Weird History
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13 Things Discovered By Accident

September 18, 2020 9.3k votes 1.1k voters 52.6k views13 items

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Accidental discoveries and inventions have often turned out to be some of the most important to human history. While it might seem intuitive to think that all archaeological finds were discovered by archaeologists or that all scientific discoveries were purposely made by scientists, that just isn't always the case. Sometimes, discoveries are made by ordinary folks doing the same things they do every day. Other times, what have turned out to be some of the world's most important drugs, most useful substances, most fascinating historical finds, and even best-selling toys have been the products of accidents or pure dumb luck.

  • A Lab Tech Accidentally Grew Penicillin In A Contaminated Bacteria Culture 
    Photo: Ministry of Information Photo Division Photographer / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
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    A Lab Tech Accidentally Grew Penicillin In A Contaminated Bacteria Culture 

    Bacteriologist Alexander Fleming was working in a London laboratory in 1928 when he left his position to go on vacation for a few weeks. When he returned, he noticed that one of his culture plates had become contaminated with staphylococcus.

    Curiously, he found a mold he didn't recognize that had started to grow but seemed to repel the staph. He tried, without success, to isolate the compound responsible for the antibacterial function in large quantities.

    It wasn't until 1939 that University of Oxford scientists Howard Florey and Ernst Chain were able to mass-produce penicillin, which has since been responsible for saving countless lives.

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    Teenagers Found Important Cave Paintings When They Followed Their Dog Into A Hole In The Ground

    On September 12, 1940, four teenagers and a dog were wandering around near Montignac, France. When the dog entered a narrow opening and didn't come back out, the teenagers followed the dog through a cavern.

    Deep in the cavern, they were surprised to find an incredibly ornate, unspoiled set of 15,000 to 17,000-year-old cave paintings and stone carvings that depicted a wide array of wildlife and even a few assumed mythical creatures.

    These fantastic paintings and carvings have provided insight into ancient humanity's way of living.

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  • Wilson Greatbatch Built The Pacemaker When Trying To Make A Heart Rhythm Recorder
    Photo: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
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    Wilson Greatbatch Built The Pacemaker When Trying To Make A Heart Rhythm Recorder

    American engineer and inventor Wilson Greatbatch held around 325 patents by the end of his career. In 1956, Greatbatch was attempting to invent a device to record the heart's rhythm. In a fortunate mistake, he added a component to the device that emitted an electronic pulse of its own.

    Recognizing that his contraption sounded a lot like a heart's natural rhythm, he realized that the device could deliver electrical pulses to keep an unstable heart in rhythm. Thanks to a simple accidental electrical component mistake, the pacemaker's invention has prolonged and saved the lives of many cardiovascular patients. 

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  • A Swiss Electrical Engineer Made Velcro After Noticing Burdock Seeds Sticking To His Dog And Coat
    Photo: Trazyanderson / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 4.0
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    A Swiss Electrical Engineer Made Velcro After Noticing Burdock Seeds Sticking To His Dog And Coat

    In 1941, Swiss engineer Georges de Mestral took his dog out for a walk. He noticed that burdock seeds stuck to his dog's fur and his own coat. Being an engineer, it was only natural that he wondered why and how the little burrs were fastening themselves to passersby.

    When the engineer looked at the seeds under a microscope, he discovered thousands of tiny hooks protruding from the seeds and wondered if there wasn't a practical application for his discovery.

    By 1955, he had formally patented a pair of nylon fabric strips. One fabric strip was comprised of thousands of tiny hooks and the other strip consisted of thousands of tiny loops for the hooks to catch and fasten onto. Because of his discovery, we only have to tie our toddlers' shoes with laces if we choose to, since the world now has access to wonderful Velcro.

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