8 Things Invented or Discovered by Accident (2023)

By: Melanie Radzicki McManus|Updated: Feb 16, 2022

8 Things Invented or Discovered by Accident (1)

We tend to hold inventors in high esteem, but often their discoveries were the result of an accident or a twist of fate. This is true of many everyday items, including the following eight surprise inventions. Let's take a look at the unusual stories behind them.

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Contents

  1. Corn Flakes
  2. Microwave Ovens
  3. Silly Putty
  4. Post-it Notes
  5. Saccharin
  6. Slinky
  7. Viagra
  8. Bubble Wrap

8. Corn Flakes

In the late 19th century, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg was the superintendent of Michigan's Battle Creek Sanitarium, a world-famous medical spa and grand hotel. He and his brother, W.K. (Will Keith) Kellogg, were also Seventh-day Adventists who believed in vegetarianism. The two were searching for wholesome foods to feed their clients, and especially ones that encouraged a healthy digestive system, as Dr. Kellogg saw a lot of patients with intestinal distress.

Although exact details of the cereal's invention remain disputed, we do know this: One day a batch of wheat-based cereal dough was left out and fermented. Rather than throw it away, the brothers sent it through rollers, hoping to make long sheets of dough. These sheets produced perfect flakes, which they toasted and served to their clients. The toasted flakes were a big hit, so the brothers patented them under the name Granose.

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Over the years, W.K. experimented with other grains for use in the cereal, settling on corn, which produced crispier flakes. Eventually W.K. bought the rights to the cereal recipe and, in 1906, founded the Battle Creek Toasted Corn Flake Company, which began producing Kellogg's Corn Flakes.

(Video) 10 Foods That Were Invented by Accident! Food Facts by Blossom

When W.K.'s company became wildly successful, John got jealous and began making his own competing cereal. The two ended up suing one another. W.K. won in the end, but the brothers remained estranged until their deaths.

7. Microwave Ovens

In 1945, Percy Spencer was experimenting with a new, high-powered vacuum tube called a magnetron while doing research for the Raytheon Corporation. One day the American engineer noticed that when he was near the magnetrons, a peanut-cluster candy bar in his pocket began to melt. Intrigued, he put some popcorn, and then an egg, near the magnetrons. Both cooked within seconds.

Spencer and Raytheon immediately saw the potential in this revolutionary process, which they patented and installed in a kitchen appliance they dubbed the RadaRange. In 1947, Raytheon put the RadaRange on the market. The bulky appliance weighed 750 pounds (340 kilograms), was 5-1/2 feet tall (1.7 meters) and cost about $5,000 — or $62,500 in 2022 dollars.

Not surprisingly, the RadaRange wasn't popular at first, due to its size, price and that fact that it was a strange, new technology. In fact, the RadaRange was considered Raytheon's biggest failure. But by 1975, the product had evolved into a compact, countertop appliance that was much less expensive. That year, microwaves surpassed sales of gas ranges.

6. Silly Putty

8 Things Invented or Discovered by Accident (2)

It bounces, it stretches, it breaks — it's Silly Putty, the silicone-based plastic clay marketed as a children's toy. In 1943 during World War II, General Electric researcher James Wright dropped boric acid into silicone oil while attempting to create a synthetic rubber substitute. The result was a polymerized substance that bounced, but it took several years to find a use for the product.

In 1950, marketing expert Peter Hodgson finally saw its potential as a toy, renamed it Silly Putty and the rest is history. Kids loved the way they could stretch it out, shape it or roll it up in a ball and bounce it. Perhaps more interesting, though, is that people discovered Silly Putty had loads of practical uses beyond the toy box. The clay picks up dirt, lint and pet hair; can stabilize wobbly furniture; and is useful in stress reduction, physical therapy, and medical and scientific simulations. It was even used by the crew of Apollo 8 to secure tools in zero gravity.

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5. Post-it Notes

A Post-it Note is a small piece of paper with a strip of low-tack adhesive on the back that allows it to be temporarily attached to documents, walls, computer monitors and just about anything else. In 1968, 3M scientist Spencer Silver first discovered the novel adhesive, which sticks to surfaces but can also be easily removed. However, he struggled to figure out a use for it.

Meanwhile, fellow 3M scientist Art Fry was annoyed every week during church choir practice, when the little scraps of paper he used to mark the hymns they were working on kept falling out of his hymnal. He needed something that could stick to a page without damaging it. One day he recalled listening to a talk by Silver about his adhesive and had an idea to solve both of their problems — a sticky note.

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(Video) 14 Foods Invented by Complete Accident

Fry created the notes and passed them around for his colleagues to try. They loved them. 3M initially launched the product as Press 'n Peel, with tepid results. But eventually they became wildly successful and were renamed Post-it Notes. Although the company was initially skeptical about the product's profitability, in 1980 it went global. Today, Post-it Notes are sold in more than 100 countries.

4. Saccharin

Saccharin, the oldest artificial sweetener, was accidentally discovered in 1879 by researcher Constantin Fahlberg, who was working in the laboratory of professor Ira Remsen at Johns Hopkins University. There's no consensus on exactly how it happened, but one story is that Fahlberg noticed a sweet taste on his hand while working with benzoic sulfimide. Another says he put down his cigarette on a lab bench, and when he picked it up again and took a puff, it left a sweet taste in his mouth. In 1880, Fahlberg and Remsen jointly published the discovery, calling the product saccharin. But in 1884, Fahlberg obtained a patent and began mass-producing saccharin in Germany without Remsen.

While there were health concerns about saccharin as early as 1906, it became popular as a sugar substitute during World War I, when sugar was rationed. Its popularity increased during the 1960s and 1970s when it was promoted as a weight-loss aid, manufactured under the Sweet 'N Low name and placed in diet soft drinks. In the 1970s, food scientists discovered saccharin caused bladder cancer in rats and a warning label was added to the product. However, it was later found that rats and humans metabolize saccharin differently so the warning was removed. Despite the plethora of newer artificial sweeteners, saccharin (and its funny aftertaste) live on.

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3. Slinky

8 Things Invented or Discovered by Accident (3)

In 1943, Naval engineer Richard James was trying to develop a spring that would support and stabilize sensitive equipment on ships, which often rocked and rolled on the sea. When one of the coiled wires he was working on accidentally fell off a shelf, it continued moving end-over-end in a curious fashion.

That night, James went home and told his wife, Betty, about the wire. They both agreed it would make a great toy. Intrigued, Betty pored through a dictionary and landed on the name Slinky, as that word is defined as "sleek and sinuous in movement or outline."

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In 1945, the couple founded James Industries, and Slinky was born. It wasn't a success at first. So the two convinced a Gimbels department store in Philadelphia to allow them to demonstrate their unconventional toy during the Christmas shopping season. The store had stocked 400 Slinkys, and they were snapped up in less than two hours. But the business almost went bankrupt when Richard joined a religious cult, giving it large sums of money and left the family. Betty mortgaged the house and went to a New York toy show in 1963 and promoted the product again. Orders began to pour in and she was able to revive the business.

Today, more than 300 million Slinkys have been sold worldwide. The toy is so beloved, the U.S. Postal Service issued a Slinky stamp in 1999 and Slinky was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in 2000. There is also a National Slinky Day (Aug. 30) and a historical marker commemorating its invention in Clifton Heights, the Philadelphia suburb where it was first produced.

2. Viagra

In the 1990s, researchers at Pfizer pharmaceutical company were working on a new drug to treat high blood pressure and angina pectoris, a form of cardiovascular disease. The drug, Sildenafil, seemed quite promising, so they began testing it on male volunteers in Wales. Unfortunately, the drug had little effect on angina. But the patients reported a curious side effect: penile erections, occurring as little as 30 to 60 minutes after taking the drug.

It didn't take Pfizer long to realize the drug's immense potential, so the company quickly patented it in 1996. Just two years later the drug received Food and Drug Administration approval for use in treating erectile dysfunction, and it was an immediate and massive success. With some 30 million men in the U.S. reporting erectile dysfunction, Viagra remains one of the most popular drugs on the market. The little blue pill now has competition from other medications such as Cialis (tadalafil) and Levitra (vardnafil).

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(Video) Things discovered by chance

1. Bubble Wrap

8 Things Invented or Discovered by Accident (4)

In 1957, engineers Alfred Fielding and March Chavannes partnered to create an innovative, textured wallpaper. Their hoped-for consumers were members of the Beat generation — people who eschewed conventional society and embraced Buddhism, free sex, drugs and jazz. The men ran two plastic shower curtains through a heat-sealing machine and ended up with a clear, bubbly sheet that looked intriguing, but bombed as wallpaper.

Undeterred, the two began brainstorming different uses for their novel creation. The second one they tried — greenhouse insulation — also failed. But in 1960, working under their newly formed company, Sealed Air Corp., they took a third stab, promoting it as a protective packaging now known as Bubble Wrap.

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Bubble Wrap was an instant success. It was better than the favored packaging material of the day — balled up newsprint — as it provided better protection and didn't leave behind ink smudges. Today there are numerous iterations of the product, and Sealed Air is a Fortune 500 company.

Originally Published: Sep 19, 2007

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FAQs

What are 10 accidental inventions? ›

Top 10 Great Accidental Discoveries
  • Mauveine. In 1856, at the age of 18, the English chemist William Henry Perkin was looking for a synthetic substitute for quinine, whose anti-malarial effects were well documented. ...
  • The Post-it. ...
  • The Tea Bag. ...
  • X-Rays. ...
  • Saccharin. ...
  • Microwave Oven. ...
  • Penicillin. ...
  • Pacemaker.

What are the 8 inventions? ›

  • Banknote (Paper Currency): Tang Dynasty of China—7th Century.
  • Vaccinations: Edward Jenner—1796.
  • Local Anesthesia: William Morton—1846.
  • Antibiotics: Alexander Fleming—1928.
  • Pasteurization: Louis Pasteur—1862.
  • Modern Automobile: Karl Benz—1886.
  • Modern Alternating Current Electrical Supply System: Nikola Tesla—1891.

What are the top 10 causes of accidental death? ›

The top three leading causes of accidental death in the USA are motor vehicle crashes, poisoning, drowning, and falls. Motor vehicle crashes remain to be the leading cause of death among Americans aged between 5 and 34 years. Forty-three thousand deaths per year occur from car crashes in the US.

Are most inventions by accident? ›

We quite rightly hold inventors in high esteem: the brilliant people who make leaps of imagination and engineering that the rest of us can't even dream of. But did you know that half of all registered inventions "arise unexpectedly"?

How many discoveries are accidental? ›

Psychologist Kevin Dunbar and colleagues estimate that between 30% and 50% of all scientific discoveries are accidental in some sense (see examples below). Psychologist Alan A. Baumeister says a scientist must be "sagacious" (attentive and clever) to benefit from an accident.

What candy was made by mistake? ›

Chocolate Chip Cookies

She improvised and broke up a Nestle chocolate bar instead, hoping it would melt. Instead, she accidentally invented chocolate chip cookies.

How was plastic an accident? ›

5. Plastic. Although earlier plastics had relied on organic material, the first fully synthetic plastic was invented in 1907 when Leo Hendrik Baekeland accidentally created Bakelite. His initial quest was to invent a ready replacement for shellac, an expensive product derived from lac beetles.

What are the 4 types of invention? ›

Inventions are of three kinds: scientific-technological (including medicine), sociopolitical (including economics and law), and humanistic, or cultural.

What are 5 new inventions? ›

10 Best New Technologies in 2022
  • COVID-19 Breathalyzer Test.
  • Humanoid Robot.
  • Foldable Tech Devices.
  • Color Changing Cars.
  • Digital Twins.
  • Health Body Scans.
  • Smart Bathing.
  • Solar Roof Shingles.
8 Mar 2022

What are the 10 scientific discoveries? ›

Here we have a look at ten of the world's greatest accidental scientific discoveries.
  • Penicillin. One of the biggest medicinal breakthroughs in history came about entirely by accident. ...
  • Viagra. ...
  • Plastic. ...
  • The Microwave. ...
  • Vaseline. ...
  • Strikeable Match. ...
  • Gunpowder. ...
  • Mauve.
27 Sept 2022

What are the 4 greatest inventions? ›

They are the compass, gunpowder, papermaking and printing. China held the world's leading position in many fields in the study of nature from the 1st century BC to the 15th century AD, with the four great inventions having the greatest global significance.

What are the 7 causes of accident? ›

Seven Common Accident Causes
  • Taking shortcuts.
  • Being overconfident.
  • Starting a task with Incomplete instructions.
  • Poor housekeeping.
  • Ignoring procedures.
  • Mental distractions from work.
  • Failure to pre-plan work.
18 Feb 2019

What are the 7 causes of accident in the home? ›

But it always pays to be aware of the hazards in your home that could lead to nasty injuries.
...
You may not be able to prevent these common accidents, but you'll be able to reduce the chances of them happening.
  • Slips, trips and falls. ...
  • Burns. ...
  • Cuts. ...
  • Choking. ...
  • Poisoning. ...
  • Drowning. ...
  • Falling objects.
28 Dec 2017

What are the 5 most common accidents? ›

Here are 10 of the most common accidents that can happen in the home and how to deal with them:
  • 1) Falling objects. ...
  • 2) Trips and Falls. ...
  • 3) Bruises. ...
  • 4) Sprains. ...
  • 5) Cuts. ...
  • 6) Burns. ...
  • 7) Choking. ...
  • 8) Poisoning.

Was plastic an accidental invention? ›

Polyethylene, more popularly known as polythene, was one of the first plastics that came into widespread use. Polythenes came about as the result of an accident.

What is the number 1 invention? ›

The Greatest Inventions In The Past 1000 Years
InventionNotes
1Printing Pressallowed literacy to greatly expand
2Electric Lightpowered countless social changes
3Automobileincreased personal mobility and freedom
4Telephonespread communication across wide areas
6 more rows

What are some failed inventions? ›

Let's get started with one of the strangest examples of innovation failure: Nintendo's Virtual Boy.
  • The Nintendo Virtual Boy. ...
  • The Microsoft Zune. ...
  • The Sony Betamax. ...
  • The Apple Newton. ...
  • The Blackberry Storm.

What are the examples of discovery? ›

A discovery is recognizing something that already exists for the first time, that nobody has found before, e.g. how Christopher Columbus discovered the Americas.

Was bread an accident? ›

The origin of bread

Apparently the use of fermentation to make bread rise was discovered by accident, when someone left some dough in the sun and it rose. Since then, bread achieved distinction as a staple food product in all parts of the world.

What foods were a mistake? ›

19 Delicious Food Items That Were Invented By Accident
  • 19 Popsicles.
  • 18 Nachos.
  • 17 Cheese Puffs.
  • 16 Ice Cream Cones.
  • 15 Potato Chips.
  • 14 Nashville Hot Chicken.
  • 13 Yogurt.
  • 12 The Sandwich.
24 Nov 2018

What snack was created by accident? ›

Potato Chips

One of the world's most popular snack foods was invented by accident in 1853. George Crum, a chef at Moon's Lake House in New York, was working the night a guest returned plate after plate of fries with the complaint that they were not crisp enough to his liking.

Was Coca Cola an accident? ›

The drink we call Coca Cola is invented, by accident, in a Georgia backyard.

What are the 3 dangers of plastic? ›

5 Ways Plastic Harms the Environment
  • Kills Ocean Life. By now you've probably heard about the mass amounts of plastic polluting oceans and other waterways. ...
  • Kills Terrestrial Wildlife. Plastic also harms the environment by killing land animals. ...
  • Takes Up Space. ...
  • Produces Chemical Pollution. ...
  • Creates Microplastics.
23 Feb 2021

What are the 7 steps of the invention process? ›

You may ask “what are the seven steps of invention?” Through years of research and work with inventors the Center has distilled the process down to these seven core components: Think It, Explore It, Sketch It, Create It, Try It, Tweak It and Sell It.

What are 3 new inventions? ›

  • Paper Shoot Camera.
  • Samsung Galaxy Z Flip3.
  • Framework Laptop.
  • Syng Cell Alpha.
  • Infinite Objects NFT Video Print.
  • Nuratrue.
  • Espresso Display.
  • Vecnos IQUI.

What are the 5 most important inventions of the 21st century? ›

These are the 21st-century inventions that shape our day-to-day world.
  • Smartphones. We're practically attached to them, so it's hard to remember that the first iPhone came out just 15 years ago. ...
  • Social media. ...
  • Tokenization. ...
  • GPS Navigation. ...
  • Streaming. ...
  • E-Readers. ...
  • Human Genome Map. ...
  • Cryptocurrency.
1 Jul 2022

What are the top 10 inventions of the 20th century? ›

Time Magazine's 20 Most Influential Inventions of the 20th Century
  • Radio.
  • Television.
  • Transistor.
  • Laser.
  • Electric refrigeration.
  • Personal computer.
  • Wireless technology.
  • Manned spaceflight.

What is the newest invention 2022? ›

NASA's James Webb Space Telescope and Space Launch System (SLS) rocket were named 2022 TIME Inventions of the Year. NASA led the international Webb partnership with ESA (European Space Agency) and CSA (Canadian Space Agency).

Who invented 100 inventions? ›

Important discoveries in the field of science
Invention/discoveryInventorDate
RadioGuglielmo Marconi1895
ThermometerGabriel Farenheit1714
Electric BulbThomas Edison1879
TelescopeHans Lippershey and Zacharias Janssen; later Galileo1608
77 more rows

What are the 8 scientific theories? ›

Biology: Cell Theory; Theory of Evolution; Germ Theory of Disease. Chemistry: Atomic Theory; Kinetic Theory of Gases. Physics: General Relativity; Special Relativity; Theory of Relativity; Quantum Field Theory. Earth Science: Giant Impact Theory; Plate Tectonics.

What are 10 scientific facts? ›

Some Amazing Science Facts
  • The oceans produce the majority of the oxygen on Earth. ...
  • Soil is full of life. ...
  • Bananas are radioactive. ...
  • Water can exist in three states at the same time. ...
  • Helium has the ability to work against gravity. ...
  • Humans have inherited genes from other species. ...
  • Human Body. ...
  • Animals and Insects.

What are 5 inventions from India? ›

11 Great Inventions We Can Thank India For
  • The Zero. ...
  • The Ayurveda. ...
  • The USB (Universal Serial Bus) ...
  • Board games. ...
  • Yoga. ...
  • Shampoo. ...
  • Wireless communication. ...
  • Buttons.

What is the best invention in life? ›

"Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life's change agent," explained Jobs.

Why is invention important? ›

Inventions, such as new tools, devices, processes, and medicines, have provided significant benefits to society. Inventions help people around the world live longer, healthier, and more-productive lives and provide new ways to build, move, communicate, heal, learn, and play.

What should I invent in the future? ›

These 10 innovations have the potential to shape our future.
  • Emotional Artificial Intelligence.
  • Self driving cars.
  • New mobility innovations such as hyperfast trains.
  • Smart Homes.
  • Gene predictions.
  • Microchips and Human Augmentation.
  • Nanorobotics.
  • Robotics.
6 Jan 2021

What is a social invention? ›

A social invention is a new law, organization or procedure that changes the ways in which people relate to themselves or to each other, either individually or collectively.

What is accidental innovation? ›

While being intentional about our innovation is sure to bring results, you might be surprised at the number of commercial innovative ideas that come by accident. Some classic examples of accidental innovation include: Penicillin. Corn Flakes. Synthetic dye and the colour mauve.

What are examples of accidental injuries? ›

The most common unintentional injuries result from motor vehicle crashes, falls, fires and burns, drowning, poisonings and aspirations.

What are the three types of accidental? ›

The most common accidentals. From left to right: flat, natural, and sharp.

What are the types of accidental? ›

Accident Types
  • Accidents at Work. You may have been involved in an accident whilst at work. ...
  • Slip/Trip Claims (public liability) ...
  • Industrial Diseases and Illnesses. ...
  • Road Traffic Accidents. ...
  • Accidents Abroad. ...
  • Accidents involving Animals. ...
  • Sports Related Injuries.
  • Clinical Negligence.

How many types of accidental do we have? ›

There are five types of accidentals; accidentals are characters that can be placed before notes to raise or lower them. The sharp symbol—♯—raises a pitch a half step. The flat symbol—♭—lowers a pitch a half step. The double sharp symbol—𝄪—raises a pitch two half steps, or a whole step.

Who failed 10000 times? ›

Later Edison became famous for saying “I have not failed 10,000 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 10,000 ways will not work.

What are three famous failures? ›

Albert Einstein had the label "mentally slow" put on his permanent school record. Henry Ford's first two automobile companies failed. Oprah Winfrey was fired from an early job as a television news anchor. Jerry Seinfeld was booed off stage in his first stand-up comedy appearance.

Who failed but became successful? ›

Thomas Edison

Edison may just hold the record for most failed attempts before reaching success on a single project, having failed several thousand times before inventing a functional light bulb. His response has become famous to entrepreneurs: "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work."

What are the 5 types of accidents? ›

What Are Five Types of Accidents?
  • One: Distracted Driving Accidents. ...
  • Two: DUI Accidents. ...
  • Three: Accidents Caused by Speeding and Other Moving Violations. ...
  • Four: Accidents Involving Trucks and Large Commercial Vehicles. ...
  • Five: Motorcycle Accidents.
3 Jan 2022

How was plastic invented by accident? ›

In 1846, Charles Schonbein, a Swiss chemist, accidentally discovered another polymer when he spilled a nitric acid-sulfuric acid mixture on some cotton. A chemical reaction occurred in which the hydroxyl groups of the cellulose fibers in the cotton were converted to nitrate groups catalyzed by the sulfur.

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