Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.
#1.The Microwave Oven
Percy LeBaron Spencer was a self-educated engineer working on radar technology in the years following WWII. The technology in question was the sci-fi sounding magnetron, a piece of machinery capable of firing high intensity beams of radiation.
Apparently, P.L.S., as some have called him, had a bit of a sweet tooth. Or a strange fetish. Either way, he had a candy bar in his pants while he was in the lab one day. The self-proclaimed engineer noticed that the chocolate bar had melted when he was working with the magnetron.
Spencer disregarded the simple idea that his body heat had melted the chocolate in favor of the less logical and therefore more scientific conclusion that invisible rays of radiation had “cooked it” somehow.
Spencer continued to experiment with the magnetron until he boxed it in and marketed it as a new way to cook food. The initial version of the microwave was roughly six feet tall, weighed in around 750 pounds and had to be cooled with water. But they got it down to size, and today we use it mostly to destroy random objects on YouTube.
#2.Krazy Glue and/or Super Glue
The story goes that in 1942, Dr. Harry Coover was working for Eastman Kodak, a company renowned for cameras and camera-related things. His job was to find a plastic that could be used as a clear gunsight, since this was smack in the middle of WWII and everybody knew where the money was.
Coover got frustrated because the material, called cyanoacrylate, was just too damned sticky. Rather than noticing he accidentally made one of the most versatile adhesives of all time, he threw it away in a huff and continued sweating over gunsights for a war that would be ended, ironically, by two bombs with blast radiuses so big that they didn’t even require sights at all.
In 1958, after finally convincing his bosses that at the very least, there was enormous comedic potential in the prospect of a man getting his hand permanently stuck to his junk; Kodak released the glue with the catchy name “Eastman 910.”
Somebody then decided to actually pay the marketing guys to do something, and they decided the best way to convince people to buy this new product was to suspend a car over a public street with a crane, supposedly held up only with the ol’ 910.
It wasn’t easy coming up with a form of rubber tough enough to withstand the drag racing and car chases everyone envisioned the day the automobile was invented. In fact, if there was one man who should have given up his life dream, it was Goodyear. The man spent time in and out of prison, lost every friend he had and starved his children in his tireless pursuit of a stronger form of rubber.
“There’s got to be a better way.”
Oh, wait. They were all defective. The process didn’t work and Goodyear was ruined. Again.
After inspecting the charred remains, he realized that he had just found a way to make durable, weatherproof rubber. Despite what we’re sure were numerous failed “now let’s try setting this on fire to see if it improves it!” experiments, an empire was born.
One day, in a potentially Clouseau-like manner, Edward knocked a scientific flask off of a shelf and heard it crash to the ground (we like to imagine that he shouted “sacre bleu!” upon hearing the impact). When Benedictus climbed down from his ladder, he noticed that the flask was broken, but had not actually shattered.
Though he knew he had something, Benedictus didn’t really know what he had. Then inspiration struck in the form of a rash of horrifyingly gruesome car accidents. Benedictus noticed that the more horrific injuries from these crashes were due to flying shards of windshield.
Then he set to work until he eventually developed Triplex (not pronounced triple x). When we say eventually, we mean 24 hours later. After taking notice of the durability of his new invention in the gas masks of WWI, the automotive industry began making the Triplex windshield the standard, as angry, sledgehammer-wielding ex-girlfriends the world over can attest to.
Six years later, the good Mr. Phlegm-ing, as he was affectionately known, was once again working in the lab with a plastic dish filled with disease. The Doc (another nickname) left the lab for a weekend without cleaning the filthy dishes that were scattered around. If the scientific community is represented by the cast from Revenge of the Nerds (we know, huge stretch), then Fleming is “Booger”?
Fleming returned to his abandoned experiment after his holiday to find that the dishes had sprouted mold. Fleming tossed the dish into a nearby trashcan. As per his custom, he continued to inspect his experiment after throwing it into a container filled with lab waste. Maybe he had decided to eat that sausage he had thrown away earlier.
While there he noticed that the mold had killed off the bacteria around it. This mold turned out to be the basic form of Penicillin, arguably the most important discovery in the field of medicine ever. All science needed was for a man to come along who was so filthy that he actually would discover a form of filth that could kill other filth. Millions of lives were saved.