Famous Innovations That Were Accidents | MAKO Design + Invent

4 Inventions You Didn’t Know Were Accidents

July 9, 2014

Though inventions are often purposely designed and created, many of the world’s most famous innovations were actually accidental. Some of the most successful items and materials on the market were the by-product of trying to make something different, while others were completely and totally accidental. Below are some common items and substances that were never intended to be created:

1. Penicillin

Penicillin is a famous innovation and antibiotic that is widely used across the globe and was one of the first drugs to be effective against many serious diseases like staphylocci, streptococci, and syphilis. What you may not know is the discovery of this powerful agent was accidental. In London, England, Alexander Fleming was working at St. Mary’s Hospital in 1928 when he left his lab for vacation. Upon return he found that one of his samples of Staphylococcus (referred to as staph for short) had been contaminated by a blue-green fungus that dissolved the bacteria around it. He later isolated it and grew the mold on its own. He discovered that the mold secreted a substance that could kill a number of disease-causing bacteria. Penicillin was not adopted right away due to the difficulties in producing enough of the substance for testing. Once it was able to be easily and successfully produced it was introduced to the general medical community in the 1940s.

2. Stainless Steel

Now a common material found in or on a number of famous innovations is stainless steel which was a game-changer in production. Before stainless steel, regular steel was used for a wide variety of purposes, however its iron make-up made it prone to rusting and eventual crumbling. In 1912, Harry Brearly was in England working on creating a better gun that was more durable to the erosion that steel guns faced. Though unsuccessful at inventing a non-eroding metal, he noticed one of the disposed scraps of metal in his work area didn’t rust, while the others around it were slowly degrading. It was initially referred to as “rustless steel” but, once business for the substance had been established, a friend of his suggested the title “stainless steel” instead.

3. Teflon

Currently used as a non-stick cooking surface, Teflon is a famous innovation that was made by-product of experiments aimed at creating better and more family-friendly refrigerators. In an attempt to replace the hazardous gases used inside of refrigerators, Roy Plunkett spent a great part of 1939 testing new gases to use in these appliances. When he opened one of the samples he had created, he found the gas had condensed to form a slick substance which he and his assistant then proceeded to test. They found it was slippery, non-reactive with chemicals, and it was immune to corroding. Teflon was used for military purposes initially and wasn’t introduced to the kitchen until the 1960s.

4. Play-Doh

This parent and child approved brand of modelling clay has an interesting history that differs greatly from what you would expect. Play-Doh was actually invented by a cleaning company prior to the Second World War, when coal heating was still in use.Coal burning would leave soot stains on walls and Play-Doh was used to remove them. Once gas heating was introduced and became increasingly popular, the company was on the verge of bankruptcy and desperate for a way to stay afloat. One worker discovered that his friend, who was a school teacher, used the product as modelling clay with her students, prompting him to suggest the rebrand of the product.The manufacturers added colouring and scents to make Play-Doh more kid-friendly and the company succeeded at making a strong return to business.

Each of these instances proves that inspiration for a great product can come from anywhere, whether intentional or not. If you’ve had a great idea, we’d like to hear about it, even if it was an accident. At Mako Invent, we have the knowledge and experience to get your product running and off of the ground. Contact us to find out more about our expertise and skills.

About: MAKO Design + Invent is the original firm providing world-class consumer product development services tailored to startups, small manufacturers, and inventors. Simply put, we are the leading one-stop-shop for developing your physical product from idea to store shelves, all in a high-quality, cost-effective, and timely manner. We operate as one powerhouse 30-person product design team spread across 4 offices to serve you (Austin, Miami, San Francisco, & Toronto). We have full-stack in-house industrial designmechanical engineeringelectrical engineeringpatent referralprototyping, and manufacturing services. To assist our startup and inventor clients, in addition to above, we help with business strategy, product strategy, marketing, and sales/distribution for all consumer product categories. Also, our founder Kevin Mako hosts The Product Startup Podcast, the industry's leading hardware podcast. Check it out for tips, interviews, and best practices for hardware startups, inventors, and product developers. Click HERE to learn more about MAKO Design + Invent!

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