Science isn’t always easy or straightforward. There’s a lot of trial and even more error that go into every scientific discovery. And sometimes the best things happen by mistake! Here are a few great inventions that didn’t turn out the way they were supposed to.
WIkimedia/Larry D. Moore/CC BY-SA 3.0
It’s fun, it’s squishy and most of us have played with it. But Play-Doh actually was invented as a way to clean wallpaper! Back in the 1930s a soap company wanted to find a way to get stains off of wallpaper. The paste they came up with worked, but not well enough to keep the company going, and by the 1950s they were headed out of business. Lucky for them, a nursery school teacher related to one of the company’s owners told them how much the kids in her class liked playing with the wallpaper putty. This teacher saved the company twice—she came up with the name Play-Doh after they wanted to call it “Kutol’s Rainbow Modelling Compound.” Not exactly a fun name!
The crispy breakfast cereal got its start as a baking experiment gone wrong. In 1894 the Kellogg brothers were running a spa for people looking to eat healthier food. While making bread for their patients they left some boiled wheat out too long and it went stale. When they rolled out the dough it turned into weird flakes. Not wanting to throw out all the dough, the brothers toasted them, hoping to get something edible out of it. The crispy flakes were a hit! They experimented with other grains, finally settling on corn as the most popular.
Yummy, crunchy potato chips were supposedly invented as a way to get back at someone! The story goes that in 1853, George Crum was a chef in a fancy hotel. One of the guests kept sending back his meal, complaining that the fried potatoes were too soggy and thick. Chef Crum got annoyed, and sliced the potatoes super-thin and fried them so much that they were completely crispy. He expected the guest to be mad, but instead he asked for seconds! The chef sold his creation all over and went on to open his own restaurant.
The X-rays doctors use to check our bones and teeth were discovered by accident. A German physicist named William Rontgen was experimenting with different cathode ray tubes in 1895. He saw that even when covered up with cardboard, the tubes caused certain chemicals to glow from across the room. He realized that there were invisible rays that could pass through glass, paper and even skin! He called them “X-rays,” with the X standing for, “unknown” or “I have no idea what’s causing this.” He kept on studying though, and won a Nobel Prize in physics.
One of the most powerful antibiotics in medicine was the fault of a messy scientist. In 1928, Alexander Fleming was ready for a vacation. He was in such a hurry to leave that he didn’t clean up his experiments, including some petri dishes that had bacteria in them. When he got back after 2 weeks, he found that the dishes had gotten mouldy. Yuck! But as he was getting rid of the mess, he saw that the mould had killed off the bacteria. When he studied the mould he found that this one particular substance, penicillin, was great at getting rid of bacteria. Eventually this discovery went on to save millions of people. It’s a great argument to make the next time you’re told to clean your room!