We recently took a look at some of the most impactful inventions that came about accidentally. While many inventions start out with one intention, it’s surprisingly common for those ideas to take on a life of their own when put into practice. These inventions impacted the world because their creators saw when they needed to redirect their efforts. While the classic proverb says, “necessity is the mother of invention”, it’s important to understand that something might have a better use than you originally set out to solve. If you have an idea or invention you want to bring to life, call Glober Design to get the ball rolling. We’ll help with everything from prototyping to licensing and everything in between.
If you have cooked with a pan and been surprised to see how easy your freshly cooked food slid out of the pan, you have Teflon to thank. In 1938, Roy Plunkett inadvertently invented Teflon while attempting to develop a new type of chlorofluorocarbons (also known as CFCs, now known to cause damage to the ozone). His discovery came about when he was checking on his experiment in a refrigeration chamber, only to find the canister he expected to be holding his new gas was now empty, with only a few white flakes remaining. Interested in these strange flakes, Plunkett started to experiment with them. Not only did he find this new substance was a very effective lubricant, it also had an incredibly high melting point. Initially, it was used for military gear during World War II, but it truly came into its own when it was used to make non-stick cookware.
Pronounced bay-kuh-light, this invention came about in 1907, when Belgian-American chemist Leo Baekeland was exploring options to replace shellac as the primary insulator of most electronic devices at the turn of the century. Shellac, made from Asian beetle poop (gross, right?), was expensive and difficult to work with. Bakelite was the first ever synthetic plastic and became the material du jour thanks to its exceptional malleability, the wide range of color options, durability against high temperatures and daily wear and tear. Though it did get used as an electronics insulator, that was just one of the many uses it had. With everything from jewelry to letter openers to telephones made from this new plastic, it shaped the aesthetic of a generation. That iconic look makes bakelite items prized to many collectors today.
Prior to 1960, existing pacemakers were incredibly large — about the size of a television — and attached to a patient from the outside. While working as an assistant professor at the University of Buffalo, Wilson Greatbatch was experimenting on an implantable pacemaker that made it much smaller. While developing a heart-recording prototype, Greatbatch grabbed a 1-megaohm resistor instead of the lower power 10,000-ohm one he intended. This led him to believe he ruined his experiment, but instead, he perfected it. With the new resistor in place, the circuit created a signal that sounded for 1.8 milliseconds, then paused for one second. Luckily enough, that matched up perfectly with the normal beat of a human heart. This precise current made it possible to regulate someone’s pulse and fix an irregular heartbeat. With its smaller size and precise design, the number of lives this invention has saved is incredible.
Sometimes inspiration can strike out of nowhere. After going on a hunting trip with his dog, Swiss engineer George de Mestral got frustrated by the number of burrs that would get stuck in his socks and his dog’s fur. Upon returning home, he examined the burrs under a microscope, only to notice their tiny “hooks”, which would attach the burrs to fabric and fur. After tinkering and experimenting with many different textiles in an attempt to utilize this sort of design, he tried out the freshly invented nylon. This worked perfectly for his intents, but it wasn’t until about 20 years later that velcro truly became popular, thanks to NASA adopting it for their equipment.
While it is true that x-rays exist as a natural phenomenon — so they weren’t “invented” — their discovery was truly revolutionary and happened as a total accident. German physicist Wilhelm Roentgen was going through a mundane experiment with some cathode rays in 1895 when he noticed something strange across the room. A piece of fluorescent cardboard was lighting up, which was highly unusual. After placing a thick screen between the cathode emitter and the radiated cardboard, Roentgen was able to prove that particles of light could pass through solid objects. As he continued to experiment with this new discovery, he found he could produce incredible images unlike anything before with this radiation. The first ever x-ray image produced was one of Roentgen’s wife’s hand. In the years since then, x-ray technology has evolved and changed the medical industry.
These are just a few of the massively influential inventions that have been discovered or developed on accident. The truth is, when it comes to making an invention, the best-laid plans may not produce results. Being able to adjust your approach and find new ways to use something you’ve developed is vital to the success of any invention. Just because something doesn’t work as originally intended, doesn’t mean that it’s entirely useless. Keep an open mind and keep working hard and you’re sure to make a breakthrough. If you would like some help bringing your invention idea to life, call Glober Design! With expert assistance in everything from CAD design to packaging design, we’ll help you make the most out of your idea.