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Happy Accidents

This week on the history site here at Bellaonline, we will take a look at some common everyday products that were created by accident. We will start with the potato chip.

George Crum was a chef at a lakeside resort in Saratoga Springs, New York. The resort was called Moon’s Lake House. In 1853, Crum accidentally invented the potato chip when a customer kept sending his potatoes back to the kitchen, complaining that they were too soft and not crunchy enough. This angered Crum, so he grabbed some potatoes, sliced them very thin and threw them in hot grease and salted them when they were done. The customer loved them and the potato chip was born.

The microwave oven is a common household appliance but was invented by accident in the mid-1940’s. In 1945, Percy Spencer was experimenting with a vacuum tube called a magnetron for the Raytheon Company. As his experiments developed, he noticed a chocolate bar in his pocket was melting. Intrigued by this, he tried another experiment with some popcorn and when it popped, he knew he had come up with something. He began developing it and in 1947, Raytheon built the first microwave oven called the Radarange which was just over 5 feet tall and weighed 750 pounds. It also came with a healthy price tag of 5,000 dollars. Of course, the size and price of this microwave oven failed to win over many consumers. It wasn’t until 1967 when Amana downsized the microwave to a more popular 100 volt counter top appliance with a price tag of just under 500 dollars.

In 1968, Spencer Silver of the 3M Company invented a weak adhesive that would peel off when removed from any surface, while he was trying to develop a strong adhesive. No one thought the adhesive on these little pieces of paper would amount to anything when another scientist used them to mark places in his church hymnal and could remove them without leaving residue on the paper of the books. The Post-It note was born and mass produced, then available to the public in 1980.

Probably everyone has come home for a walk in the countryside has had these little brown balls called burdocks stuck to their clothing or has had hell to pay to remove them from their pet’s fur. Well, it was these little nuisances that led to an accidental invention. A scientist named George De Mestral pulled some of these burs off of his dog’s fur and was intrigued by them. After examining them under a microscope, he saw that the plant had thousands of tiny little hooks that grabbed on the small loops of fabric and fur. He tried to recreate these little hooks and loops on many different materials and found he could best re-create them on nylon. Velcro was born.
There are many more products that were created by accident and we will have a look at them in future articles. Now you know the meaning of the phrase “happy accidents”.

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