Added on: 6th Mar 2016
One of the grosser starts to an accidental invention, Saccharin –
commonly seen today in the pink Sweet n’ Low packets – was
first produced by Constantine Fahlberg, a John’s Hopkins
University researcher. Trying to find new uses for coal tar,
Fahlberg found his wife’s biscuits much sweeter than normal one
evening in 1879. Rushing to figure out what caused it,
Fahlberg found remnants from his lab tests – namely,
saccharin – on his hands.
Bran gruel just sounds disgusting. Typically a peasant food
(and asked for “more” of by Oliver Twist), gruel is a cereal
grain boiled in water or milk which sustained many a Westerner
over the past few hundred years. A Washburn Crosby Company
cook was preparing some when part of the mixture fell onto
the hot stove and sizzled. Trying the cracked flakes, he found
the result much more appetizing and Wheaties was born.
The company debated what to call the cereal. First named
Washburn’s Gold Medal Whole Wheat Flakes (and nearly
Nukeys), an employee contest ultimately resulted in the
final name of Wheaties.
The by-product of breakfast entrepreneur brothers John and
Will Kellogg, corn flakes had a less-than-appetizing beginning.
While boiling grains to make granola, the brothers forgot a pot
on the stove for a few days in 1898. Upon returning – besides a
mouldy mess – they found a thick, dry mixture. Some experiments
later, the mould was taken out of the equation and the first
corn flakes were eaten.
Post-Industrial Revolution, the world was charging full-steam
ahead. In the late 1800’s, German physicist Wilhelm Röntgen
was experimenting with cathode-ray tubes. Similar to a
fluorescent light-bulb, the tubes are glass tubes in which air is
vacuumed out and a gas is added in. Adding electricity, the tube
would glow. After surrounding the tube with black cardboard,
Röntgen was surprised that a nearby chemical also glowed since
all light was supposed to be kept within the cardboard. Soon
testing the invisible rays on his wife’s hand, he realized they
could pass through flesh, wood, and a variety of substances.
Unsure of what was happening, he called his accidental
invention X-rays – the X meaning “unknown”.
Alfred Nobel, namesake of the Nobel Peace Prize, successfully
created dynamite after an accidental explosion in his own
laboratory which killed his younger brother and a few others.
A chemist by trade, he (and the others) were working to find
ways to stabilize the highly-volatile liquid nitro-glycerine.
When transporting some of the liquid one day, the can broke
open but a big explosion didn’t follow; kieselguhr, a sedimentary
rock mixture in which the cans were packed, absorbed the
liquid without hampering its explosive power. He continued
researching and soon created what we know today as dynamite.
The company 3M is known for its high levels of innovation
throughout the years; the year 1968 was no exception.
Researchers Spencer Silver and Art Fry developed a soft
adhesive but couldn’t find a use for it. While practicing hymns
with his church choir, Fry found his place marking papers kept
falling out and remembered their old idea from years earlier. #
Twelve years after its original discovery, 3M launched
Post-It Notes in 1980.
Anyone who has undergone a surgery will be thankful to the
pain-easing effects of anaesthesia. Four men – Crawford Long,
William Morton, Charles Jackson, and Horace Wells – all
realized, rather independently, the useful effects of ether
and nitrous oxide. In the 1800’s, parties where guests would
consume such vapours were all the rage. These
“laughing parties” or “ether frolics” were the acid parties
of their day. A notable event for Horace Wells happened in
1844 when a man at the party injured his leg and was bleeding
but reported feeling no pain. Wells soon removed his own tooth
under the gas’s influences and found its immense value
during painful medical procedures.
Another example of a toy emerging from war-time production,
Silly Putty was designed by James Wright of General Electric.
Wright was testing silicon oil during World War II to make a
substitute for rubber which was highly in demand by the
military for airplane tyres, soldiers’ boots, and more. After
adding boric acid to some silicon oil in 1943, Wright was left
with a bouncy, gooey, gelatinous mess. Not useful for any
military application, Silly Putty was only really useful as a
gooey kid’s toy.