If it weren’t for a number of accidental discoveries, this world would look a lot different. In fact, many of the most common household products and foods had incredibly different beginnings. You might be surprised at the original intended uses for corn flakes, Vaseline, Coca-Cola, microwaves, and more!
What’s now commonly used to help chapped lips and keep skin smooth was originally a strange goo discovered on oil rig drills.
Robert Augustus Chesebrough was a British chemist who was searching for an alternative to sperm whale oil to make kerosene. In the late 1850’s, he traveled to a small Pennsylvania town where he noticed a slippery residue forming on oil rig drills. After 5 years of research, Chesebrough refined the substance into what is now known as Vaseline. (1)
The world famous drink was first invented to cure opium and morphine addictions. John Stith Pemberton was a chemist who fought in the American Civil War and was wounded. After developing an addiction to his morphine painkillers, he invented his own substitute made of kola nuts and cocaine. Eventually, along with his bookkeeper and business partner, Frank M. Robinson, they eventually sold Coca-Cola to the public as an alternative to morphine. (Of course, the modern Coca-Cola beverage doesn’t use cocaine!). (2)
Since sodas are packed with sugar or aspartame, try getting your fizzy fix from this Turmeric Soda instead.
If you gargle with this big-name mouthwash, you’re swishing around what was originally a disinfectant for operating theaters. Sir Joseph Lister was a British surgeon who was the first to sterilize his operating chambers in 1865, based on the theories of Louis Pasteur (before this, medicine hadn’t fully acknowledged the role of bacteria in infections). After hearing his research, Dr. Joseph Lawrence and Robert Wood Johnson (founders of Listerine and Johnson & Johnson, respectively) created their own antiseptic formula named after Lister, and sold it as an operating theater disinfectant and wound antiseptic. (3)
You can actually easily make your own natural mouthwash from a few common ingredients.
This small pill was originally intended to help lower blood pressure. A group of scientists working for Pfizer Laboratories were experimenting with sildenafil in the late 1990’s to help with cardiovascular problems. The pill didn’t work. However, they noticed an interesting unintended side effect. Dr. Brian Klee, medical director at Pfizer states, “But one thing that was found during those trials is that people didn’t want to give the medication back because of the side effect of having erections that were harder, firmer and lasted longer.” (4)
Now a staple in most American kitchens, the microwave was an attempt to invent a “military grade magnetron”. (5)
Percy Spencer, an engineer from Maine, worked at Raytheon, a military company which aimed to invent the best radar technology for Allied Forces in WW2 (if you’re curious, The Raytheon Company is still at work today as an American defense contractor). In 1946, during one of Spencer’s attempts to create a better magnetron tube, he noticed that his snack had melted in his pocket. Surprised, Spencer put an egg in the tube and it exploded; the next day, he used it to make popcorn. Just one year later, and microwave ovens were hitting the market. (5)
Anytime you enjoy a packet of Splenda or Sweet’n’Low, you’re taking advantage of an accidental chemical lab spill which led to the discovery of saccharin.
In 1877, Russian chemist, Constantin Fahlberg was hired by an importing firm in Baltimore to analyze a shipment of sugar. After his work was done, Fahlberg gained permission to do some experiments of his own in their lab. While he was combining o-sulfobenzoic acid, phosphorus (V) chloride, and ammonia the beaker over-boiled and spilled on his hands. Later that night, Fahlberg picked up a dinner roll and was surprised to find it tasted incredibly sweet. In 1886 Fahlberg registered a patent for his artificial sweetener.
That non-stick cookware coating was originally an attempt to improve gases used in refrigerators. New Jersey chemist, Dr. Roy J. Plunkett was experimenting with a variety of gases for the Freon refrigerator company. when he noticed his tetrafluoroethylene sample had formed into a white, slippery coating. 8 years later, in 1946, Teflon was trademarked for use in non-stick cookware and stain repellant on fabrics. (7)
This pricy aged alcholic drink was originally the results of a business short cut in the 1500’s. The most widely accepted story of brandy’s invention is that a Dutch shipmaster concentrated a shipment of wine to make it easier to handle. Although he intended to add water to the concentration once the shipment arrived, the taste of the concentrated wine turned out to be a winner. (8)
Chewing on resins and gums to freshen breath, clean teeth, or quench thirst has been in practice for thousands of years all over the world. However, the first commerical chewing gum was a failed attempt to invent a rubber substitute. Exiled Mexican president Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna was trying to turn chicle into a rubber alternative. American inventor, Thomas Adams, was assisting him in his work, but discovered that chicle could be used as a chewing gum instead. He began producing it commercially in the late 1800’s. (9)