The Top Seven Greatest Accidental Inventions
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Originally invented as a cure-all for everything from headaches to morphine addiction (possibly due to 8.5mg of cocaine being one of original formula’s key ingredients), Coca-Cola was introduced by John Pemberton as Pemberton's French Wine Coca, as he also saw its potential as an alternative to the popular French coca wine, which had recently been banned by Temperance Laws in parts of Georgia, where Pemberton lived.
Pemberton would later rename the product Coca-Cola after the name was suggested by his bookkeeper, Frank Mason, because snappy, alliterative medicine names were popular at the time, and Pemberton was committed to selling Coca Cola as a medical remedy.
Though sold only as a nerve tonic during Pemberton’s lifetime, just before he passed away in 1888, the rights to the Coca-Cola name and formula were purchased by Asa Griggs Candler for $2,300.
Candler realized that Coca-Cola was quite tasty (addictive, even!) and had the potential for far more success in the consumer market than in the medical realm. By 1894, Coca-Cola began bottling and selling the drink as a refreshment beverage in stores, and the rest, as they say, is history.
2. The Microwave
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In the early 1940s, while doing research and development for radar guidance systems for the American military defense contractor Raytheon, Percy Spencer, a self-taught engineer from Howland, Maine, noticed something strange going on in his pants. While using a magnetron generator (which outputs the microwaves used by radar systems) he realized the chocolate bar in his pocket had suddenly melted.
Spencer quickly set out to try to repeat the anomaly, experimenting by deliberately trying to heat various foods. He first applied the microwaves to popcorn, then to an egg, the latter which exploded almost immediately.
He soon realized that if he could trap the microwaves in a metal box from which they couldn’t escape, the device would be much more efficient, and hastily crafted such an enclosure. And with that short sequence of events, Spencer had inadvertently created what we now commonly refer to as the microwave.
In 1947, the Radarange, the world’s first commercial microwave oven, which was six feet tall and weighed over 750 pounds, was put into a Boston restaurant, paving the way for untold numbers of piping hot pockets of junk food to enrich the lives of bachelors the world over from then on.
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On Friday, September 28, 1928, Scottish scientist Alexander Flemming accidentally came across one of the biggest breakthroughs in medical history, inadvertently inventing the world’s first antibiotic.
Flemming had mistakenly left a petri dish open over summer vacation in his basement lab of St. Mary's Hospital in London. When he came back to his lab, the petri dish which had contained a bacteria called Staphylococcus had been contaminated by blue-green mold, which had formed a visible halo around the mould itself. Flemming soon realized this halo effect had been caused by the mold killing the bacteria directly surrounding it.
After identifying that the mold was from the Penicillium genus, Flemming dubbed the substance Penicillin. The antibiotic spent many years being refined by both by Flemming and other chemists well into the 1940s, at which point it would prove to be a key component in the medical treatment of Allied soldiers in World War II.