Most innovations the modern world has seen are a result of painstaking research, the collaboration of the most brilliant minds and painstaking effort. But, some just happened because of dumbass mistakes. If you read any of my other articles, then you know I am a fan of the dumb-ass mistakes that ended up yielding insane results that changed the course of history. I mean, imagine a scientist spending his life researching a disease without yielding any results and then dying in obscurity. And then just to add insult to injury, a freshly graduated, snot-nosed kid then accidently finds a cure because he was warming his pizza on a Bunsen burner in the lab and forgot his/her experiment in the autoclave too long! Oh! The comedic potential of a life’s work unfulfilled!
See Also: 8 Useless Inventions
Sloppiness Saved the World
I’m sure you’re familiar with the antibiotic Penicillin because a) it’s the most widely used antibiotic in the world and b) it saved the world from infections. Until the development of penicillin, something as small as a splinter could send you to an early grave. You’d think such a lifesaving discovery would be the result of hours of scientists slumped over lab tables, swishing around solutions in bulbous, glass beakers. In fact, it was a result of sloppy scientific methods.
There are two stories that revolve around the discovery of penicillin: one says that researcher Alexander Fleming haphazardly put his petri dishes in a Lysol solution, but left a specimen tray exposed above the solution and then he went on vacation. When he returned he found a petri dish with a Staphylococcus colony and a little dot of mold in the middle that seemingly repelled the bacteria. Upon studying the mold, he found that it produced an antibiotic agent: penicillin. The second story goes as so: one of the other labs in the facility Fleming was working in contaminated his petri dish with mold spores before he applied the Staphylococcus bacteria to the dish, which resulted in the effect described above.
In any case, the discovery was accidental and due to sloppy cleaning methods resulting in cross-contamination. Another little quip regarding penicillin’s discovery is that, Fleming was such a bad communicator that it took years for him to convince his peers that this was a significant discovery, stalling the development of the antibiotic by almost 15 years. Fleming made his discovery in 1928, and it wasn’t until the beginning of WWII (1940) that the scientific community successfully mass produced the medicine.
Firestone Found His Sole
Well, actually it was Charles Goodyear, but Firestone sounded better for the title. Now since we are on the topic of soles look at the bottom of your shoes (if you are barefoot or wearing ballerina/ballroom sued soled shoes, you are exempted from this exercise). What material do you see? Suede? Damn it, Billy I said you’re exempted if you are wearing ballroom shoes; go dance the Rumba you git. Sorry about that, well what you should have said is rubber. It’s not any old rubber, though, it’s vulcanized rubber.
The reason that vulcanization is so significant is because before the discovery of this process, rubber in its natural state would become sticky (and melt in some cases) in hot weather and freeze and crack in cold temperatures. Although, it was a great waterproofing agent for clothes and boots, the reality was that people need waterproof clothes when the weather is crappy, not when it’s tepid. Well, Goodyear was hell-bent on making rubber more feasible for all-weather. Although, he tirelessly (see what I did there? Tire-less-ly as in no Tires? OK, the connection is superfluous…I can see that now, but there’s no need to point and laugh) worked on finding a solution, his efforts fell short. Eventually, after bouncing ideas back and forth (I think that jokes a bit better right?) he was boiling a pot of rubber on a stove when the solution in the pot boiled over onto the heated surface. The charred rubber was difficult to tear, “leather-like,” lacked the stickiness it had in its natural state and also weather proof. The only thing that happens when I boil over my pot is that I have to clean the stove top.
Anesthesia Was Invented by Huffing Hippies
Not unlike today, people during various periods of time liked to get high. Most used plants or plant extracts, but around the end of the 18th century an aristocrat named Sir Humphry Davy found out he and his fellow upper crust friends liked getting high on the newly discovered Nitrous Oxide. Eventually, after “experimenting” (see getting jackhammered) with NOS, Humphry postulated the gas’s feasibility as an anesthetic. He and his team also found NOS to be an effective hangover cure. Ironically, it wasn’t used in medicine for another 44 years but was used by Britain’s upper crust during what were called “Laughing Gas Parties.” Even Humphry, who talked about its potential for medical use, became addicted to the gas recreationally. What the hell? Was the medical community of the late 18th, early 19th century just a bunch of hard partying/rock star wannabe aristocrats?
So, penicillin was found by mistake and Viagra was intended as a heart medication initially. Obviously at this point we can draw the conclusion that medical researchers enter their labs, put on their protective gear and a blindfold and then just randomly bump around their apparatus, knocking things over until something happens. This story isn’t going convince you otherwise.
Wilson Greatbatch was a researcher and inventor that was attempting to create a heart monitor recorder. While he was assembling his device, he used a different type of resistor that he’d intended to make the device produce electrical pulses with an eerily familiar pattern, that of the human heart. Greatbatch realized that his device could be used to regulate people’s heart beats when implanted in the chest, but the device he was working on was too large. He started making the device as small as possible, and in 1958 a man named Arne Larsson received the world’s first pacemaker implant. In 1960 ten patients successfully received pacemakers too, two of which were young children. He was a Cornell and Buffalo University trained Electrical Engineer and wasn’t exactly a one trick pony. He invented a tool being used in AIDS research, an exhaustive roster of medical applications and still held 150 patents at the time of his death.
Do you know of any other accidents that changed the world? Let me know in the comment section below.