Accidental Discoveries That Changed the World

Accidental discoveries are not uncommon in the world of scientific investigation. Many useful substances, including Teflon and Scotchgard, were invented by chemists who were attempting to create something for an altogether unrelated application. (The chemist who invented Scotchgard was a woman).

Biochemist and science fiction author Isaac Asimov once said that “the most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not ‘Eureka!’ but ‘That’s funny.'” “That’s funny” is exactly what microbiologist Alexander Fleming said when he found that Penicillium mold had contaminated a petri dish and destroyed the bacteria he was experimenting with. His lab accident led to the discovery of penicillin – the world’s first broadly effective antibiotic.

24/7 Tempo has compiled 31 accidental discoveries that changed the world by reviewing sources including History, Reader’s Digest, and Business Insider. In some cases, an initial accidental discovery by one person led to a later invention by another. Only the initial discovery is recounted.

While a few are folk accounts of early discoveries, the majority are inventions and discoveries made by scientists, engineers, doctors, and hobby inventors who were following one path when they stumbled upon another. 

Many serendipitous discoveries have revolutionized the pharmaceutical and medical fields, while others have influenced the worlds of fashion, cosmetics, home appliances, and children’s toys

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>Year: unknown

native Andean people

Before Jesuit priests introduced the malaria treatment quinine to Europe in the 17th century, they learned of its properties from indigenous Andean peoples. According to Andean legend, a man delirious with malaria was lost in the rainforest and drank bitter-tasting water from a puddle under some quina-quina (cinchona) trees. The tree had been previously considered to be poisonous, but the man’s fever soon abated, and his people began using the tree bark to treat fevers. Andean people likely taught it to Jesuit priests.

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>Year: 16th century

According to folk accounts, brandy was invented when a Dutch ship captain, who wanted to ship higher quantities of wine, decided to concentrate wine by removing the water before transport. Although his intention was to water it down again at his destination port, he liked the concentrated wine so much that he kept it that way, calling it brandewijn, meaning “burnt wine.”

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>Year: 1844

Although the psychoactive properties of nitrous oxide were discovered in the 1770s, the gas was almost exclusively used as a party drug amongst the British elite until the next century. In 1844, a dentist named Horace Wells attended a demonstration on the effects of the gas and noticed something interesting: a man who had bruised his legs while jumping around under the influence of nitrous had no idea that he’d hurt himself, and had felt no pain. Wells began using the drug in his dental practice, only after experimenting on himself by inhaling nitrous and having his own tooth pulled.

There are 28 more fascinating, accidental discoveries documented by Josie Green for 24/7 Tempo©. To see all, click the source link below.

Source: Accidental Discoveries That Changed the World (

Author: Dennis Hickey

There are no limits to success to those who never stop learning. Learning will nourish your personal growth. I hope you enjoy this website and visit often so you keep learning and growing too!

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