You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

10 Accidental Discoveries That Changed the World

Reader's Digest logo Reader's Digest 1/6/2021 Andy Simmons

Accidental discoveries

Close up of examining of test sample under the microscope © Kkolosov/Getty Images Close up of examining of test sample under the microscope Some things weren't meant to be, but in the end, turned about to be something great. Read on to learn about how these happy accidents were first discovered. Check out the most amazing space discoveries from the last decade.

Penicillin

accidental discoveries put to good use penicillin © iStock/kwanchaichaiudom accidental discoveries put to good use penicillin

Inventor: Alexander Fleming

Year: 1928

What Happened: Halfway through an experiment with bacteria, Alexander Fleming up and went on vacation. Slob that he was, he left a dirty petri dish in the lab sink.

Big Discovery: When he got back, he found bacteria had grown all over the plate, except in an area where mold had formed.

As a Result: That discovery led to two things: 1) penicillin and 2) Mrs. Fleming hiring a maid. Few other inventions can top that one, though these famous inventions from every state may rank right up there!

Anesthesia

a man sitting in a room: accidental discoveries put to good use anesthesia © iStock/knape accidental discoveries put to good use anesthesia

Inventor: Horace Wells

Year: 1844

What Happened: In its salad days, nitrous oxide was strictly a party toy, since it made people howl like hyenas. But a friend of the dentist took too much of the stuff at a laughing-gas stage show and gashed his leg.

Big Discovery: The friend hadn't realized he'd hurt himself.

As a Result: Nitrous oxide became an early form of anesthesia. Check out these real words that were mistakenly invented.

Saccharin

text: accidental discoveries put to good use saccharin © iStock/magnez2 accidental discoveries put to good use saccharin

Inventors: Constantin Fahlberg and Ira Remsen

Year: 1879

What Happened: After spending the day studying coal tar derivatives, Fahlberg left his Johns Hopkins laboratory and went to dinner.

Big Discovery: Something he ate tasted particularly sweet, which he traced to a chemical compound he'd spilled on his hand. Best of all, it turned out to be calorie-free.

As a Result: He cut Remsen and the university out of millions of dollars when he secretly patented the breakthrough discovery, saccharin. Learn about the weirdest things archaeologists have discovered.

The Microwave

a desk with a keyboard in front of a mirror: accidental discoveries put to good use microwave © iStock/bjenkin accidental discoveries put to good use microwave

Inventor: Percy Spencer

Year: 1946

What Happened: With the end of World War II, the Raytheon engineer was looking for other uses for the magnetron, which generated the microwaves for radar systems. While Spencer was standing next to the device one day, a chocolate bar in his pocket melted.

Big Discovery: The magnetron worked even better on popcorn.

As a Result: Orville Redenbacher became very rich. Here are the foods that were also invented by accident.

Viagra

a wooden table: Anti-impotence viagra tablets © Peter Dazeley/Getty Images Anti-impotence viagra tablets

Inventors: Scientists at Pfizer

Year: 1992

What Happened: A Welsh hamlet was ground zero for a test on a pill to fight angina. Unfortunately for the afflicted, it had little success against the disease.

Big Discovery: Though it didn't work, the men taking part in the study refused to give up their medicine.

As a Result: The scientists switched gears and marketed the drug, Viagra, for a very different purpose. These 13 NASA discoveries changed science textbooks.

Chewing Gum

a close up of a computer keyboard: accidental discoveries put to good use gum © Freila/iStock accidental discoveries put to good use gum

Inventor: Thomas Adams

Year: 1870

What Happened: He was experimenting with chicle, the sap from a South American tree, as a substitute for rubber. After mounting failures, the dejected inventor popped a piece into his mouth.

Big Discovery: He liked it!

As a Result: Adams New York No. 1 became the first mass-produced chewing gum in the world. Check out these amazing discoveries that came out of the Amazon Rainforest.

Silly Putty

a close up of food on a table: Silly putty © Rick Madonik/Getty Images Silly putty

Inventor: James Wright

Year: 1943

What Happened: During the war years, the General Electric engineer combined silicone oil and boric acid in an attempt to find a cheap alternative to rubber for tank treads, boots, etc.

Big Discovery: It didn't work. But the scientists had a blast bouncing and stretching his mistake, when they weren't using it to transfer comics onto paper.

As a Result: Kids had a blast playing with the Silly Putty too. These are the 13 hilarious inventions that epically failed.

Botox

accidental discoveries put to good use botox © iStock/Djura Topalov accidental discoveries put to good use botox

Inventors: Alastair and Jean Carruthers

Year: 1987

What Happened: The couple were using small doses of a deadly toxin to treat 'crossed eyes' eyelid spasms and other eye-muscle disorders when they noticed an interesting side effect.

Big Discovery: Wrinkles magically disappeared.

As a Result: The expressionless face became the 'it' look, thanks to Botox. Read up on these amazing facts you haven't heard before.

Brandy

Glass of brandy on an old wooden barrel © Shaiith/Getty Images Glass of brandy on an old wooden barrel

Inventor: A Dutch shipmaster

Year: 16th century

What Happened: He used heat to concentrate wine in order to make it easier to transport, with the idea of adding water to reconstitute it when he arrived.

Big Discovery: Concentrated wine is better than watered-down wine.

As a Result: 'Burnt wine,' or 'brandewijn' in Dutch, became a big hit. Call it brandy, since after a few drinks of the stuff, there's no way you can pronounce brandewijn so a bartender can understand what you're ordering. Check out these inventions that have changed the world in the last decade.

Mauve!

background pattern: accidental discoveries put to good use mauve © iStock/andipantz accidental discoveries put to good use mauve

Inventor: William Perkin

Year: 1856

What Happened: He was intent on discovering a cure for one of the deadliest diseases in the world, malaria.

Big Discovery: While trying to replicate the malaria fighter quinine in his laboratory, Perkin inadvertently discovered the color mauve instead.

As a Result: Perkin forgot about malaria and made a mint establishing the synthetic dye industry. Next, read up on these inventors who majorly regretted their inventions.

The post 10 Accidental Discoveries That Changed the World appeared first on Reader's Digest.

AdChoices
AdChoices

More from Reader's Digest

Reader's Digest
Reader's Digest
image beaconimage beaconimage beacon