Surprising Stories of Accidental Inventions

Necessity isn’t always the mother of invention. Sometimes it’s serendipity. Dive into these nine great reads about everyday innovations that were invented by accident, from life-changing penicillin to the whimsical wonder that is Play-Doh. Turns out even the color mauve came to us by chance.

The Amazing True Story of How the Microwave Was Invented by Accident

Matt Blintz • Popular Mechanics

Never underestimate the power of snacks and serendipity.

The Science of Serendipity

James Geary • Salon

Serendipity is credited with some of our most important discoveries, from penicillin to super glue. But what is it?

An Idea That Stuck

Jake Swearingen • New York

How George de Mestral invented the velcro fastener.

The Accidental Invention of Play-Doh

David Kindy • Smithsonian Magazine

The much-loved children’s toy was a desperate spinoff of a putty used to clean soot off of wallpaper

The Shy Scientist Who Could See Through Skin

Jennifer Latson • Time

No one was initially more skeptical of the existence of X-rays than Wilhelm Roentgen — the man who discovered them.

What Happens When Chemists Don’t Wash Their Hands

Sarah Laskow • The Atlantic

Three different artificial sweeteners have been the result of scientists with poor hand hygiene.

The Real Story Behind Penicillin

Dr. Howard Markel • PBS

The discovery of penicillin, one of the world’s first antibiotics, marks a true turning point in human history. Many school children can recite the basics. But there is much more to this historic sequence of events.

The Color Purple: How an Accidental Discovery Changed Fashion Forever

Jacopo Prisco • CNN

When he started fiddling with chemicals in his home in March 1856, William Henry Perkin had no idea what was about to happen.

Super Glue Built Planes, Nukes and Saved Soldiers’ Lives

James Simpson • War Is Boring

Quick-bonding adhesive was a happy accident of wartime research.

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