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4 Times When a Simple Accident Led to a World-Changing Discovery

In life, we tend to shy away from making mistakes. Yet, accidents can sometimes lead to incredible breakthroughs. In fact, countless inventions were the result of a pure accident! Learn more with this round-up of 4 discoveries that changed the world, courtesy of Reader’s Digest.

Penicillin

Inventor and Year: Alexander Fleming, 1928

What Happened: Halfway through an experiment with bacteria, Alexander Fleming went on vacation, leaving a dirty petri dish in the lab sink.

Big Discovery: When he got back, he found bacteria had grown all over the plate, except in an area where mold had formed. That discovery led to the formation of penicillin.

Saccharin

Inventors and Year: Constantin Fahlberg and Ira Remsen, 1879

What Happened: After spending the day studying coal tar derivatives, Fahlberg left his Johns Hopkins laboratory and went to dinner.

Big Discovery: Something he ate tasted particularly sweet, which he traced to a calorie-free chemical compound he’d spilled on his hand. He later secretly cut Remsen and the university out of millions of dollars when he patented the breakthrough discovery, saccharin.

Chewing Gum

Inventor and Year: Thomas Adams, 1870

What Happened: He was experimenting with chicle, the sap from a South American tree, as a substitute for rubber. After mounting failures, the dejected inventor popped a piece into his mouth.

Big Discovery: He enjoyed the taste so much, that he began work on patenting the product. Adams New York No. 1 became the first mass-produced chewing gum in the world.

Brandy

Inventor and Year: A Dutch shipmaster in the 16th century

What Happened: He used heat to concentrate wine in order to make it easier to transport, with the idea of adding water to reconstitute it when he arrived.

Big Discovery: Concentrated wine is better than watered-down wine. ‘Burnt wine,’ or ‘brandewijn’ in Dutch, became a big hit.

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