The Teabag and other Accidental Inventions that Changed the World before Lunchtime

Accidents happen. They can be life-changing. And in these extraordinary cases, they can be life-changing in a good way. If there was ever a lesson in embracing so called ‘failure’, of staying open-minded to where the journey takes you, this is it.

1.     The teabag. Recently voted within the top 10 most important inventions of all time (check out the English Heritage’s Ingenious survey), the birth of the teabag was a total accident. When New York Tea Merchant, Thomas Sullivan, created silken bags to transport his tea samples to customers they mistook them as tea strainers and submerged the whole thing rather than pouring the tealeaves out to make their favourite cuppa. Later down the line some bright spark decided to do the same with fresh ground coffee and so the coffee bag was born. But whether it’s coffee or tea in your bag, without a bit of Sullivan serendipity your morning caffeine fix might not have been quite so convenient

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2.     Artificial Sweetener – need a little sweetness in the morning? If you add an artificial sweetener to your morning cuppa you’ll experience a double accident. Saccharin, as it’s scientifically known, was discovered at the (dirty) hands of Constantin Fahlberg. After a day of working in the lab, the chemist sat down to dinner with his wife without washing his hands. He noticed that everything he ate had a super sweet taste and realised that a chemical compound he had spilled on his hands was the culprit. Sweet.

 
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3.     Cornflakes. As you tuck into your morning bowl of cornflakes, consider this. The Kellogg brothers made one of the world’s all-time favourite cereals because they failed to clear up their kitchen. The now famous flakes were the result of wheat that was left out to go stale. The thrifty Kellogg brothers decided to make it into dough anyway and what resulted was wheat flakes which were patented in 1896. You know the rest of the story…

 
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4.     The Microwave. Made it to mid-morning and realised your half-drunk coffee is now cold? Whether its kids or clients keeping you from your caffeine fix we’ve all been there. Cue the mighty microwave – the Lazarus of coffee rejuvenation and the result of another accidental entrepreneur. Engineer Percy Spencer was testing a military grade magnetron (a kind of electric whistle that creates vibrating electromagnetic waves rather than sounds) when he realised the snack in his pocket had melted. A year later, in 1947, the first commercial microwave hit the shelves. Goodbye cold coffee.

 
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5.     Chocolate chip biscuits. A sucker for something to dunk? If by elevensies you’re reaching for the biscuit tin, the chocolatey goodness in a chocolate chip cookie is another happy accident. Dietitian and Inn keeper, Ruth Graves Wakefield was making her usual cookies when she realised she’d run out of baker’s chocolate. Substituting her staple ingredient with a few pieces of semi-sweet chocolate from Andrew Nestle (of Nestle Co. fame) she found that the morsels failed to melt and so the world’s first batch of chocolate chip cookies came to be. Nestle offered her a lifetime’s supply of the chocolate in exchange for permission to print her recipe on the back of their bars.

 

So we’re quite partial to an accident or two at New Kings Coffee. Arguably we wouldn’t exist without them (thank you Sullivan). And whether it’s in life or in work, it’s a good reminder that even if you don’t end up where you planned to go, you could still end up in exactly the right place.

What are your favourite accidents? We’re curious to know…