Did you ever wonder how some of your favorite foods, products or toys came about? Believe it or not, they may have been an accident, coincidence or failed version of some other intention. Below, we found nine mistakes we’re thankful turned out to be what they are. Read on, and tell us: What products are you wondering about? If we get enough responses, we just might dig up the answers for you.
Most historians speculate that the Chinese invented fireworks in the 9th century when they discovered how to make gunpowder. Legend has it that a Chinese chef accidentally mixed together what were then considered common kitchen items—potassium nitrate or saltpeter (a salt substitute), sulfur (a flammable solid) and charcoal (from charred wood)—and noticed they ignited. When compressed in a bamboo tube and lit, it blew up. Another legend credits Taoist monks with a similar discovery 1,000 years ago. Photo by Shutterstock.
In 1853, chef George Crum at the Moon Lake House in Saratoga Springs, New York, attempted to satisfy a customer’s demand for crispier fried potatoes. Going to the extreme, Crum sliced the potatoes paper-thin, baked and then fried them to a hardened crisp. Following the happy accident, “Saratoga Chips” became a regular item on the menu, and in 1860, Crum opened his own restaurant, at which potato chips were placed in a basket on every table. Photo by Shutterstock.
Chemist Constantin Fahlberg is credited as the accidental inventor of saccharin—the sweetener in the ubiquitous Sweet’N Low pink packets. The story goes, in 1879, Fahlberg was testing coal tar at Johns Hopkins University for his mentor Professor Ira Remsen. One night he didn’t wash his hands before dinner and he noticed the substance coating them tasted sweet—saccharin is 300 to 500 times sweeter than real sugar. Photo by iStock.
In May of 1886, a prohibition law prompted John Pemberton, an Atlanta-based pharmacist, to rewrite the formula for “Pemberton’s French Wine Coca,” his popular nerve tonic, stimulant and headache remedy. Containing sugar instead of wine as a sweetener, the outcome became the syrup base for Coke, which was later mixed with carbonated water. Pemberton’s bookkeeper suggested the name Coca-Cola because he thought the two C’s would look good together, and scripted its very first logo in his unique handwriting. Photo by iStock.
In 1943, while attempting to create a synthetic rubber substitute, General Electric researcher James Wright dropped boric acid into silicone oil. The result was a polymerized substance that bounced. It took several years to find a use for the product, but in 1950, marketing expert Peter Hodgson saw its potential as a toy and renamed it Silly Putty. The substance has been manufactured by Binney & Smith, Inc. ever since. Photo courtesy of Crayolastore.com.
During World War II, scientists at the University of Birmingham invented the magnetron—a critical heat-producing component of the microwave oven. While working for Raytheon Corporation after the war, American engineer Percy Spencer was testing the magnetron when a chocolate bar in his pocket melted. He went on to test other foods including popcorn kernels and an egg (which exploded), and found it to be a much more efficient way to cook. In 1947 Raytheon came out with the first restaurant microwave oven, which was six feet tall and weighed 750 lbs. Photo by Shutterstock.
Though not an unintentional creation, the inspiration was purely accidental. One day in 1948, Swiss electrical engineer George de Mestral returned home from a hike with several burrs clinging to his pants. After microscopic examination, he surmised that the small hooks on the burr, if combined with a piece of fabric comprised of loops, like his slacks, could work as a fastening strip. Shortly after, what we know today as Velcro—a combination of the two French words “velours” (velvet) and “crochet” (hook)—was born. Photo by iStock.
In 1957, two Hawthorne, New Jersey–based engineers named Marc Chavannes and Alfred W. Fielding set out to invent textured plastic wallpaper. Though their product wasn’t well-received, the two turned their misfortune into fortune—literally—when they realized it could be used as packaging material. In 1960, they cofounded Sealed Air Corporation, which now makes a variety of packaging material systems and equipment, bringing in over $3 billion annually. Photo by Shutterstock.
In 1968, Spencer Silver, a researcher for 3M, accidentally created a glue formula that was weaker than normal. Six years later, irritated by repeatedly losing the bookmark in his church choir hymnal book, Arthur Fry, his 3M colleague, applied some of the low-strength, nondamaging adhesive to his page-savers—it proved to be the perfect solution. Fry sold his supervisor on the idea, and trial marketing began in 1977. Photo by Shutterstock.