Inventions are usually created when an inventor identifies a problem, then works tirelessly on solving that problem until the first working prototype is produced. However, not all inventions have been created this way. In fact, some have taken the inventor by surprise, unintentionally creating useful (and playful) inventions that we use today.
So next time you’re playing around with creating something, you might just be in the process of inventing something no one has thought of yet!
Play-Doh was not intended to be a toy for kids to mould things with. The product in its original form was created by Noah McVicker in the 1930’s for his company Kutol and was used as a wallpaper cleaner to clean off coal residue from coal based house heating. After World War 2, households started to transition from coal based heating to natural gas, therefore making McVickers wallpaper putty useless. As the market started to decline, McVickers nephew Joel McVicker had an idea to turn the putty into a play toy for children after seeing nursery school children use it to make ornaments. This brainwave successfully saved the company and went on to become ‘Play-Doh’ pleasing the masses of children (and adults) who have played with the famous putty to mould and create whatever their imaginations could think of!
If you have ever cooked on a pan that miraculously sees the contents slide about with absolutely no stick, then you’re most likely using a pan made out of Teflon. On April 6, 1938, at the DuPont Jackson Laboratory in New Jersey, chemist Dr. Roy J. Plunkett, was working with gases related to refrigerants – a substance used for refrigeration. They observed reaction of a gas changing to a solid, forming a product called polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE). PTFE is considered the most slippery material in existence. Dupont quickly patented it, meaning that they legally claimed it as their own creation. Today we know it as teflon.
In 1943 during World War 2, Richard James, who was then a marine engineer, was commissioned to create a stabilizing device on ships. For his device, he decided to use tension springs. As he was working, one of the tension springs fell off his work table and began to work its magic. To his amusement the spring started to walk! This got James thinking, this would be a great toy for kids. He promptly named and patented the toy and went on to amuse many children and adults with the famous ‘Slinky’.
In 1948, a Swiss engineer and inventor decided to take his dog for a nature hike. When he returned home he noticed his dog and his own pants were covered in burrs – the plant seed-sacs that cling to materials in order to travel to fertile new planting grounds. Upon closer inspection using his microscope, he inspected one of the many burrs stuck to his pants and saw all the small hooks that enabled the seed-bearing burr to have a strong grip like cling to the tiny loops in the fabric of his pants. This gave George de Mestral an idea to design a unique, two-sided fastener, one side with stiff hooks like the burrs and the other side with soft loops like the fabric of his pants. He called his invention ‘velcro’ a combination of the word velour and crochet and went on to rival the zipper in its ability to fasten.
5. Safety Glass
One fateful day in 1903 when working in his lab, Frenchman Édouard Bénédictus accidentally knocked a glass flask off of his desk, to which he noticed a peculiar result. Rather than the glass shattering and spreading tiny pieces of glass all over the floor, it simply broke while more or less keeping its form. He investigated further and found that the glass had at one time contained plastic cellulose nitrate, which had dried on the flask and created a type of adhesive film coating the inside, which kept the glass from shattering. After his discovery he went on to produce the world’s first safety glass. Laminated safety glass can now be found in car windshields, bank teller protective barriers, and a variety of other places where shatterproof glass is a necessity.