Creative thinkers make our world such an interesting, adventurous place, don’t you think? Consider all of the wonderful products that have made our everyday tasks and duties in life so much easier or more convenient. (Hello, indoor plumbing!) You might be surprised to learn that there have been many accidental inventions, as well! Sometimes, things happen, and suddenly, someone makes something or discovers something they never set out to do.
The list of accidental inventions includes chewing gum
Are you a gum chewer? I love chewing gum but whenever someone offers me a piece, I say, “Trust me. You want gum chewing to remain a private activity for me.” I haven’t figured out a way to chew gum without cracking it, and it drives some people cray-cray! lol You may have heard of General Antonio López de Santa Anna. He was the leader of Mexico in its fight against Spain to gain independence. Did you also know, however, that he is credited as the accidental inventor of chewing gum?
Santa Anna was not a beloved president in Mexico. On the contrary, he is remembered as a ruthless dictator. At one point, he was exiled to Staten Island. That’s where he reportedly accidentally invented our modern-day version of chewing gum. Santa Anna is said to have brought chicle along with him to exile. This is a sticky, rubbery substances that comes from a sapodilla tree. The Mexican people at the time were fond of chewing on it, although it was flavorless.
Santa Anna began collaborating with a local glassmaker, thinking they could turn chicle into rubber for bicycle tires and whatnot. There were other “chewing” products on the market at the time; however, when the glassmaker decided to make balls out of the chicle, they sold out in no time. Henceforth, modern-day chewing gum was invented, and the first popular brands were Dentyne and Chiclets, the latter of which was named for the substance Santa Anna had brought with him from Mexico.
Potato chips were accidental inventions, too
There once was a chef in New York who didn’t take well to criticism, especially from customers. As the story goes, this particular chef thought he took take any ingredients and create a meal fit for a king. When a dining guest complained that his fried potatoes were too thick, and were flavorless and soggy, the chef was furious. He decided to take revenge against the customer. Instead of sending out a new batch of the same menu item, he sliced a bunch of potatoes as thin as he could possibly get them, dumped tons of salt onto them and fried them to a crisp.
Instead of erupting in anger, the guest ordered a second serving because he loved them! Voila! The chef’s little “accidental inventions” become one of the most popular snack foods in the world: potato chips! Have you ever tried making your own potato chips? Here’s a recipe that includes helpful tips for getting the perfect crispiness!
Play-doh was initially marketed as a cleaning product
A long time ago, people used to have trouble with soot marks on their walls because they used coal to heat their homes. The owners of a soap-manufacturing company created a sticky dough-like substance that people could use to blot soot marks off of their walls. It worked! Some time later, however, natural gas was introduced to the market and nobody needed the soot-cleaner anymore. The manufacturer was losing money and losing it fast. Much to his surprise, he learned that his sister (who was a teacher at the time) had been letting her students “play” with the doughy substance in class.
This gave the financially struggling soap-maker an idea. The company decided to re-market the dough as a children’s toy. The teacher suggested adding ingredients to make it smell better because it smelled strong, like a cleaner. After testing their product in various schools and nurseries, they realized they had a success! The created a special company to sell their Play-Doh, and it’s still one of the most popular toys on the market, today.
Two brothers parted ways after these accidental inventions
If I were to ask you what brand name comes to mind when you think of cereal, chances are good that you might say, “Kellogg.” What you might not know is that several Kelloggs’ cereals were accidental inventions. The Kellogg brothers were trying to come up with a healthy alternative to bread. They wanted something that was easy to digest, and one of the brothers had the idea to try to boil wheat to form a dough. The brothers weren’t sure how long to boil the wheat. As it turns out, they left it boiling way too long. When try tried to roll out their “dough” it broke off in crispy pieces. They didn’t quite realize it yet, but they had accidentally invented wheat flakes.
As time went on, they decided to try similar experiments using corn, then rice (Rice Krispies, anyone?) and other ingredients. One of the brothers started adding additional ingredients, however, that his sibling did not think would be healthy for consumers. The two men disagreed. The health-conscious brother ultimately said he no longer wished to be part of the company because he felt it had veered away from its original mission.
The Slinky was supposed to be used on Navy ships
Another popular children’s toy was accidentally invented when the Navy rejected an inventor’s product. The inventor was using coiled springs, which were supposed to provide added support to instruments on ships during rough seas. For some reason, the Navy wasn’t thrilled with the invention. When one of the springs fell off a table, the inventor watched, as it “slinked” its way to the ground, then landed right-side-up again. He went home and showed his wife.
The wife came up with a name for her husband’s toy idea. He made a bunch and they tested the market at Gimbels Department Store in 1945. They sold 400 Slinkys in 90 minutes! By 1995, a quarter of a billion Slinkys had been sold!
These are just a few of many accidental inventions that became integral parts of our culture through the years. And, suffice to say, they made their accidental inventors very wealthy in the meantime!
Futuristic inventions may not be so far off, and some of them make people nervous
There have been some amazing inventions (albeit, not accidental) in recent years. There are also some things that are still in the works that some people would rather not think about because it scares them, such as teleportation devices and lab-grown meat. Check out this article in our archives that talks about these inventions, and more!