Three Famous Things Invented by Accident - Slinky, Silly Putty and the Popsicle
The creation of the next hot toy or snack is often a long one, involving lots of time and market research. But did you know that the ever-popular Silly Putty, the Slinky and the Popsicle were all invented accidentally?
The invention of Silly Putty started out scientifically. During World War II, the United States government was in dire need of a substitute for rubber to use on such things as boots and airplane tires. They asked their engineers to experiment with silicone to find this synthetic rubber. In 1944, a General Electric engineer named James Wright added boric acid to silicone oil and ended up inventing what became Silly Putty. However, before it was Silly Putty, it was nothing. Though it was elastic and bounced, it wasn't sufficient as a rubber substitute and was put aside. It wasn't until 1949 that Silly Putty realized its true potential. It had attracted the attention of a toy store owner named Ruth Fallgatter. She teamed up with a marketing consultant named Peter Hodgson to find a creative use for the putty. It was first marketed to adults and then became a toy for children. The rest is history. Despite the rationing of silicone brought on by the Korean War, Silly Putty persevered and is now one of the world's most popular toys.
The Slinky was also invented by a engineer during World War II. Richard James was a naval engineer with the US Navy. One day in 1943, he was working with torsion springs when one tumbled to the floor. To James' surprise, the spring kept moving end-over-end across the floor. This fascinated James, and, upon returning home, he and his wife Betty decided to market this invention as a toy. They developed a similar spring, coiling a steel ribbon into a spiral, named it "Slinky", and began production of this newly-invented toy in 1945. Like Silly Putty, the Slinky isn't complicated or hard to use - a secret to its success. More than two million toys have been sold since its invention, and the original design has only changed once.
Unlike the Slinky and Silly Putty, the Popsicle wasn't invented by an engineer as a byproduct of research. The Popsicle, one of history's favourite frozen snacks, was accidentally invented by an 11-year-old boy. At the turn of the 20th century, soda water powder mixed with water was a common drink. Young Frank Epperson began to mix this drink for himself one day in 1905, but instead of drinking it, left it on his back porch overnight. Though he lived in California, temperatures reached a record low that night and, the next day, Epperson found his drink, frozen, with the stirring stick still inside. This was interesting enough to a child, but it wasn't until 1923 that Epperson thought he could sell his accidental invention as a snack. He began selling his invention, then called "Epsicles", in seven flavours. The name was changed to the now-familiar "Popsicle", and an estimated three million are sold each year, in more than 30 flavours. Pretty good for a forgetful kid!
Charlotte Foltz Jones. Mistakes That Worked. New York: Doubleday, 1991.