Throughout the years there have been numerous inventions that changed the world,
discovered by mistake. Here is our top 8 accidental R&D
Super Glue was discovered accidentally twice, by the same inventor. The first time it was
discovered by serial inventor Dr Harry Coover when he was researching the manufacture of
clear plastic gunsights during the Second World War. Even with this discovery, he
considered it useless at that point, despite its remarkable rapid bonding properties. The
second time it was in 1951, were Dr Coover was working at Eastman Kodak supervising a
project researching heat resistant acrylate polymers for jet canopies.
Here one of his staff tried out the same formula, which again resulted in it having remarkable stickiness
properties, however now Dr Coover understood its potential and decided not to discard it.
His company launched the R&D innovation in 1958 under the underwhelming name ‘Eastman#910’. Luckily
their marketing guys took hold of the product and renamed it Super Glue.
Similar to the journey to find the fountain of youth, humans have long pursued the magic
ingredients that promise to boost the libido. However, the R&D innovation that gave us Viagra
(sildenafil) occurred when researchers were testing sildenafil as a cure for hypertension and
heart disease. After two trial testing’s, researchers concluded that the drug failed to show
results for the heart, yet the test subjects discovered that it was positively affecting them in
Pfizer soon patented Viagra, in 1996, approved for
use in erectile dysfunction by the U.S. FDA in 1998. The sales of Viagra continue to exceed
expectations, with more than £1 billion per year. Additional uses have been
for sildenafil by researchers, if you dissolve 1 milligram of sildenafil in a vase of water, it can
make fresh cut flowers last up to a week more than their natural lifespan.
Numerous people now can’t imagine how life was before electricity or the internet, let alone
life before matches. We must thank a British pharmacist and his old dirty mixing stick for the
R&D innovation. In 1826, John Walker noticed a dried lump on the end of his mixing stick, while
he was mixing chemicals. When he tried to scrape the lump off, accidentally the stick caught
spark and flame. Walker, understood the potential and innovation, marketing the first friction
matches as “Friction Lights” and sold them at his pharmacy.
These matches were made from cardboard, but soon after replaced with three-inch long hand-cut wooden splints; the
matches would come in a box, designed with a piece of sandpaper to light the matches from.
Even though he was advised to patent his invention, he decided against that, as he
considered his product a benefit and innovation to human development. Therefore, others
start ripping off his product and taking over the market share, leading to Walker to so
producing his version.
One of the most innovative and ground-breaking accidental R&D is the microwave
oven. The technology that promised to revolutionize the households and housewives
everywhere, was discovered in the 1940s when the U.S. company Raytheon was working on
magnetron tubes used in radar defence. Percy Spencer, an engineer working at the
company, while working on a magnetron noticed that a candy bar in his pocket had started
to melt due to the microwaves. After, Spencer developed a box using that technology and
found that it indeed cooked the food that was placed inside with microwave energy, and it
would cook it quickly. Raytheon then filed a U.S. patent and so, the first microwave oven
was introduced in a New England restaurant for testing, with it being first introduced into
households in 1967 by Amana (a Raytheon division).
One afternoon Constantin Fahlberg in 1879, after a hard day studying coal tar derivatives
decided to leave his John Hopkins laboratory to go have dinner. Here, while eating, realised
that the food had a particularly sweet taste, however, he traced the taste to a chemical
compound he had accidentally spilt on his hand. When he analysed the compound, it
resulted that it is calorie-free. As a result, he cut out his laboratory partner Ira Remsen and
the university out of millions when he secretly patented the breakthrough discovery.
Penicillin was the first antibiotic, a discovery that happened in 1929 when a young
bacteriologist, Sir Alexander Fleming, was cleaning up his lab, after having been on
vacation. When he returned to work, he found that a petri dish that contained
Staphylococcus bacteria had been left uncovered. Upon closer inspection, he noticed that
the mould had killed many of the bacteria. He identified the mould as Penicillium Notatum,
after further research into the mould he soon discovered that it had the ability to kill other
bacteria and could be given to small animals without any ill effect.
Close to a decade later, Howard Florey and Ernst Chain had picked up, where Fleming left off and isolated the
bacteria-killing substance from the mould (penicillin). The three received the distinguished Nobel
Prize for medicine in 1945 for the discovery of penicillin and its effects on various infectious
In 1987, the two inventors Alastair and Jean Carruthers were using small doses of a deadly
toxin to treat ‘crossed eyes’ eyelid spasms and other eye-muscle disorders. When they first
noticed the unique side effect of the toxin, they started using it for other purposes. Thanks to
its ability to make wrinkles disappear, they were able to market this R&D as a unique beauty
This is one of the most known accidental R&D known. The civil war veteran turned
pharmacist John Pemberton created what he originally intended as nothing more than a
medication (the original coke actually did include cocaine on its ingredients list), created the
most popular drink in the 21st century.
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