9 Accidental Inventions

1. Fish fingers

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Birds Eye had planned to launch frozen herring sticks to capitalize on the plentiful supplies of cheap British herring. The Herring Savoury, as it was called, went on sale in South Wales but had too many bones for most customers. As very much a second choice, Birds Eye simultaneously test-marketed frozen cod sticks in Southampton. These proved infinitely more popular and so in 1955 cod fish fingers were launched at the expense of the herring.

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2. Ice-cream cone

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At the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, CHARLES E. MENCHES, a young ice-cream salesman, apparently presented his girlfriend with an ice-cream sandwich and a bunch of flowers. Since she had no vase for the flowers, the resourceful lady is said to have rolled the layers of the sandwich into the shape of a cone to act as a vase

3. Liquorice allsorts.

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Selling liquorice sweets individually, Bassett’s travelling salesman CHARLIE THOMPSON met with little enthusiasm from wholesalers until, one day at Leicester in 1899, he accidentally dropped his bags of sweets, mixing them all up. The wholesaler suddenly expressed interest in the new mixture and Thompson realized he had inadvertently hit upon a winner.

4. Microwave oven.

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PERCY SPENCER, a physicist and engineer with American radar equipment manufacturers Raytheon, was employed during the Second World War to make the magnetrons used in radar systems. He had noticed that the magnetrons gave off as much heat as a large lightbulb and used them to warm his hands on cold days. But it wasn’t until he discovered a melted sweet in his pocket and realized the cause that the possibility occurred to him of cocking food with microwaves.

5. Non-stick saucepan

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In 1938 ROY PLUNKETT of the American company Du Pont was working on refrigerants when he stumbled across a polymer called polytetrafluoroethylene, or Teflon for short. Du Pont began producing Teflon commercially ten years later but it needed another fortuitous encounter for it to be considered for kitchenware. In 1954, French fishing-rod manufacturer MARC GRÉGOIRE chanced upon a process which would enable a Teflon coating to be applied to metal. It occurred to him that the non-stick properties would be ideal for kitchen utensils and he founded the Tefal company to make frying pans and saucepans.

6. Nylon

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Three years into his study of polymerisation DR. WALLACE CAROTHERS, a research chemist with Du Pont, discovered that a fibre of extreme tensile strength could be drawn from a mass of polymers. His task hadn’t even been to create a specific product but the fibre, known as nylon, was launched in 1938.

7. Paper tissue

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In 1924. Kimberly-Clark brought out paper Celluwipes, up-market make-up removers. Sales were slow until the company began to take note of customers’ letters which reported that the tissues were perfect for nose-blowing. So they were launched as Kleenex.

8. Post-it note

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A research chemist with the American 3M1 Corporation, SPENCER SILVER was told to create the strongest glue on the market Instead he came up with a temporary glue which wouldn’t stick to anything for long. The only benefits were that it could be reused and left no residue on the material to which it was applied. Silver’s glue lay idle for ten years until in 1980 a colleague, ARTHUR FRY, who sang in a church choir, noted that a little of the glue on a strip of paper made a bookmark which did not fall from the pages of the hymn-book nor the pages. The Post-it note was marketed by 3M the following year

9. Superglue

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While studying ethyl cyanoacrylate in the 1950s scientists with photographic company Eastman Kodak accidentally stuck together the glass prisms of a refractometer. This alerted them to the unique bonding properties of cyanoacrylates, or superglues as they became known.


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