One evening, while rushing for dinner after a long day at the lab, Constantin Fahlberg, a chemist at Johns Hopkins, forgot to wash his hands that had traces of benzoic sulfimide. This compound made his dinner taste sweet, and that’s how he discovered the artificial sweetener Saccharin.
The conservationist, John Muir, was an avid inventor. He hooked up an alarm clock to his custom bed that would throw him onto the floor to ensure he got up on time.
In 1931 it would take workers three days to unload 13,000 cases of unpalletized canned goods off a ship. With pallets, this same task took four hours.
Even though Benjamin Franklin is credited with many popular inventions, he never patented or copyrighted any of them. He believed that they should be given freely and that claiming ownership would only cause trouble and “sour one’s Temper and disturb one’s Quiet.”
In 1945, a school dropout and self-taught electrical engineer named Percy Spencer was working at Ratheon. He stepped in front of a magnetron, a device that powers radars. He noticed a chocolate bar in his pocket had melted. Later that year, he filed a patent for the first microwave oven.
Modern cruise control was developed by an engineer frustrated by his lawyer who kept speeding up and slowing down the car as he talked.
In 1969 Forrest Parry, an IBM engineer, had the idea to affix magnetic tape to a plastic card. Every adhesive failed. He went home frustrated. His wife was ironing when he walked in. She suggested he fuse the tape onto the card with the iron. It was a success, and the magstripe card was born.
The Slinky was invented by accident, when a Mechanical Engineer was working to devise springs that could keep sensitive ship equipment steady at sea. After accidentally knocking some samples off a shelf, he watched in amazement as they gracefully “walked” down instead of falling.
Visual Arts student Berk Ilhan has created a mirror that will only work if you smile. His idea was that this would help cheer up cancer patients by forcing them to smile. He’s hoping to sell these for between $2000 and $3000 each. So far, the reaction to his invention has been, shall we say, not positive.
Samuel Morse invented the telegraph after he received a letter of his wife’s failing health… after she’d died.