They say that you shouldn’t be afraid of making mistakes, and for some guys, this advice has resulted
in millions of dollars. Some of the things you use every day were actually invented by accident – so the
next time you mess something up, take a closer look. It could mean an early retirement.
1. Play-Doh, invented by Noah McVicker
Let’s start with a fun one. Play-Doh was originally a substance that Noah McVicker, a soap
manufacturer in the 1940s, intended to use in order to clean coal soot from the walls of homes. And this
went well – for a while. Eventually, Noah was smacked with a double-whammy: the advent of natural
gas being used for heating instead of coal, and the use of vinyl in home wallpapers, which made it
considerably easier to clean. The soap company, Kutol Products, was basically screwed, and was ready
to file for bankruptcy. Noah knew that he was going to be out of a job, until one fateful day when his
nephew noticed children playing with the putty – by 1958, almost $3 million worth of Play-Doh had
2. Velcro, invented by George de Mestral
George de Mestral was a Swiss engineer who enjoyed hunting. One day, while he was out with his
hunting dog looking for cute and innocent woodland creatures to slaughter, he noticed burr seeds
sticking to his shoes, socks, and his dog. Burrs are those really annoying little balls that stick to your
clothes, and while George found them just as bothersome as everyone else, he wanted to know how
they worked. It took him a number of years and countless experiments to create what is now Velcro,
popularized later on by NASA (leading to a considerable financial success).
3. Super Glue, invented by Harry Coover
Dr. Coover was an employee of a company that made cameras and lenses, and his task was to create
a clear-yet-durable gun sight – keep in mind that this was in the middle of World War II. One of the
materials he concocted was incredibly sticky, and flat out couldn’t be used. It was called cyanoacrylate,
which doesn’t have quite the same ring as super glue, but that’s exactly what it would become known as
six years later.
Strangely, Dr. Coover almost tossed out the goop again, since it wasn’t working for his current project
of developing airplane canopies – except he and his lab buddies started goofing around with the
substance until one of them, presumably Coover since he took all the credit, said something along the
lines of, "Holy crap, this is the best glue ever!"
4. Dynamite, invented by Alfred Nobel
Yes, that Nobel, as in the Nobel Peace Prize. He was an engineer who was looking for a way to
stabilize nitroglycerin, which is an extremely volatile liquid that couldn’t be transported safely at the
time. Sadly, one of the experiments went tragically wrong, and a few of Nobel’s lab workers were
killed – basically, they were blown up. This encouraged Nobel to continue working on discovering a
way to keep nitroglycerin from killing anyone else (you know, accidentally).
One day, when Al was transporting nitroglycerin, he noticed a can of the stuff with a leak in it.
Presumably after he finished soiling himself, he realized that the packaging material holding the cans
was absorbing the explosive liquid. Not only was he saved, but he knew that he had just found the
solution he had been searching for after so many years. The packaging was a rock-based mixture called
kieselguhr, and would later become known as dynamite.
5. Viagra, invented by Simon Campbell and David Roberts
Of all the useful accidental inventions on this list, Viagra has got to be responsible for the most
happiness. Essentially, Simon and David were researchers at pharma-giant Pfizer in the 1980s, tasked
with developing and testing a drug intended to reduce high blood pressure. Well, it certainly did
something with blood pressure, as the pair found out when clinical trials resulted in an unusually high
number of very happy male patients. Not long after the discovery of these unexpected side effects,
Viagra hit the shelves.
It makes you wonder if Simon and David have considered the fact that they’re responsible for millions
of boners. Just saying.
6. Potato Chips, invented by George Crum
As culinary legend tells it, George Crum was a cook at a resort in New York. One evening, a petulant
customer complained to George that the french fries he had prepared were far too thick for his delicate
taste buds. George, probably fed up with the uppity customers, decided that if this guy wanted thinner
french fries, he’d get them.
Upon returning to the kitchen, George sliced a few potatoes as thin as he could, overcooked them, and
poured a large amount of salt on the crunchy little morsels. To George’s surprise, the customer actually
loved the strange little fries, and they became a local specialty. Some years later, an unscrupulous
salesman named Herman Lay (of Lay’s chips) took the idea and profited handsomely. Perhaps the
moral of the story is that you don’t have to discover an accidental invention to get rich, you just have to