Half of All Inventions Happen By Accident

March 18, 2016 | Elizabeth Knowles

Spilled test tube

From Play-Doh to Velcro .

According to a new book called Inventology by Pagan Kennedy, about 50 percent of all inventions arise serendipitously. Although hard work and determination are still important, that eureka moment may very well arise from working on something completely different. This statistic came from analyzing a 2005 survey of European patent holders.

What are some inventions that have happened by happy accident, you ask? Take a look:

Artificial Sweeteners

In 1877, a Russian chemist named Constantin Fahlberg sat down to dinner with his wife and bit into a roll. Finding that it was unexpectedly sweet, he realised that he had not washed his hands after work and that the sweetness came from a compound he had been making in his lab.


Mechanical engineer Richard James was working on springs to keep sensitive equipment steady while on ships at sea when he accidentally knocked some samples over and watched them characteristically “walk” rather than fall.

Microwave Oven

Percy Spencer was building magnetrons for radar sets when he noticed that the chocolate bar in his pocket had melted. The first food he heated intentionally was popcorn kernels, which became the world’s first microwaved popcorn.

Potato chips

In 1853, Native American George Crum was working as a chef at a resort in Saratoga Springs, New York, when a dinner guest complained that his French fries were too thin and sent them back to the kitchen. Insulted, Crum decided to mess with the diner and made extremely thin fried potatoes that could not be eaten with a fork. However, the plan backfired as other diners quickly began requesting the new chips.

SEE ALSO: 5 Dreams That Led to Scientific Breakthroughs and Innovations


George de Mestral came up with the idea for Velcro while hunting in the Jura mountains in Switzerland with his dog. He noticed that burs kept getting stuck in his pet’s fur because of the tiny hooks on them.


Alexander Fleming, Professor of Bacteriology at St. Mary's Hospital in London, returned from a holiday in 1928 and looked through his petri dishes containing colonies of Staphylococcus, a bacteria that he was studying. He noticed that in an area where mold was growing, colonies of bacteria were not. The mold was later identified as a rare strain of Penicillium notatum.


Noah and Joseph McVicker of Kutol Products first invented Play-Doh when they were commissioned to create a wallpaper cleaner to remove soot stains on walls. Once natural gas became a more popular heating source and the cleaning product was no longer needed, the men found out that Joseph McVicker’s sister-in-law was using it in her classroom to entertain the children.

Post-it notes

In 1968, Dr. Spencer Silver, a chemist at 3M Company, was trying to invent a super strong adhesive when he came up with a super weak one instead. Post-it notes were first marketed as “Press 'n Peel" in 1977.

Hat Tip: Science Alert and Gizmondo

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