Bertrand Russell said that all serious innovation is only rendered possible by some accident. We couldn’t agree more. Here are 8 such happy accidents that led to successful innovations.
1. Potato chips: A dish fit for kings
Chef George Crum at Saratoga Springs, N.Y. received criticism for soggy, bland fries. ‘Take anything edible and transform it into a dish fit for a king’, he was told. In order to get even, he sliced the potatoes really thin, fried it till they could be shattered, and then over-salted them. His plan backfired. Thus, in the year 1853, the irate diner was the first to enjoy fresh, crispy salty chips. What Chef Crum didn’t know was that by accident he had created the most addictive food for generations to come.
2. Mauve: When mosquitoes won’t dye
In the year 1856, Chemist William Perkin wanted to cure malaria. Instead, the 18 year old student from the Royal College of London started a new movement in the fashion industry. His failed attempt to create artificial quinine, an antimalarial drug, resulted in a thick, sludge that took on a unique shade of purple. By isolating the compound creating color, ‘mauve’, he created the first ever synthetic dye and kick-started a chemistry revolution.
3. Superglue: When gunsights got sticky
When Harry Coover set out to use a plastic material for gunsights in World War II, he found the material to be annoyingly sticky. He rejected the material. In 1951, when experimenting with adhesives for heat-resistant jet airplane canopies, he came across the sticky material again. Fortunately, Cooper had a flash of inspiration and decided to understand the persuasive material further. He realised that by using the material, items permanently bonded together. Coover and his team turned into instant celebrities with the new material, patented as ‘Superglue’.
4. Popsicles: An accident on a cold night
In 1905, on a cold cold evening, Frank Epperson from San Francisco left an unfinished fruit-flavored soda drink outside with a stirring stick in the cup. The next morning, he popped it out and licked it, inventing the all time kids favorite, the popsicle.
5. Matches: Friction lights by accident
In 1826, John Walker, a chemist in Stockton, England, had finished stirring a pot of chemicals. He noticed the stick he used to stir the pot had dried into a lump on one end. When he tried to scrape the stuff off the material by dragging it across the floor, the stick burst into a flame!
6. Corn Flakes: Overboiled healthy dough
In search for an easily digestible bread substitute, William Kellogg and his brother, John Kellogg in 1894, decided to boil wheat to make dough. Only, they let it boil for too long. On rolling it out, they saw that the wheat separated into large flat flakes. They baked the flakes to find a delicious healthy snack. But Will had another idea, he tried the process with corn instead of wheat.
In 1906, the Kelloggs’ company, Battle Creek Toasted Corn Flakes Company, shipped 175,000 cases of Corn Flakes, according to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
7. Plastics: A failed shellac replacement
Leo Baekeland, a Belgian-born chemist, set out to find a replacement for shellac. Unfortunately, he failed to do so. But he noticed that by controlling the temperature, applying the right pressure and by mixing it with a few other materials, he created a material that was moldable, robust, non-conductive and heat-resistant. He dubbed his invention ¨the material of 1,000 uses¨.
Today plastic is used for everything possible, from electronic components, auto parts, clocks, toys and most other things that surround us.
8. Coca-Cola: A cure for a headache
John Pemberton, a pharmacist by profession, wanted to cure headaches using coca leaves and cola nuts. His assistant, however, accidentally mixed the two with carbonated water, resulting in the world’s first Coke. Unfortunately Pemberton didn’t live long enough to see this mixture take the shape of the most popular soft drink world over.