The journey of the human being as a species, began about 2.4 – 1.4 million years ago when Homo habilis, commonly known as “Handy Man” started roaming on earth, presumably in southern and eastern Africa, although no definitive conclusion has arrived regarding the ontogeny and phylogeny of the species. The evolution of the human species flourished when several human species roamed at a particular geological time frame. The Smithsonian National Museum lists at least 21 human species, although the said list is not complete as even a common species like Denisovans are missing from the list. Whatever may be the correct phylogenetic tree for the species, in the end, only 2 species or rather, 2 varieties of the same species survived, said 2 varieties are Homo sapiens sapiens and Homo sapiens neanderthalensis. Further competition or intermingling or a combination thereof, paved the way for the success of Homo sapiens sapiens, despite several mass extinctions. The success of these species laid principally in the evolution of brain, especially the pre-frontal cortex, which became so big that the species had to stand erect, perpendicular to the land it belong to, rather than other animals, whose postures are largely parallel to the land. All the innovations may be hypothecated to this pre-frontal cortex, which is responsible for establishing connections and largely has little impact on the aspect of survival, which is taken care of by a comparatively redundant old cortex residing juxtapose to the apex of the spinal cord.
With the development of this pre-frontal cortex and associated evolutions in the rest of the physical as well as physiological aspects, human beings started getting inquisitive about the natural phenomenon as well as the fundamental aspects of their existence. Thus, the same inquisition of a logical mind that gave birth to science and allied thoughts, also marked the birth of religion, initially hand in hand, later to be segregated in most parts of the world. This logical mind questioned anything and everything, observed the causal effect of the system, and eventually came up with a certain solution to a certain problem, largely copied from nature. This resulted in the big-ticket inventions namely the use of sharpened tools, controlled use of fire mostly from the forest fires, use of the wheel mostly from the observation of rounded objects rolling on the surface, and use of certain logs to keep floating on water, and the likes.
With these foundations, the human mind started thinking deeper in hitherto unknown dimensions, and started planning a format through which an end-product might be achieved; however, this deterministic approach comprising experiment, observation, and inference might have come much later when the effort of the invention became organized. In pre-historic societies where only survival aspects were focussed, the approach might have been by and large individualistic, and comprised of mimicking the natural phenomena after observing the boons of the same for human benefits.
Therefore, in one way or the other, all inventions are accidental as the veracity of the impact of any invention could never be determined in the absence of such invention. The impact thus could only be determined considering the time, space as well as causation, in absence of which, the determination of past occurrences while in the present moment, may give rise to hindsight bias. However, while talking about “accidental invention”, mostly we may refer to the unexpected inventions, a product of a sudden or even an unwanted phenomenon or cluster of phenomena, wherein even the anticipation of the use of such product was absent. For a detailed deliberation over these “accidental inventions”, only the modern inventions that are still in use are considered, and segregated in terms of the relevant sector said inventions belong.
Food & Beverages
Artificial Sweeteners:
Benzoic sulfinide, commonly known as saccharin, was discovered as an artificial sweetener by Russian chemist Constantin Fahlberg while working in his mentor Ira Remsen’s lab with some of the chemicals that he eventually tested. Saccharin thus prepared as a result of a chemical reaction between o-sulfobenzoic acid with phosphorus (V) chloride and ammonia.
Chocolate Chip Cookies:
The chocolate chip cookies were invented when the inventor Ruth Graves Wakefield, co-owner of Toll House Inn, replaced baker’s chocolate with chopped semi-sweet chocolate blocks in dough made for traditional chocolate cookies, eventually when she ran out of baker’s chocolate. Instead of melting and spreading evenly throughout the batter, the chopped chocolates retained their texture to a great extent, giving birth to the first chocolate cookies back in 1930, named Toll House Cookie.
Potato Chips:
The first-ever potato chips were fried ones, created out of an experiment against a complaint from a customer regarding the thickness and mushiness of French fries. The inventor thinly sliced the potatoes and fried them till those got brown; starting a market segment that today stands at more than 31 billion dollars.
Champagne is a place in France and is used as a Geographical Indication (GI) owing to the carbonated wine it produces. This region traditionally produced high-quality grapes ideal to be used in wineries. However, due to the higher altitude, the fermentation takes a halt in the winter and gains back in summer with a higher level of carbonation in the drink, which was hitherto unwanted. A French Monk named Dom Pierre Perignon took the project of correcting this unwanted aeration, however, ended up increasing the fizz in the white wine, which was later branded after the place’s name, Champagne. Later, the inventor documented the process of preparation of this sparkling white wine, known as champagne, which later would be a celebratory sip in the west.
The term “Brandy” came from the Dutch word “Brandewjin”, meaning “burnt wine”. The Dutch term was coined in their heyday in the 16th century, a Dutch shipmaster planned to concentrate the wine stock by using heat and rehydrating the same through watering down the concentrated stock at a destination or as and when required, solely for conveyance, however, it was discovered that the taste of the concentrated wine is better than that of the watered-down one, therefore, this new drink was branded separately. The world-famous Cognac is a type of Brandy.
An 11-year-old boy named Frank Epperson invented popsicles out of sheer accident while he eventually forgot a mixture of soda powder and water with the stirrer overnight at a freezing temperature. In the morning, this stirrer became the stick of the icy soda blend, and the blend tasted delicious. The boy later became an entrepreneur by naming this invention “popsicle”.
Cola as a drink was invented by a pharmacist named Dr. John Stith Pemberton while trying to create cocaine- and caffeine-filled alcoholic drink especially for people with a chemical addiction to drugs. Thus was the birth of the famous drink Coca-Cola in 1886, however, the legal restrictions made him cut the alcohol part, although the cocaine part was retained at least till 1904. Coca-Cola used to be considered a “Patent Medicine” in the US, a phrase used for innovative formulations with anticipated preventive and/ or therapeutic use. Post-1904, Coca-Cola removed cocaine from the aerated drinks and sold them as carbonated flavoured water.
Chewing Gum:
Chewing gum existed in Europe since time immemorial; however, the commercial form that is available today was made by Thomas Adams, Sr., when failed to turn chicle into rubber. Chicle is the underlying substance sans flavour, and forms the basis of the phrase “chiclets”.
Ice-Cream Cone:
This invention is regarding a new use as both the ice-cream as well as the wafer was pre-existing. In 1904, at the venue of the St. Louis World’s Fair, an ice cream vendor ran out of utensils to serve the ice cream, while having ample stock to feed many people. This resulted in the folding of the wafer in a cone shape and serving the ice cream therein, which would eventually establish as a legit and popular mode of serving the ice cream to future generations.
Tea Bag:
The tea Bag is an invention propagated by the consumers rather than a manufacturer or a trader. A tea merchant named Thomas Sullivan started shipping samples in small and thin silk pouches, which were supposed to be opened and boiled before sipping. However, the consumers found it handy and more effective to use the tea bags directly in the lukewarm and/ or boiling water by omitting the sieve. However, a patent was filed for “Tea-leaf Holder” back in 1901, although that contributed little to designing a tea bag or pouch.
Corn Flakes:
Corn Flakes were invented by John and Will Kellogg. Accidentally, they left a pot of boiled grain on the stove for a some days resulting in flake formation of corns. Thereafter, they developed the further processing of the corn flakes and marketed the same, and the famous Kellogg’s corn flakes came into the market as a breakfast cereal, preferably to be consumed with milk or the like. Many opine that these 2 were the mastermind behind establishing breakfast as the most important part of the meal.
Convenience and Stationary
Microwave Oven:
Microwaves were discovered earlier, however, the possible use of the microwave for cooking food was first found by Percy LeBaron Spencer, while working with magnetrons, a high-powered vacuum tube for generating microwaves. When he understood that the candy bar in his pocket is eventually melted by the waves generated through the magnetron, he filed a patent for a metal cooking box capable of using a microwave for cooking.
Super Glue:
Super glue, an adhesive formulation was invented by Harry Coover back in 1942, while trying to build clear plastic gun sights for the war. He eventually came up with a chemical formulation sticking to everything; however, the patent for the same was filed in 1951 along with Eastman Kodak researcher Fred Joyner titled “Alcohol-Catalyzed Cyanoacrylate Adhesive Compositions/ Superglue”, after the utility of the same was discovered.
Sticky Notes:
When a scientist Dr. Spencer Silver from Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company aka 3M was working on formulating the strongest glue possible, however, eventually he came up with the weakest glue possible, the glue that stuck lightly to surfaces without bonding tightly to the surface. This invention was thought useless and put on the shelf for years, till the time another scientific manager discovered a unique use owing to the nature of the invented glue for leaving no mark on the surface it is applied, as a bookmark. This invention with this unique use made a paradigm shift for 3M, which is now known more for office stationaries.
When working on refrigerants, Roy J. Plunkett, DuPont, accidentally found a heat-resistant white powder with low surface friction, later named Teflon. Teflon has multifarious uses; the most important one may be, in non-stick vessels.
Before 1907, some forms of plastics used to be manufactured from organic moulds. Back in 1907, Leo Hendrik Baekeland, while trying to invent a replacement of shellac i.e. a product derived from lac beetles, combined formaldehyde with phenol, a waste of coal, and heated said mixture to find a polymer sustaining heat and stress. Thus, this synthetic material, found its diverse use in industries, as the first product without any bio-mimicry. Therefore, although a mimic to shellac was not found, the invention manifests on its own.
Safety Glass:
Safety glass was invented by Edward Benedictus. Back in 1903, while working in his lab, he got tipped off by glass-made flask; however, to much of his surprise, the glass didn’t break. Later upon investigation, he found that the inner wall of the glass was coated with cellulose nitrate, the actual substance behind the integrity. Later, this became an integral part of the automobile industry post success in World War I shields. Play-Doh (Dough): Created as a wall cleaner, the product was largely unsuccessful. Later, some enthusiastic kids started playing with them, giving those shapes, and creating sculptures. This made the company to come up with a Children’s toy using the same material.
Bubble Wrap:
The invention of bubble wrap with the specific utility as it is used today as a packaging material was accidental. Although the bubble wrap was designed on purpose in a planned manner, however, the purpose was for wallpaper. After a failure in that sector, the inventors Alfred Fielding and Marc Chavannes diversified the “purpose” to market the same as greenhouse insulation and protective packaging.
Safety Pin:
The safety pin was invented accidentally by Walter Hunt while futzing around with some wire. Suddenly, he discovered that upon coiling, a metal wire could clasp to itself and unclasp at the desire of the user. This was patented as “Safety Pin”, and the rests are history.
Vulcanized Rubber:
This is a ground-breaking invention, without which, the later-developed automobile industry could never have taken wings. Initially, rubber from the plants had way less elasticity, resilience, and tensile strength, necessary to undertake several actions, which were hitherto not possible. While working on creating a weatherproof rubber, back in 1839, Charles Goodyear, the inventor accidentally dropped some regular rubber mixed with sulphur onto a hot stove, generating a harder rubber material while maintaining its structure. Thereafter, he standardized this vulcanization process by heating the rubber with sulphur along with an accelerator and activator at 140 - 160 °C. The cross-links formed between the rubber molecules during the vulcanization process are responsible for these upgraded qualities.
Dry Cleaning:
Jean Baptiste Jolly invented the dry cleaning method purely through an accident when he observed that a piece of the tablecloth was cleaned by an accidental drop of kerosene right on it. Thereafter, despite not being from the textile industry, he designed the Dry Cleaning method and revolutionized the sector.
It is surprising for many nowadays, that the matchbox was invented later than a lighter, only back in 1826. John Walker, a chemist, suddenly discovered that scraping a stick coated in chemicals across his hearth, ignited the stick. The inventor named these friction lights and upgraded the invention from cardboard to wooden splints and sandpaper.
The underlying chemical of dynamite is explosive chemical nitroglycerin, which was invented earlier by Ascanio Sobrero. However, it was a herculean task to put the nitroglycerin into use. While working on this chemical, Alfred Nobel suddenly discovered a way to tame the substance by accidental mixing with Kieselguhr, a form of diatomaceous earth used in various manufacturing and laboratory processes, principally as a filter, filler, or insulator. This created the dynamite, initially used for wrong purposes Nobel didn’t intend, making him donate all his earnings for a reward that would be revered worldwide later on. However, nowadays, the principal usage of dynamite is in Road as well as Tunnel Construction, mining, and the likes.
Pharmaceuticals/ Diagnosis/ Therapy/ Cosmetics
If a certain kind of drug may be attributed to higher life expectancy, antibiotics should occupy the first and foremost position. The journey of antibiotics began less than a hundred years ago by a sheer accident. The presence of antibiotics was discovered through keen observation by Sir Alexander Fleming back in 1929. After joining his lab post a vacation, he discovered that he had left a petri dish open comprising the bacterial colony of Stephylococcus sp. Much to his surprise, there is a mould formed that killed many of the colonies therein. He identified the mould as a fungus named Penicillium notatum, capable of killing other bacteria as well, and could be administered to a smaller animal without any observable adverse effect. Almost a decade later, Howard Walter Florey, an Australian pathologist, and Sir Ernst Boris Chain, a German-born British biochemist, started from the point where Sir Fleming left off, and further isolated and purified the penicillin for general clinical use, and were honored jointly with Nobel Prize in 1945, along with Dr. Fleming. This was first termed “mould juice”, later renamed Penicillin by Dr. Fleming himself. This turned out to be a paradigm shift in medical history by saving innumerable lives, especially in wartime.
Quinine, like Penicillin, was initially discovered, not invented, when a South American native or an Indian (as they are called) in South America, suffering from Malaria with high fever symptoms, consumed some Cinchona bark in a pool of water somewhere in Peru, presumably with self-deleterious intentions. However, after the consumption much to his surprise, the man felt recovered. Further, back in 1820, from the bark of Cinchona, quinine was isolated as a Cinchona alkaloid, in France, and the molecular formula was characterized. This became the groundbreaking therapy against malaria, largely a tropical disease spread by mosquitoes. The usage became so ubiquitous, that water mixed with a little quinine started selling as “Tonic Water”, and the substance was often used to attribute bitterness to a drink.
Another breakthrough drug on the necessity, as well as recreational front, is Sildenafil, more specifically the citrate salt of Sildenafil. While working to develop a solution against angina pain and corresponding cardiovascular complications, this drug was developed by Pfizer Pharma., and put into clinical trial in the manner prescribed by FDA. While in a trial, the subjects didn’t show a very positive result for the purpose the drug was synthesized, however, that did wonder to male genitals by curing impotency from erectile dysfunction in the male population. Anticipating the upcoming demand for this, Pfizer patented Sildenafil and the salt Sildenafil citrate back in 1996 and got FDA approval for using the same against erectile dysfunction in 1998. Soon, branded under the name “Viagra”, as commonly known, this drug became the fastest-selling one of all time.
Pap Smear Test/ Pap Test:
This is a diagnostic method devised by Dr. George Nicholas Papanicolaou, out of sheer accident while trying to observe the cellular changes during a woman’s menstrual cycle. He suddenly observed visible cancer cells in one of the subject’s samples and inferred that the method may definitively be used in cancer detection. The process of gentle removal of cells from the surface of the cervix and surroundings was found to be highly useful in detecting cervical cancer.
X-ray Machine:
This is another ground-breaking discovery, used in a several industries, especially the diagnostic industry. Back in 1895, the inventor Wilhelm Conrad Rontgen suddenly discovered a mysterious glow emanating from a chemically coated screen nearby. Much to his surprise, putting his hand in front of the ray, resulted in vision beyond the skin to the inner structures and bones. As the ray was from a hitherto unknown source, this was named X-ray.
The abbreviation Botox extends to “Botulism Toxin”, the world’s deadliest poison. The use of Botox for anti-aging and anti-wrinkle therapy was discovered back in the 80s. Repeated failure with a patient suffering from double vision despite three failed attempts, made ophthalmologist Dr. Alan Scott inject a tamed form of the toxin right into the eye muscles of the patient with a successful outcome. Thus, despite the observation of the impact of the drug in the facial lifts, initially, it was only intended against eye muscle disorders and never intended to be used for cosmetic purposes like treating smooth facial wrinkles; however, the latter was done by Allergan in a later period, after he sold his rights to that Pharma giant. Later, the usage was extended to treat migraine headaches, chewing problems to drooling, hair loss as well as urinary incontinence.
Petroleum Jelly:
Petroleum Jelly was invented by Robert Augustus Chesebrough when he observed that the workers in a petroleum drilling station applying a jelly-like by-product generated in the process, on their skin against wounds. He further developed the process and finally reached a uniform product, branded later as “Vaseline”. The inventor was so convinced about the efficacy of the product that he used to consume a definite quantity of the product for better health.
Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR):
PCR was devised due to an existing demand, however, the inventor Kary Mullis couldn’t figure the process out till when he dozed off under intoxicant and dreamt about how denaturation and renaturation of nucleic acid fragments could be performed in a controlled way. This opened the way for virtually all the biochemical experiments we see today, in tandem with a great contribution to reproductive science and criminology. Thus, several inventions came to use due to sheer accident i.e. without a plan to obtain such invention or such process and sans any such objective of any project. A number of these inventions got further diversified, and upgraded with multifarious manifold uses. For example, the discovery of penicillin paved way for all the antibiotics such as Ampicillin, Amoxicillin, etc., which were further developed over its structure.
Similarly, the development of Sildenafil paved way for Tadalafil, etc. A similar impact may be observed not only in pharmaceutical but also in other sectors, thus, opening up tremendous opportunities for future generations while making human life easier. Some even attributed 30-50% of the inventions as accidental; however, this data may never be accurate. Whereas any incremental invention must be deterministic to an extent despite its efficacy, the big-ticket inventions might have come into place only by sheer accident. Therefore, compared to the actual number of accidental inventions, this deliberation may merely be a tip of an iceberg.
In sum, to address something as “accidental”, we may scratch the existential aspect of a human being by questioning whether the entire creation is a result of an accident i.e. random or whether everything is deterministic i.e. having a set pattern. The scenario gets even more confusing when there is a definite cosmic pattern found even in the seemingly most chaotic phenomena, and accidents i.e. occurrences without any predisposed expectation are found in cosmic patterns. Therefore, the long-standing debate that whether everything is deterministic or random may perpetuate eternally. However, as in the case of some of the critics of the Darwinian theory, had the creation been random as Darwin suggested, it should have taken a trillion years or at least way more time than 13 billion years to reach this point in evolution, on the contrary, had it been perfectly planned, it should have taken in way less time, therefore, only a middle-path may explain the age of the Universe as ~ 13 billion years i.e. even the creation is somewhat deterministic and somewhat random, perhaps, like the pattern of human intellect when in an effort of inventing something new.


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