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  • Writer's picturePaul


Some accidents are meant to happen. When the Kellogg Brothers—Dr John Harvey and his younger brother (and former broom salesman) Will Keith Kellogg—overbaked some boiled wheat dough at the Battle Creek Sanatorium in Michigan in 1894, they invented Corn Flakes.

When Dr David Spencer invented an impermanent adhesive (while attempting to create the exact opposite, a super-strong adhesive) at the Minnesota Mining & Manufacturing plant in 1968, he invented Post-It notes. And after he accidentally knocked a beaker full of cellulose nitrate from a shelf in his laboratory but was shocked to find that it didn’t shatter, the French chemist Édouard Bénédictus filed the patent for what is now known as safety glass in 1909.

But as accidental inventions go, perhaps the most surprising is the humble Slinky.

“Wow, yeah, that’s amazing. What else can it do?” (Pixabay)

You know that pointless—sorry, hugely entertaining metal coil that pointlessly—sorry, amazingly “walks” its way down flights of stairs? Yep, we can add the Slinky to our list of things invented by accident thanks to a curious bit of happenchance that took place at a shipyard in Pennsylvania in 1943.

It was there that naval engineer Richard T James accidentally knocked over a metal spring that he had been attempting to use as a stabilizer for a piece of sensitive naval equipment. To his surprise, instead of clattering to the floor the spring neatly uncoiled itself, and stepped its way down from a shelf onto a pile of books, onto a tabletop, and onto the floor.

Seeing the pointless—sorry, endless potential in his idea, James spent the next two years developing the Slinky; the first batch of 400 Slinky toys sold out in just 90 minutes when they went on sale in 1945, and they’ve been with us ever since.

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