Familiar items discovered or invented by accident

vicnytn3[1] We hold inventors in high esteem, and rightly so — but often their discoveries are accidental twists of fate. Here are a few products I’m certain you are familiar with (I know this is not how you end a sentence but it sounds less formal than “… a few products with which I am certain you are familiar).”

One smell most everyone remembers from childhood is the aroma of Play-Doh, the brightly colored non-toxic modeling clay. It was accidentally invented in 1955 by Joseph and Noah McVicker while they were trying to make wallpaper cleaner. A year later it was marketed by Rainbow Crafts. More than 700 million pounds of Play-Doh have sold since then, but the recipe remains a closely guarded secret.

Silly Putty
It bounces – it stretches – it breaks – it’s Silly Putty! Silly Putty is a silicone-based plastic clay marketed as a children’s toy for more than 65 years. During World War II, while attempting to create a synthetic rubber substitute, James Wright dropped boric acid into silicone oil. The result was a polymerized substance that bounced, but it took several years to find a use for the product. Finally, in 1950, marketing expert Peter Hodgson saw its potential as a toy, renamed it Silly Putty, and a classic toy was born! Not only is it fun for kids, but it also has practical uses – it picks up dirt, lint and pet hair; can stabilize wobbly furniture; and is useful in stress-reduction and in medical and scientific simulations. It was even used by the crew of Apollo 8 to secure tools in zero gravity.

Post-it Notes
Despite the fact that Romy White and Michele Weinberger claimed to have invented Post-its in the movie “Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion” (which remains one of my favorites), the idea for the Post-it Note was conceived in 1974 by 3M employee Arthur Fry as a way of holding bookmarks in his hymnal while he was singing in the church choir. He was aware of an adhesive that was accidentally developed in 1968 by coworker Spencer Silver, but no application for the lightly sticky stuff was apparent until Fry’s idea. The 3M company was initially skeptical about the product’s potential profitability, but in 1980, the product was introduced around the world. Today, Post-it Notes are sold in more than 100 countries.

I’ll have more accidentally discovered products in later posts.

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