morning, he found a stick of soda water frozen by the extremely cold temperature the previous night. Eighteen years later, in 1923, he started mass producing his “Eppsicles”. With time, “Eppsicle” became “Popsicle”.

7. Saccharine

Saccharine Formula

Touted as the world’s first artificial sweetener, saccharine has replaced sugar as a substance to sweeten food and drinks. In 1879, researcher Constantine Fahlberg was working in a laboratory at the Johns Hopkins University, trying to find more uses for coal tar. One day, while eating, he noticed that the bread rolls he was eating tasted sweeter, even though he had added nothing to them. Then he realized that he had spilled the chemical on to his hands before eating. The subsequent investigation resulted in the invention of saccharine.

6. Velcro

Velcro Art by Luis Eslava
Velcro Art by Luis Eslava (Credit: LuisEslava.com)

Undoubtedly, Velcro is one of the best fasteners in the world. We should be thanking a dog for the invention of it though – George de Mestral’s hunting dog, to be exact. In 1948, while the Frenchman inventor was on a hunting trip in the mountains in Switzerland, he found his dog’s fur (and his wool trousers) covered with round, spiky seeds from cocklebur plants. When he saw the burr clinging stubbornly to fabric (and fur), he thought about mimicking the cockleburs’ hooks and spikes on textiles, and Velcro was born.

5. Post-it Notes

Post-it

Enhancing adhesive tapes was what Spencer Silver of 3M was working on. Instead, he came up with an adhesive that sticks but not as strong as he and his employers would have liked. This semi-sticky adhesive took a backseat until years later when his colleague needed something better than the bookmarks that kept dropping from his choirbook hymnal at church. The adhesive Silver came up with had just the right amount of stickiness needed to do the job, and Post-It Notes came into existence.

4. SuperGlue

Superglue

Believe it or not, you can trace the beginnings of the Superglue to weaponry, of all things. A Kodak scientist, Dr. Harry Coover, was trying to make clear plastic gun sights for the Allied soldiers during World War II using chemicals known as cyanoacrylates. But he was forced to let go of the project because the result was something that was too sticky. Fun fact: It took him nine years to realize that he had come up with an extremely quick bonding adhesive.

3. Microwave Oven

Microwave Oven

It was the second World War, and Raytheon employee (and electronics genius) Percy Lebaron Spencer had already made vast contributions with his inventions, including a conveyor-belt oven. In 1945, Spencer noticed how a candy bar in his pocket started melting when he was standing in front of a magnetron – the British-made tube that produces microwaves and is used to increase the sensitivity of radars. He grabbed a bag of corn and held it up to the magnetron; the corn started popping. He also tested some eggs on it and, voila! One of the best inventions of all time came about.

2. Potato Chips

Potato Chips

Sometimes, feeling both crummy and annoyed at the same time pays off. Chef George Crum (no pun intended) was serving fried potatoes at the Moon’s Lake House near Saratoga Springs, New York, but the customer, the hard-to-please magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt, kept sending it back to the kitchen, complaining that it was too soggy and the cuts too thick. Out of sheer frustration, Crum decided to slice the potatoes into wafer-thin cuts and deep-fried them in grease. Afterwards, he doused them with salt. This became an instant hit with Vanderbilt and the other customers.

1. Penicillin

Penicillin Formula

Penicillin, which saved and still saves a lot of lives, was invented from a mistake. Alexander Fleming was studying the staphylococcus bacteria in 1928 when he noted some mold contaminating one of the samples he left by an open window before he went on vacation. Upon close inspection, he noticed that the bacteria seemed to stop growing after being subjected to the said contamination. In fact, the mold was visibly dissolving the bacteria. This marked the start of treating bacterial infections with penicillin.