Weird History
314 voters

Common Products Originally Invented For Something Else

February 16, 2021 2.7k votes 314 voters 11.4k views13 items

List RulesVote up the products with the biggest developmental shift from start to success.

Look around you at items nearby, and you might see some pretty straightforward products that seem intuitive in design and use. But it's possible that what you're looking at is a re-purposed invention - a device, tool, or simple item that began as one product and ended up being successful as something else. 

Some inventions have a specific intent behind their development; others have unexpected outcomes and consequences. The introduction of a product to the marketplace might completely fail at first, but with some tweaks and ingenuity, change the game entirely. Whether it's a medicine with surprising side effects or a food that went from libido-tamer to cupboard staple, the stories behind common products aren't always what they seem.

Vote up the products originally invented for something else that have the most surprising starts. 

  • Photo: Sabine Salfer / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
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    Chainsaws Were Surgical Instruments Used In Childbirth

    Ancient civilizations had equipment that could chip and cut bone, but it wasn't until 1830 that a chain was added to bone-cutting devices by German physician Berhard Heine. He called it the osteotome, but roughly 50 years earlier, a similar device was developed by Scottish doctors John Aitken and James Jeffray. Their hand-cranked saw was used to perform symphysiotomies - a procedure where a woman's pelvis is split open to allow a baby to pass through the birth canal. 

    It wasn't until the early 20th century that chainsaws were patented as wood-cutting devices

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    Bubble Wrap Started As Textured Wallpaper

    As a common packing material, Bubble Wrap can also be fun to play with. Neither one of those uses, however, were why Bubble Wrap was developed in 1957. Creators Al Fielding and Marc Cavannes created Bubble Wrap as a textured wallpaper. Unsuccessful in that effort (their initial version was made of two shower curtains), Fielding and Cavannes then tried to sell Bubble Wrap as insulation for greenhouses, aptly named Sealed Air

    They eventually found success with IBM. After one of their marketers convinced IBM to use Bubble Wrap to cover their computers during shipping, the product officially transitioned to packaging material. 

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  • During WWII, Richard James worked as a naval engineer in Philadelphia, PA, for a company that contracted with the US government to build ships. In 1943, he was tasked with solving the problem of keeping navigational equipment from shifting as vessels rocked while at sea.

    He coiled up some wires to create a spring and, when he dropped it, saw it essentially walk end-over-end. He told his wife, Betty, about the incident, and together they developed a toy based on what had happened. They came up with the "Slinky" - fun for girls and boys - in 1944. The Slinky was first sold in 1945 and patented in 1947.

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  • Photo: Nevit Dilmen / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0
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    Play-Doh Was Invented As Wallpaper Cleaner

    Although Play-Doh is now a children's toy, it was developed by the Kutol soap company during the 1930s to clean walls. Based in Ohio, Kutol was under the umbrella of a parent company, Kroger. As Kutol struggled to keep its doors open, Kroger representative Cleo McVicker tasked himself with revitalizing the company. 

    McVicker was sent to close Kutol in 1933, but repurposed Kutol's facilities to make wallpaper cleaner - something Kroger needed more of to meet consumer demand. The substance McVicker and his team came up with was akin to modeling clay and, when McVicker's sister-in-law used it in her classroom, the idea for Play-Doh was born.

    Kutol removed hazardous materials from the wallpaper cleaner and began marketing it as "the CLEAN modeling compound for children" during the mid-1950s.

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