Zeitgeist- The Spirit of Time
Most of the time we don’t think of where ideas, products, or systems have come from. Almost like they just were meant to be, so now they are here. Here are five items, in particular, that did happen by accident.
James Wright created silly Putty in 1943, when the government asked U.S companies to invent a new rubber. Because of WWII rubber was being used up for the many needs of the military. The government asked if companies could invent a synthetic rubber that had similar properties but that could be made with non-restrictive ingredients. In new Haven, Connecticut engineer James Wright mixed boric acid and silicone oil together and thus producing the glob of goo now named Silly Putty. In 1949, the accidental glob was found by Ruth Fallgatter, a toy storeowner who regularly produced it in her toy catalog for a year. In 1950 Ruth Fallgatter, advertising consultant Peter Hodgson bought a large portion, separated it, put it into small plastic eggs and sold it for $1. Silly Putty became a novelty at first. But as time continued in turned into a kids toy and now we see it all around the world.
WWII was going on and Percy Spencer, who worked at Raytheon as the head of the power tube division, helped win a contract for Raytheon to help built combat radar equipment. This contract had the second highest importance to the military at this time. When Spencer was working on a magnetron, which made microwaves, he was standing close in front of it and noticed his candy bar, which was in his pocket, was starting to melt. Noticing this he decided to place popcorn kernels in front of the magnetron, which became the first popcorn. Spencer created the first microwave, by attaching a high-density electromagnetic field generator to en enclosed metal box, which would help control the microwaves and be safer. On October 8, 1945, Rahtheon filed a patent for a microwave oven. The microwave oven called Radarange, weighed 750 pounds, was 51/2 feet tall, and cost around $5,000. It wasn’t until 1967 that a 100volt countertop oven was made available for only $.495
Next the Post-it-note was an accident, when an organic chemist and scientist were working for 3M. Spencer Silver, the chemist, was trying to find a better adhesive for the tape 3M used. Silver discovered a less sticky glue. The adhesive was broken and did not cover the whole contact area. The result was tacky, reusable glue. Arthur Fry, who also worked at 3M, used scraps of paper to use as bookmarks when he would sing hymns on Sundays.
They kept falling and Fry remembered about Silver’s glue he had made. At work he gathered paper and the glue and made sticky bookmarks. However, people only needed a few bookmarks at a time. At one point when Fry received a file back, from which he sent a colleague, he noticed his colleague had written a note on his sticky bookmark. Realizing this Fry took his sticky notes to the companies executives, where they asked for more. In 1980 Post-It Notes were officially released to the public and were named 3M’s Outstanding New Product in 1981.
Have you ever heard of Goodyear tires? Well in the early 1830’s rubber was becoming very popular. But there was an issue. When the rubber became too cold it would crack and if it was to hot the rubber would melt. The extreme temperatures killed the excitement of natural rubber. Charles Goodyear spent many years trying to find a way for rubber not to melt and be able to stand up against high and low temperatures. In 1839 and after many years and going into debt Goodyear accidently dropped rubber mixed with sulfur onto a hot stove. He took it off the stove and examined the rubber. It was charred but was not melted. Heat was the ingredient to Goodyear’s weatherproof rubber. He also put it outside where it was introduced to severe cold weather but in the morning when he brought it back inside; the rubber was flexible as it was before he placed it outside. Also rubber is vulcanized when sulfur is added to it, which modifies the polymer by causing bridges or crosslinks in the material.
In 1907 shellac was being used as an insulation for electronics to help preserve wood products. It was costing industries large amounts of money to import shellac. Shellac came from Southeast Asian beetles. And at that time chemist Leo Hendrik Baekeland wanted to produce a shellac alternative, which could be cheaper to produce. When experimenting, Baekeland heated his shellac-like substance in an iron pressure cooker. The substance was formaldehyde and phenol. With it being heated plastic was invented. The first plastic is called Bakelite and it could be molded into many different shapes, stand against time and could come in many colors. This one accident had many uses in the industry and was the first synthetic material that could stand on its own. In 1910 Baekeland founded the General Bakelite Company. Plastic is now one of the largest used materials in today’s world.
These are just a few accidental products that changed the world. It is an interesting question to ask if these accidents didn’t happen, then what or would anything have taken their place? And if so, when and what would they be?