Everyday Products That Were Discovered by Accident

The accidental legacy of corn flakes goes back to the late 19th century, when a team of Seventh-day Adventists began to develop new food to adhere to the vegetarian diet recommended by the church. Members of the group experimented with a number of different grains, including wheat, oats, rice, barley, and corn. In 1894, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, the superintendent of The Battle Creek Sanitarium in Michigan and an Adventist, used these recipes as part of a strict vegetarian regimen for his patients, which also included no alcohol, tobacco, or caffeine. The diet he imposed consisted entirely of bland foods.

This idea for corn flakes began by accident when Kellog and his younger brother, Will Keith Kellogg, left some cooked corn sit while they attended to some pressing matters at the sanitarium. When they returned, they found that the corn had gone stale, but being on a strict budget, they decided to continue to process it by forcing it through rollers, hoping to obtain long sheets of the dough. To their surprise, what they found instead were flakes, which they toasted and served to their patients.

In 1906, Will Keith Kellogg, who served as the business manager of the sanitarium, decided to try to mass-market the new food. At his new company, Battle Creek Toasted Corn Flake Company, he added sugar to the flakes to make them more palatable to a mass audience, but this caused a rift between him and his brother.

In 1905, eleven-year-old Frank Epperson left his soda-making tools outside overnight. The next day, the stick he’d used to stir the water and flavored powder mixture had frozen, creating the first popsicle. Almost twenty years later, the adult Epperson applied for a patent to make popsicles.

Innkeeper Ruth Wakefield, owner of the Toll House Inn in Wakefield, Massachusetts, was trying to bake a chocolate dessert for her guests, but the chips didn’t melt thoroughly. Her guests loved the chocolate chip cookies.

This treatment for hair loss was discovered when scientists noticed that patients taking the blood pressure drug Loniten experienced the added bonus of making their hair thicker.

In 1945, an engineer working for Raytheon discovered that a candy bar in his pocket melted while he was working with a magnetron device that was used in military radar systems. Realizing that the radiation was cooking his candy, inventor Percy Spencer developed the first microwave, which at the time was more than five feet tall!

Alexander Fleming recounted that the date of his discovery of penicillin was on the morning of Friday, September 28, 1928. It was a fortuitous accident: in his laboratory in the basement of St. Mary’s Hospital in London (now part of Imperial College), Fleming noticed a petri dish containing Staphylococcus plate culture he had mistakenly left open, which was contaminated by blue-green mould, which had formed a visible growth. There was a halo of inhibited bacterial growth around the mould. Fleming concluded that the mould was releasing a substance that was repressing the growth and lysing the bacteria. He grew a pure culture and discovered that it was a Penicillium mould. Fleming coined the term “penicillin” to describe the filtrate of a broth culture of the Penicillium mould. He expressed initial optimism that penicillin would be a useful disinfectant, being highly potent with minimal toxicity compared to antiseptics of the day. After further experiments, Fleming was convinced that penicillin could not last long enough in the human body to kill pathogenic bacteria, and stopped studying it after 1931. He restarted clinical trials in 1934, and continued to try to get someone to purify it until 1940.

A soap maker at the Procter and Gamble company had no idea a new innovation was about to surface when he went to lunch one day in 1879. He forgot to turn off the soap mixer, and more than the usual amount of air was shipped into the batch of pure white soap that the company sold under the name The White Soap. Fearing he would get in trouble, the soap maker kept the mistake a secret and packaged and shipped the air-filled soap to customers around the country. Soon customers were asking for more “soap that floats.” When company officials found out what happened, they turned it into one of the company’s most successful products, Ivory Soap.

In 1968, Dr. Spencer Silver, a chemist at 3M in the United States, developed a “low-tack”, reusable, pressure sensitive adhesive.For five years, Silver promoted his invention within 3M, both informally and through seminars, but without much success. In 1974, a colleague of his, Art Fry, who had attended one of Silver’s seminars, came up with the idea of using the adhesive to anchor his bookmark in his hymnbook. Fry then developed the idea by taking advantage of 3M’s officially sanctioned “permitted bootlegging” policy. 3M launched the product in stores in 1977 in four cities under the name “Press ‘n Peel”, but its results were disappointing. A year later, in 1978, 3M issued free samples to residents of Boise, Idaho, and 95 percent of the people who tried them said that they would buy the product. On April 6, 1980, the product debuted in US stores as “Post-It Notes.”

This fun kid’s product was originally meant to be a wallpaper cleaner!

The Legend of Kaldi maintains that an Abyssian or Ethopian goat herder noticed that his flock was acting especially frisky after chowing down on some bright red berries. After sampling some for himself and verifying the mood shift, he brought the berries to a local imam who studied them, eventually roasting and boiling a batch in water.

In 1853, chef George Crum was annoyed by a customer who kept sending his fried potatoes back to the kitchen, complaining that they were not crunchy enough. Crum sliced the potatoes very thinly, fried them, and added salt. The crunchy chips quickly became a local hit in New England and were called “Saratoga Chips,” after the town in which they were invented.

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