5 Hugely Successful Accidental Inventions

If you’ve ever played with a slinky, you’ve probably wondered how its inventor (Richard  James) developed such a cool toy. But, like many other inventions that came to be through trial and error, the slinky springs were originally meant to keep fragile equipment steady on ships. Instead, James accidentally knocked the springs off a high shelf and watched them dance. He brought it home to show his wife, and the rest is history.

Below are five other inventions we have today, not because someone thought of them, but because the idea they were were planning didn’t pan out, and a new invention was born out of the process.

If you’ve ever written down a note, chances are at some point you’ve used a post-it. You have Spencer Silver to thank for the invention, though he created the opposite of what he aiming for: a super strong adhesive. He may have missed the mark in developing the next super glue, but if you’ve ever posted a reminder to yourself on your bathroom mirror, consider it proof that there’s a silver lining to every mistake.

Those who are fans of the color purple can thank William Perkin. An 18-year-old chemist at the time, Perkin was actually trying to create a malaria drug quinine. He ended up with a purple, oily sludge that stained. What was interesting was that the color was of a vibrancy no one had ever seen before. The invention became the hit of fashion shows in London and Paris. Queen Victoria even wore the color at her daugher’s wedding.

Your morning breakfast staple may not exist if it weren’t for two brothers (John and Keith Kellogg) looking to create a new health fad. They were interrupted while cooking wheat and returned to find it stale. Unwilling to let the food go to waste, they ran it through the dough rollers. Only, instead of coming out as dough it flattened into a thin flake. And, that is how Kellogg’s cereal came to be.


The invention of this life-saving tool isn’t due to an invention at all–rather, the wrong part got pulled out of a box and plugged in mistakenly. Wilson Greatbatch didn’t realize his mistake would end up saving millions of lives. What he was working on was a heart rhythmic recording device. His implantable device of only two cubic inches replaced the machines currently the size of TVs!

Even more incredible than the pacemaker story is that of the history behind the lifesaving drug penicillin. A young man by the name of Alexander Fleming left a dirty pile of petri dishes in the sink and didn’t return to clean them until days later. Of course, there were blobs of bacteria on them growing from mold–all except one area which was blocking the bacteria. And that is how we got one of the most widely used antibiotics today.

To read about other accidental inventions, click here.

Photos: smithsonianmag.com and logodesignlove.com