Business Technology

Six household products that were invented by accident

5 min read

22 October 2015

As every entrepreneur knows, the key to success doesn’t lie in not making mistakes –instead it’s about reactions things go wrong and how you handle failure. Here are six great products that were invented by mistake.

(1) Post-it notes 

Post-it notes are to be found in every office these days, but their inventor was actually trying to create something that did the opposite of these versatile little bits of paper. 

Instead of something that you can easily peel off, in 1968 Spencer Silver was engaged in developing a super strong glue for US company 3M. Although Silver saw a use for the new product, it took him six years to persuade anyone else to take is seriously and it wasn’t until 1980 that Post-its were launched officially.

(2) Saccharine 

The artificial sweetener only came about because a chemist called Constantin Fahlberg didn’t wash his hands before eating. In 1879 Fahlberg was experimenting with coal tar before going off to supper. At the table, he put a piece of bread into his mouth and discovered that it tasted strangely sweet, as did his fingers. Excited, he dashed back to his workbench and sampled the contents of all the beakers that he had been using. 

He said later: “When I first published my researches, some people laughed as if it were a scientific joke…others proclaimed the work as being of no practical value.” How wrong were they.

Read more from Surreal Business:

(3) Viagra

Chemists at Pfizer were working on a treatment for cardiovascular problems when, in 1991, the team discovered that patients in the trials were confiding that they were experiencing a surprising but not unwelcome side effect. Approved by the US Food and Drug Administration seven years later, today global sales of Viagra total nearly $2bn annually.

Read on to find out which food and drink staples were the results of normal procedures gone wrong.

(4) Corn flakes

As part of his work at the Battle Creek Sanatorium in Michigan in 1894, John Harvey Kellogg was trying to find a healthy breakfast for his patients. 

Having left some wheat boiling, he and his brother discovered that it had gone stale. Keen to avoid any waste the two rolled it out into a dough. To improve the taste they toasted the dough and later discovered that the process worked better with corn – plus a bit of sugar. One of the key benefits of this new breakfast, believed Kellogg, was that it would help with sexual abstinence.

The 5 accidental entrepreneurs who built global businesses

(5) The microwave oven

This kitchen essential began life in a military research centre. Just after the World War II, scientists at defence contractors Raytheon were working on a magnetron, a microwave emitting tube used in military radar systems. One of them, Percy Spencer, discovered that as he was working on the machine a bar of chocolate in his pocket started melting. 

Suspecting that it was the radiation that was causing this to happen Spencer developed the first microwave oven, albeit one that stood five feet tall and cost around $5,000.

(6) Champagne

Champagne came about because of a freak change in the climate in France. In 1697, Benedictine monk and cellar master Dom Pierre Perignon discovered that the wine he had bottled in the autumn didn’t ferment properly because of an unusual drop in temperature. 

The fermentation process was only completed when the weather got slightly warmer in the spring. This secondary fermentation produced carbon dioxide in the wine. Pleased with the result, Perignon perfected it using different grape varieties. 

A postscript. Recently it’s been suggested that a British doctor, Christopher Merret, actually published a formula for sparkling wine 20 years before the monk who gave his name the great champagne house.