accidental discoveries

5 Accidental Discoveries


Sometimes a stroke of luck can lead to the most successful discoveries of all time. We are about to share 5 accidental discoveries that have changed the world. While some were stumbled upon by chance, others were discovered by inventors that were actually trying to discover something else.

Although most successful inventions will take years to develop (if not decades), occasionally, it just takes an accident. Some of the products that we often take for granted, may have never existed if it wasn’t for a little serendipity. Luckily, scientists have performed experiments that have lead to findings that have helped make the world a much better place. Here are five accidental discoveries.

For fascinating information on unusual science experiments, visit our post called Weird Science.

#1 Fireworks: About 2,000 Years Ago

fireworks The most prevalent legend has it that fireworks were accidentally invented by a Chinese cook around 2,000 years ago. While working in a filed kitchen, the cook had mixed together charcoal, sulfur, and saltpeter (all four of these items were commonly found in the kitchen back in those days). The mixture had burned and when compressed in a bamboo tube, the mixture exploded.

#2 Potato Chips: 1853

potato chips accidentally discoveredIf it wasn’t for a chef by the name of George Crum, potato chips may have never existed (or may have came much later). It is reported that in 1853, the tasty snack was accidentally discovered.

Crum was working at Moon’s Lake House near Saratoga Springs, New York. His frustration had lead to the discovery of a predominant part of the snack food market in Western countries. According to Wikipedia, the global potato chip market had generated revenues of US$16.49 billion in 2005.

Crum’s customer kept complaining about his fired potatoes being soggy and not crunchy enough. After dealing with the frustration of the customer continuously sending his fried potatoes back, Crum had came up with a brilliant plan. He sliced the potatoes as thin as possible and then fried them in hot grease. He then doused them with salt. The customer couldn’t get enough of them.

Not long after the accidental discovery, “Saratoga Chips” became a very popular item at the lodge and even throughout England. Although potato chips were eventually mass-produced for home consumption, due to the fact that they were only stored in barrels or tins, they would go stale very quickly. Fortunately, a woman by the name of Laura Scudder came up with a way to keep chips fresh longer. She invented the airtight bag by ironing together two pieces of waxed paper.

#3 Penicillin: 1928

the synthetic production of penicillinAn article on accidental discoveries is not complete without including one of the best-known stories of medical discovery. Dr. Alexander Fleming was a Scottish scientist (and Nobel laureate) who had discovered penicillin, accidentally. Unfortunately, before the antibiotic was discovered in 1928, there was no effective treatment available for infections such as pneumonia and gonorrhea.

After leaving a plate of staphylococcus bacteria uncovered, Flemming had noticed that a mold that had fallen on the culture, had surprisingly killed many harmful bacteria. He identified the mold as penicillium notatum. On February 14, 1929, Fleming had introduced his very effective mold by-product called penicillin, which became a cure for several bacterial infections. The antibiotic is capable of killing a wide range of bacteria such as streptococcuspneumonia and gonorrhea.

Even today, penicillin is still remains one of the most important and useful drugs around.

the discovery of penicillin  Above is an image of Alexander Flemming in his laboratory at St Mary’s, Paddington, London.

#4 Slinky Toy: 1943


Slinky Rainbow” by Enoch Lau is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Back in 1943, an engineer by the name of Richard James was trying to create a spring that would support and stabilize sensitive equipment on ships. After seeing a spring that had accidentally fell off a shelf and then continued to move, James had came up with a fantastic idea for a toy. The Slinky toy was first introduced in late 1945. Amazingly, in just 90 minutes, James sold a whopping 400 slinky toys. Even today, the toy is still a huge success with over 250 million sold worldwide.

The name “Slinky” was created by Betty James (the wife of Richard James).

#5 Viagra: 1998
fake Viagra
Since the little blue Viagra pill became approved by the FDA on March 27, 1998, the sex lives of millions of men have gotten better. The medication became the first oral treatment for erectile dysfunction (ED). Before the pill became available, men who suffered from erectile dysfunction were forced to either resort to an aphrodisiac, injection, or even a risky prosthetic penile implant.

The use of Viagra for women with sexual dysfunction is still not clear.

How Did Viagra Get Discovered?

Scientists at Pfizer Laboratories discovered Viagra by accident. It was originally developed to treat hypertension and chest pain caused by heart disease. Unfortunately, its purpose was much less effective than anticipated. However, little did the researchers know, they were about to discover one of the most prescribed drugs in the world. A drug that would put an end to impotence.

Volunteers had reported a unexpected side effect from the pill: they were getting erections much easier. Their erections were also said to be harder and long-lasting. Today, millions of men have used Viagra to treat their ED. Even professional athletes have been known to use it. However, the reason is not to treat erectile dysfunction. They believe the pill helps enhance their performance.

Increasing numbers of young adults are using Viagra for recreational use. The use is on the rise because of the belief that the drug will increase libido and even help improve sexual performance. However, there are very little studies on its effects when the pill is used for recreational purposes. But according to the data that was gathered from the studies conducted, it is suggested that the pill has very little effect when it is used by men who are not struggling with erectile dysfunction.


In the future, there will likely be many more discoveries that scientists will stumble upon by chance. Although they may be attempting to discover one thing, their experimenting may lead to the discovery of something even more beneficial. As technology continues to increase, there will be many more findings that will help create positive change in the world. Whether it is technology that can extend the life of a human, or even cure deadly diseases, it is exciting to see what the future will hold. Feel free to share more accidental discoveries we didn’t cover in this article.