Life is full of surprises, and science is no exception. These five accidental inventions prove that the most significant discoveries came from the most unlikely places. Whether it was a spilled solution or a faulty experiment, the inventors turned their mishaps into triumphs, and the world has never been the same. Join us as we explore the unexpected origins of these five remarkable inventions.
1. Microwave Oven: When he accidentally discovered microwave cooking
Percy LeBaron Spencer was working on magnetrons—high-powered vacuum tubes that generate short radio waves called microwaves. The engineer was doing his job as usual when he noticed the candy bar in his pocket had melted. Spencer realised that the magnetrons were causing it. By 1945, he had filed a patent for his metal cooking box powered by microwaves.
As the Post-it website tells it, 3M scientist Dr Spencer Silver was researching strong adhesives when he came across quite the opposite one that “stuck lightly to surfaces but didn’t bond tightly to them.” Silver initially had no idea what to do with his discovery, but years later, another 3M scientist, Art Fry, came to him with the idea to create a bookmark that could stick to paper without damaging it. Eventually, that bookmark became the Post-it note.
Discovered in 1928, Penicillin was one of the world’s first antibiotics, but the man who discovered it, Dr Alexander Fleming never actually meant to “revolutionise all medicine,” as he later described it. Instead, Fleming came across the antibiotic entirely by chance when he left out cultures of Staphylococcus aureus in his lab for two weeks and returned to find that their growth had been prevented by a mold called Penicillium notatum.
4. Chocolate Chip Cookies:
It’s hard to imagine a world without chocolate chip cookies, but the delectable dessert wasn’t invented until 1930. On the day the cookies were created, Ruth Graves Wakefield, co-owner of the Toll House Inn, was preparing some chocolate cookies for her guests when she realized she was out of baker’s chocolate. Thinking on her feet, Wakefield decided to chop up a block of Nestle semi-sweet chocolate, assuming it would melt and spread evenly throughout the batter. Instead, the first batch of chocolate chip cookies came out of the oven, and modern dessert was always different.
5. The Slinky:
Known for the mesmerising way it descends downstairs, the slinky was created by naval engineer Richard James, according to The Strong National Museum of Play. Trying to develop a spring that would keep equipment steady on ships, James knocked the coiled metal off a ledge and saw its incredible effect. He showed his wife Betty the accidental invention, and she had the idea to make it a toy.
So, don’t give up hope the next time you make a mistake or encounter an unexpected outcome. You never know; it could be the start of something extraordinary.