When problems surround us, nature’s law is to think of solutions, instead of cribbing about them. Talking about solutions being born out of problems, following are certain great inventions, of which some were born out of necessity, some others by accident, but all of them by immensely thoughtful inventors.
1. Airbag- An engineer avoided a road accident in the last minute; wondered about the preventive measures if the accident had occurred; invented Airbag.
Once in 1952, an industrial engineer John Hetrick avoided a fatal accident in the last minute. In the remaining part of his journey, he spent the entire time thinking of ideas that could have reduced the impact of the accident, should it have occurred in the first place. Soon after, Hetrick registered a patent for pillow kind of deflated airbags that would inflate every time the car stopped in a sudden jerk. But evidently, conceiving the design was harder than registering the patent, as only after years of persistent trials, airbag was invented.
2. Band-Aid- Invented by a man who wanted to come up with a convenient way to protect his housewife from frequent cuts and burns
Earle Dickson, a husband and a worker at Johnson & Johnson, wanted to come up with something durable to protect his wife Josephine, who was a regular victim of burns and cuts while cooking. He put a gauze piece on the sticky side of a surgery plaster. And on the entire thing, he put some crinoline, to prevent the band-aid from sticking to itself, when rolled. His wife could now attend to her domestic injuries easily without requiring any assistance. Earle pitched this idea to his seniors at Johnson & Johnson, and we know the rest.
3. Penicillin- Flemming’s sloppiness gave birth to this revolutionary in medicine world
Alexander Flemming was rather untidy in his lab habits. Often he would leave the dishes uncovered, thus letting the air react with the substances present in the dishes. In 1928, Flemming used to spend hours in his laboratory coming up with ways of destroying bacterial growth. One time, he went for vacation and in his lab, left behind open windows, and an uncovered petri dish containing a bacteria called Staphylococcus.
When he came back, he noticed that the dish containing Staphylococcus had become contaminated by blue-green mould, which would have developed as the reaction of air with the bacteria. This resulted in the growth of bacteria all over the dish. But strangely enough, there was a halo-like formation around the mould, and that formation was the only area where bacteria had not developed. And this sloppy accident ignited the idea bulb of Flemming, and the consequent trials gave birth to Penicillin.
4. Escalator- Was invented as a novelty ride for amusement parks
Jesse Reno patented a moving ramp (conveyor belt) in 1891. Reno installed a version of his moving escalator at the Old Iron Pier in Coney Island, where it garnered public attention as an amusement park ride. The ride was regarded as a novelty by almost 75,000 people who rode it during the 2-week Coney Island exhibition. In addition to the moving escalator by Jesse Reno, another inventor Charles D. Seeberger, came up with a similar invention, called moving staircase, which had wooden steps.
Both inventions were displayed at an international exhibition, held in Paris in 1900. Also, it was there that the word ‘escalator’ was first coined. And the escalators we commonly use today are the combination of both of these crucial inventions.
5. Potato chips- Born out of frustration of a NY chef
The yummy treat whose name is enough to get our mouths to water was unintentionally invented by George Crum in 1853, who was a chef at Moon Lake Lodge resort in New York, where French Fries were an immensely popular dish. Once, though, Crum had to attend to a fussy customer, who found the fries that Crum made too thick. Crum even thinned them down, but the customer remained unsatisfied. Tired of his complaints, a frustrated Crum finally made the fries too thin to be eaten by a fork. To his utter shock, customer loved the flattened potato fries, hence, leading to the invention of potato chips!
6. Microwave- An accidental melting of chocolate was the cue
Following the end of World War II, an engineer, Spencer, from the company Raytheon, was testing for other possible uses of magnetron (an electron tube that generates microwaves), that were initially used for radar tests. Once while standing next to a magnetron, the chocolate bar in Spencer’s pocket melted. Now while Spencer was not the first one to notice such side effect of a magnetron, he definitely was the first one to investigate the cause. He and his colleagues then started experimenting with other food items, the first one being corn kernels, which also led to the birth of first microwaved popcorns in the world.
7. Post-it Notes- Because he wanted to hold bookmarks in his hymnals
These little temporary sticky papers of necessity were first conceived by Arthur Fry in 1974, who wished to come up with something that could hold the bookmarks on his hymnal while he sang in the church choir. Fry knew about a slightly sticky adhesive that Spencer Silver, his fellow employee at 3M, had accidentally invented. He was however, not aware of any other application of the adhesive. When Fry pitched the idea to 3M, the company was initially skeptical about its fate in the market. Introduced in 1980, post-it notes are now a heavily demanded stationary object in over 100 countries around the world.
8. Chewing Gum- Mexicans and a series of failures were the inspiration
Thomas Adams in 1870 was experimenting with chicle (sap from a South American tree). Adams’ initial intention was to formulate chicle into a rubber that would be suitable for tires. After persistent trials and failures, though, an annoyed Adams started to think about how Mexicans chewed chicle. Out of curiosity, he popped in a gum and happened to enjoy it. He further added licorice flavour to the gum, and eventually, it led to the opening of world’s first chewing gum factory called Chiclets.
Another parallel story talks about former Mexican leader Santa Anna, to whom Adams worked as a secretary. Anna chewed chicle, and that gave Adams the idea of conceiving chewing gum.
9. Fireworks- When a Chinese cook got crazy…
If legends are anything to go by, fireworks were invented accidentally by a Chinese cook in 10th century. It is believed that the cook accidentally, mixed the common kitchen ingredients, potassium nitrate, saltpetre, sulphur, and charcoal and set the concoction on fire. And the result was an outburst of colourful flames. He also noticed that when the mixture was put in a hollow bamboo shoot, it resulted in an intensified explosion.
10. Computer mouse- First came the track-ball
The trackball used in the mouse came 10 years before the rest of the mouse and was initially developed as a part of a top secret military project. One of the prototypes made by the inventor of the mouse, Douglas Englebart, included a tracking device that would react to the head movements, to replicate the actions of ‘mouse clicks’. But that was obviously not convenient, and hence stayed the computer mouse.
If you too are thinking of inventing some useful boons, I have a list that might be of some help.
- A device through which you can give missed calls to your spectacles, pen drives, mobile phones when they cannot be located in your room.
- A device to manage traffic flow.
- A device that could create for us the weather of our choice.
- A device that could decode the animal noises into words.
- A Facebook application that could read a user’s mind and not allow him/her to comment if all they plan to comment is nonsense.
You can throw in your ideas too B-)