Although rubber itself can not be considered an "accidental invention", the process of curing the rubber into a
more useful form fits that description.
In the sixteenth century, rubber balls were a novelty in Europe after being introduced to Spain by Christopher
Columbus. Columbus found out about the rubber by watching the Indians of Central and South America play a game
which was sort of a cross between basketball and football where the object was to get the rubber ball to go through
a stone ring. For the next two centuries, inventors saw potential in this interesting material, however the
properties of rubber were too inconsistent in various temperatures.
It was an American inventor, Charles Goodyear who finally had a breakthrough. After mixed success of finding
ways to "cure" the rubber, he was introduced to the idea of using sulphur on the rubber by Nathaniel Hayward who at
the time was associated with the rubber industry. One day Goodyear decided to try combining rubber with sulphur and
white lead and then applying heat. In February of 1839, after an accidental over-heating, he realized that although
the center of this material was charred, the edges were dry and springy. Goodyear had invented the process of
"curing" or "vulcanizing" rubber.
Sadly, Goodyear never enjoyed the commercial success he had hoped for. He died in 1860 leaving his family
$200,000 in debt. It wasn't until 1870 that Civil War surgeon named Benjamin Franklin Goodrich, convinced of
rubbers potential, started the B. F. Goodrich company which became a huge success, making everything from fire
hoses (its first product) to tires. Although Goodyear didn't live to see the results of his sacrifices, over time,
accumulated royalties from his inventions made his family comfortable..
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The microwave oven is another example of an invention whose roots were an accident. In 1946, Dr. Percy Spencer,
an engineer with Raytheon Company, was testing a magnetron for a radar related project. The Magnetron is an
electronic tube invented in 1940 that was used for Britains radar defenses during World War II.
After one of his experiments, he reached into his pocket for a candy bar and noticed it was melted. Knowing the
characteristics of a magnetron, he suspected this was caused by something more than simply body heat so he decided
to conduct another experiment. He took some popcorn kernels, placed them near the magnetron tube and soon they were
popping. Realizing he was on to something, he tried an egg. When the egg exploded, he realized that the egg had
cooked from the inside out and the increase in pressure caused it to burst.
By the end of 1946, Ratheon filed its patent and the first commercial microwave oven was produced before the end
of 1947. The original microwave oven was about the size of a refrigerator and weighed about 750 lbs. It wasn't
until 1952 that they were available for the ordinary home owner.
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If not for a "disorderly" scientist, we might still be waiting for a way to combat deadly bacteria. In 1928 ,
Alexander Fleming, while working at laboratory in London was cleaning some old Petri dishes. Before he cleaned
them, he decided to take a closer look when he noticed that one of the dishes had mold growing in it. What he also
noticed, was that near the mold, the staph bacteria had been killed.
After further examining this odd occurrence, he realized that the sample of mold was from the penicillium family
(more specifically Penicillium notatum). At the time, his discovery didn't garner much interest but it did show
that an antibacterial agent was possible.
It wasn't until 1938 that a team of researchers headed by Australian Howard Florey came upon a paper written by
Fleming and became so interested that they began experimenting with live mice and then human subjects and the
results were very promising. By now, it was 1941 and England was at war. The biggest problem was producing enough.
Those problems were overcome when Florey and another researcher traveled to Peoria, Illinois to talk to a chemical
manufacturer. By early 1943 more than 21 chemical companies were producing Penicillin and by the time the war
ended, U.S. companies were making 650 billion units per month.
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Chocolate Chip Cookies
Although there is not a consensus as to the details of the origin of the chocolate chip cookie, it is generally
accepted that they originated at the Toll House Inn in Whitman, Massachusetts in 1933. According to one version of
the story, Mrs. Whitman was trying to bake regular chocolate cookies and ran out of baker's chocolate so she broke
up pieces of a Nestle's chocolate bar hoping it would melt into the mix. It did not work out that way and the
chocolate chip cookie was born.
In another version of the story, while Mrs. Whiteman was mixing up a batch of her well known sugar cookies, a
Nestle's chocolate bar fell into the mixer and was broken up into pieces and mixed into the dough. Rather than
throw the dough out, Mrs. Whitman, was talked into baking them anyway by George Boucher a former head chef at the
Regardless of exactly how it happened, the cookies became known nationally as the Toll House Inn Cookie. Nestle'
was so impressed with this new cookie that it began printing the recipe on the chocolate bar's wrapper. For years,
bakers had to chop the chocolate bars up but finally in 1939 Nestle introduced Morsels, the pre-packaged chocolate
chips. This further popularized the cookie and gave it its common name, the Chocolate Chip Cookie.
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On April 6, 1938, a DuPont chemist was working on new forms of the Dupont refrigerant Freon when he made an
amazing discovery. A container that had been stored overnight and should have contained a very cold gas, instead
contained a waxy solid. As it turns out, the gas had turned into polytetrafluoroethylene or PTFE, an incredibly
slippery substance. After further research, this substance turned out to be inert to virtually all other chemicals
he subjected it to.
In 1941, Dupont patented the process and came up with the trade name Teflon but it wasn't until 1946 that it was
actually applied to products. Originally it was applied to machine parts for military and industrial applications
due to its low coefficient of friction. It wasn't until the early 1960's that it was first applied to cookware as a
non-stick surface and became a household name.
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