Oh my gawsh! I can't believe I made that! It's useless! It's nothing like what I....wait....what are you doing with that?
Ever do something you didn't mean to do? I mean, you start out, for example, trying to take a step, but it doesn't work the way you intended, so you trip and fall. But when you hit the ground, something happens. Something totally unintended, yet, in a way, it's even better than what you first set out to do.
I mean, a step moves you, what, 3 feet? If you fall, you move 6 feet. Bonus!
Well, yesterdays post gave me the idea of telling you about some inventions that ended up being nothing like what they were supposed to be when they were begun.
These are inventions that we all know, and have most likely used at one point. And they all were failed attempts at something else.
We'll start with an easy one. Popsicles. In 1905, a popular beverage you could make at home was a fizzy fruit drink. It was as close to a soda fountain drink you could get at home. One day, 11 year old Frank Epperson was mixing up a glass for himself out on the back porch of his San Francisco home. He was interrupted while mixing, and left the drink, with stir-stick still in the glass, out on the porch over night.
The next morning, he discovered his drink had frozen. Trying to pull the stick out resulted in the whole frozen chunk coming out of the glass. Frank gave it a taste, and found it was good.
For the next 17 years, Frank kept the recipe to himself. Until, in 1922, for a fireman's ball, he made up a large batch to sell to benefit the fire department. They were a huge hit. The next year, 1923, Frank applied and received a patent on his frozen treat. He started selling them for a nickle, and called them Eppsicles. Kids said they reminded them of the soda pop they would drink, so they started calling them popsicles.
Next up, Post It Notes. In 1968, a chemist for 3M, Spencer Silver, was trying to come up with a super strong adhesive that could be used in the space program. What he actually came up with was an adhesive that wasn't strong at all. But, the formula meant it could be stuck and unstuck many times.
The bosses at 3M thought it was junk. Silver suggested coating a bulletin board with it. No more looking for pins or tacks, the paper would just stick! "Nope." was the response he got. So, it sat in a jar, on a shelf in a lab.
That is until another chemist, Art Fry got his hands on it 5 years later. Art liked to sing in his church choir, but he didn't like losing his page. He was troubled by the fact that his bookmarks fell out of his hymnal when he opened it up. So he applied a bit of Silvers glue to some paper, and viola! No more bookmarks falling out.
Fry took the idea to Silver, and together they took the idea to the big wigs at 3M. Showing an enthusiasm usually reserved for a root canal, they shelved the idea for another 3 years.
And, it would have stayed shelved if it wasn't for Geoff Nicholson. Nicholson was a lab manager, and he thought the idea of putting the adhesive on paper was brilliant. So, he got everyone in the lab to make stacks of sticky note paper. They ended up using all the yellow note paper they could find.
They then gave out the sticky note pads as free samples to their customers. Within a month, 90% of the people who got the samples had placed orders for more. Now the big wigs took notice. And the Post It Note was born.
Have you ever heard of Stainless Steel? Sure you have. And you encounter it every day. Steel dates back to 1,800 BCE when the Turks discovered a little bit of carbon added to iron when smelting improved it greatly. But, like iron, steel rusted. And that was a problem. Steel required frequent polishing to keep it from rusting away.
This was the case all the way to 1912. That's when Harry Brearly got involved. Brearly was a metallurgist in England, and his employer dropped a problem into his lap. The guns that his bosses manufactured were rifles, and like all rifles of the time, had grooved barrels. These grooves improved stability of the bullet, making the gun highly accurate.
But they also thinned the steel of the barrel out. With every round fired, a bit more of the steel was eroded away. Eventually, the rifle barrel was useless as the bullets were too small for it. Brearly was tasked with improving steel to make it harder and erosion resistant.
As the months passed, the pile of rejected steel grew. And, after a while, he noticed that all the steel was rusting. Except for one batch. It was the batch he had added a 12% mixture of chromium to. He found that the mixture caused a protective film to encase the steel. And it was a resilient film. When scratched off, the chemical makeup of the steel reformed the film in a short period of time.
Brearly called his new steel, Rustless Steel. And he immediately saw that if silverware was made from the new steel, it would be much easier to care for, as regular steel rusted and silver was too expensive. It didn't do squat for the rifles, but it made Brearly a very rich man.
Finally, it's time to discuss Mauve. Yes, I'm referring to mauve, the color.
In 1856, a chemistry student, William Perkin, was attempting to come up with an artificial Quinine substitute. Quinine is a substance that is extracted from tree bark, and is used for treating malaria.
He never did discover the compound he was looking for, but one of his failures, one that had a high concentration of carbon, resulted in a purplish sludge. He found the color to be pleasing, so he started isolating the substance that made the color.
His timing was perfect. Purple was a very popular color at the time. And the pigment he finally isolated turned out to be a very stable dye. It was bright and resisted bleeding and fading well. He decided to call it Mauve, and it's the first synthetic dye ever created.
Perkin dropped out of school, and his father thought the color would be so popular, he used his life savings to build a factory that produced the pigment and items in the new color. Within 5 years, the entire family was incredibly wealthy.
Perkins discovery of mauve kickstarted a new interest in chemistry. As a result, researchers discovered many of the useful items we still use today. Including, finally, a synthetic substitute for Quinine.
So, never give up. You never know when one of your failures may become your biggest success.