Many of the world’s greatest scientific inventions and discoveries have come through rigorous research and persistent effort. Take, for example, the work of famous inventor Thomas Edison. He was determined to invent the perfect incandescent light bulb and did not let thousands of the failed experiments stop him. In the end, he achieved his goal and made a lasting impact on the world forever. Some inventors, however, earn that title accidentally. So many inventions of commonplace items have come about while people were going about their business. Other times, the inventors were trying to solve a different problem altogether. Here are a few modern-day examples of people stumbling on success.
Velcro was created by Swiss engineer George de Mestral after he went for a hike with his dog in the Alps in 1941. When he returned, he took note of the all-familiar and annoying seeds that stick to various fabrics. These burrs were on his socks, his clothes, and his dog’s fur. He decided to examine these further under a microscope. He noticed the tiny hooks on these seeds that allow them to attach to material.
Mestral was so fascinated by the mechanism that he decided to apply the same technique to create a fastening system. He went on to experiment on this concept for many years leading up to what we know now as the brand Velcro. This discovery, now common in clothing and shoes, only really took off many years later when NASA took an interest and went on to popularize it.
Millions of children and adults have enjoyed playing with the goofy toy known as the slinky. It was never the intention of navy engineer Richard James to create it, but he was so captivated by it when he did. He was working on using springs on ships to keep delicate instruments from rocking excessively. It was in 1943 when he knocked over one of his prototypes by mistake. To his surprise, it didn’t go crashing to the ground but slunk towards the floor before coming up again. This spring action was so graceful and fascinating. It was the birth of the high-selling toy.
Another ground-breaking play item that has been used in playtime and schools everywhere is Play-Doh. Play-Doh, as designed by Noah McVicker, was meant as a cleaning product. The paste was used to clean wallpaper by removing the soot that came from coal fires used in many homes. When vinyl wallpaper started to gain ground, only a sponge was needed to clean this up. The company behind it, Kutol Products, needed a change in their strategy to save their company, which was headed for bankruptcy at the time.
Children were using Kutol’s product for their creative projects and Christmas decorations. Thanks to the input of a nursery school teacher and relative named Kay Zufall, Kutol seized the opportunity and altered the make-up of their product slightly in the 1930s. They added color and scent and removed the cleaning components. They went on to enjoy great success.
In another case of a failed creation, super glue was created. Dr. Harry Coover of Eastman-Kodak Laboratories was working on a substance for a precision gun. In 1942, he created the substance cyanoacrylate, but this simply did not work as hoped. It stuck to everything it went in contact with. Years later, Coover was working on a different experiment once again involving cyanoacrylate. While working on airplane canopies, he notices that the substance was creating a strong bond. What was once the source of his frustration became a great source of interest. After further experiments, he patented the product. In 1958, his super glue went on sale.