“It is human to err.”
Sure it is. And in some cases, we’re really grateful that some humans did screw up. I say this because some of the greatest inventions in history have been the result of absent-mindedness, laziness and sheer luck. Here are 14 inventions that came into being by accident.
1. Post-it notes
You feel like a loser when you set out to achieve something and fall short. Unless you’re Spencer Silver. This man had set out to make the strongest adhesive in history but ended up making just the opposite – a really weak glue. Obviously, nobody believed in a glue that couldn’t do its job. It took one religious friend, years later, to finally convince the world that Silver’s invention was here to stay when he stuck pieces of paper with the adhesive to bookmark the pages in his hymnbook. Silver had finally struck gold. Moral: If you aren’t religious yourself, at least make a religious friend. It helps.
Had Alexander Fleming been a stickler for cleanliness, the world would have been a sick place! The thought of embarking on a relaxing vacation led Mr Fleming to leave his lab without cleaning the Petri dishes. On coming back, he found a strange mould on the dishes that had dissolved all the bacteria around it. Fleming’s curiosity led him to analyse the mould and that was the birth of Penicillin.
Fleming leaves without doing the dishes and he gets Penicillin on a plate. If I do the same, I get beaten black and blue by mom. Highly unfair. God, are you listening?
3. Corn flakes
A powerful mind leads to some kickass ideas, a forgetful one can lead to healthy breakfast. Well, in my defence, I have Kelloggs’ story to tell you. If Will Kellogg hadn’t forgotten to check on the pan of boiling wheat, you wouldn’t be munching those cornflakes for breakfast. For some strange reason, he then passed the over-cooked wheat through rollers and gave the world its first bowl of cornflakes. I’ve no clue why he did that, but who cares, we got cornflakes.
4. Microwave oven
I’m sure Percy Spencer was a huge fan of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s works. How else would you explain his behaviour of going hammer and tongs trying to figure out what made the candy in his pocket melt when all his energies should have been focussed on analysing how the goddamn magnetron was working? I don’t even know what a magnetron is, but it sure sounds more important than a sweet little candy bar.
5. Potato chips
What good is a man’s ego? Well, it gave the world potato chips. A nasty clash of egos between a chef and a cranky customer resulted in the chef slicing the potatoes insanely thin just to irritate the shit out of the customer. The plan backfired, the customer loved it and the rest is history. Thank you, God for blessing us with such fragile egos.
When somebody says that the Chinese are far-sighted, I just nod in agreement. That’s because some 2000 years ago, one Chinese cook saw what Professor Utonium from Powerpuff girls would do two millenias later and tried doing the same. Just that he mixed charcoal, sulfur and saltpeter together instead of sugar, spice and everything nice. The result was, well… explosive!
Sometimes forgetting to wash your hands can result in a sweet surprise. Fahlberg, a Russian chemist, is testimony to this. He forgot to wash his hands after coming back home from the lab and started munching down his bread roll which tasted surprisingly sweet. He realised that the sweetness wasn’t coming from the bread, but his hands. He rushed back to the lab and licked everything on his table, finally figuring out the source of the sweet chemical, now called saccharin. More than being thankful for saccharin, we respect you sir for your dedication to science. I would never lick beakers in my chemistry lab. Never!
If it weren’t for Google, I would have assumed that the ‘X’ in X-Rays was symbolic of the eccentricity of Roentgen, the scientist who discovered X-Rays while studying the properties of Cathodic Ray Tubes. He observed that the CRT emitted some mysterious rays and lit up a screen covered in fluorescent material in his lab. It’s said that one of the first X-Ray images he took was that of his wife’s hand. Do I hear the ladies go “Awwwwwww?”
9. Chocolate chip cookies
The second mother of chocolate chip cookies was Mrs Wakefield, a lady who could whip up the most tasty desserts in Massachusetts. One day, her customers ordered for some chocolate biscuits. On realising that she had run out of baker’s chocolate, she quickly chopped some chocolate and added it to the batter hoping that it would spread evenly throughout the mixture after baking. I’m glad that it didn’t and the first batch of chocolate cookies was born.
In case it didn’t occur to you, the first mother of this sinful invention was of course necessity.
Some inventions are born and then disappear only to resurface 17 years later. Well, that’s what happened to the popsicle. 11-year-old Frank Epperson left a mixture of powder flavoured soda water with a stick out in the open. The cold night worked its magic and voila! The first popsicle was born. Epperson christened his invention, ‘Epsicle’. 17 years later, it was but natural that his kids would ask him for a Popsicle! The question that remains unanswered is, “What the hell was Papa Epperson doing for 17 long years?”
11. Chewing gum
Thank you God for making Albert Hoffman swallow this drug unintentionally. This was one helluva trippy gift you gave mankind. It sometimes bothers me how many more inventions we may have missed due to chemists not tasting their concoctions. Chemists, please lick.
The words harmless and mishap are rarely used in the same breath, except when you’re talking about the Slinky. The idea for the spring that walks on its own was born out of a harmless mishap when marine engineer Richard James accidentally knocked off a spring that was meant to keep fragile equipments steady on ships. James worked on the idea and after two years, the world had its first Slinky. The Slinky is kinda cute. When it doesn’t sit, it walks.
14. Pacemaker implants
Call it absent-mindedness or a sheer stroke of luck, Wilson Greatbatch’s act of inserting the wrong resistor to complete a circuit was the stepping stone to one of the most important inventions of all time. Had Greatbatch been a fan of Madhuri Dixit, the song that would have been playing in his head would have been ‘dhak dhak karne laga’ when he found that electricity could be used t create rhythmic pulsations. He had set out to record heart beats but ended up producing them. Now, that is some invention!