TOP 7 ACCIDENTAL DISCOVERIES
1. CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES
According to Nestle, Mrs. Wakefield (owner of the Toll House Inn) was making chocolate cookies but ran out of regular baker’s chocolate, so she substituted it with broken pieces of semi-sweet chocolate, thinking it would melt and mix into the batter. It clearly did not, and the chocolate chip cookie was born. Wakefield sold the recipe to Nestle in exchange for a lifetime supply of chocolate chips (instead of patenting it and making billions!). Every bag of Nestle chocolate chips in North America has a variation of her original recipe printed on the back (margarine is now included both as a variant on butter and for those people who want to pretend it is healthy).
2. ARTIFICIAL SWEETENER
Like many artificial sweeteners, the sweetness of cyclamate was discovered by accident. Michael Sveda was working in the lab on the synthesis of anti-fever medication. He put his cigarette down on the lab bench and when he put it back in his mouth he discovered the sweet taste of cyclamate. Cancer-inducing aspartame was discovered in 1965 by James M. Schlatter, a chemist working for G. D. Searle & Company. Schlatter had synthesized aspartame in the course of producing an anti-ulcer drug candidate. He discovered its sweet taste serendipitously when he licked his finger, which had accidentally become contaminated with aspartame. Saccharin (the oldest artificial sweetener) was first produced in 1878 by Constantin Fahlberg, a chemist working on coal tar derivatives in Ira Remsen’s laboratory at Johns Hopkins University, and it was he who, accidentally, discovered its intensely sweet nature.
Teflon was invented accidentally by Roy Plunkett of Kinetic Chemicals in 1938. Plunkett was attempting to make a new CFC refrigerant, the perfluorethylene polymerized (say that three times fast!) in a pressurized storage container. In this original chemical reaction, iron from the inside of the container acted as a catalyst. In 1954, French engineer Marc Gregoire created the first pan coated with Teflon nonstick resin under the brand name Tefal after his wife urged him to try the material that he’d been using on fishing tackle on her cooking pans. Teflon is inert to virtually all chemicals and is considered the most slippery material in existence second only to the political wrangling of ex-President George Bush.
Percy Spencer of the Raytheon Company was walking past a radar tube and noticed that the chocolate bar in his pocket melted. Realizing that he might be on to a hot new product, he placed a small bowl of popcorn in front of the tube and it quickly popped all over the room. Tens of millions of lazy cooks now have him to thank for their dull food.
5. POTATO CHIPS
The first potato chip was invented by George Crum (half American Indian, half African American) at Moon’s Lake House near Saratoga Springs, New York, on August 24, 1853. He was fed up with the constant complaints of a customer who kept sending his potatoes back to the kitchen because they were too thick and soggy. Crum decided to slice the potatoes so thin that they couldn’t be eaten with a fork. Against Crum’s expectation, the customer was ecstatic about the new chips. They became a regular item on the lodge’s menu under the name “Saratoga Chips” and a large contributing factor to the Western world’s obesity problems.
LSD was first created by Albert Hofmann in 1938 as part of a study into the usefulness of ergot in medicine. Five years after the first discovery, Hofmann became dizzy and had to stop work. He went home and experienced what is now known to be the first LSD trip. In his own words, Hofmann experienced an “intoxicated-like condition” along with an overactive imagination. He described seeing “fantastic pictures, extraordinary shapes with the intense, kaleidoscopic play of colors.” After two hours he returned to normal and the rest is history.
In 1928, Scottish scientist Sir Alexander Fleming was studying Staphylococcus, the bacteria that causes food poisoning. He turned up at work one day and discovered a blue-green mold that seemed to be inhibiting the growth of the bacteria. He grew a pure culture of the mold and discovered that it was a Penicillium mold. After further experiments, Fleming was convinced that penicillin could not last long enough in the human body to kill pathogenic bacteria, and stopped studying it after 1931, but restarted some clinical trials in 1934 and continued to try to get someone to purify it until 1940. The development of penicillin for use as a medicine is attributed to the Australian Nobel Laureate Howard Walter Florey; he shared the Nobel Prize with Fleming and Ernst Boris Chain.