"Congreves," the first successful friction matches ever successfully sold.

"Congreves," the first successful friction matches ever successfully sold.

This week we commemorate the 186th anniversary of the first-ever sale of friction matches.

As the story goes, a young Englishman named John Walker had become rather sickened by his surgeon apprenticeship and left the field in 1818 for a less gruesome job as a chemist: something he was apparently (and quite fortunately) good at!

By Walker’s time, a number of chemicals were known to create fire quickly, but none had yet figured out how to keep this quick flame alive and transfer it to a slower burning substance like wood or coal. Walker found himself dedicating many hours in his High Street shop in Stockton-on-Tees to the discovery of such a solution. Continue reading “Surgery & Sandpaper: The Match Turns 186”

superballs2Norman Stingley was not attempting to produce a new fad when he began conducting experiments with highly resilient rubber. The new compound manufactured by Stingley became unbelievably bouncy when compressed under extreme pressure.

Stingley was unsure what to do with his new product. He could not figure out a use for this new rubber. He offered the product to his employer, Bettis Rubber Company but they were not interested in the material. The material was not very durable and they feared it would never be marketable.

Eventually, Stingley showed his rubber to Wham-O Manufacturing Company, the very successful makers of the Hula Hoop and Frisbee. The company agreed to work with Stingley on the compound. For nearly two years, they worked to design a more durable rubber. They did finally succeed and produced a rubber that stood up to regular wear known as Zectron. The SuperBall was born. Continue reading “Zectron?”

saranwrapadSaran wrap is another product which can be added to the list of accidental inventions. Ralph Wiley was not even working as a scientist when he discovered the substance that would become Saran wrap.

In 1933, Wiley was working in a laboratory at Dow Chemical cleaning glassware when he found polyvinylidene chloride, the chemical that would later become Saran Wrap. He came across the substance in a vial that he could not scrub clean. Wiley called this chemical “eonite” after a material in the Little Orphan Annie comic strip.

Wiley applied for a patent on July 1, 1936. He was granted US Patent 2,160,931 on June 6, 1939 for
Co-Polymerization Products.

Researchers at Dow turned eonite into a greasy, dark green film. The product was not originally used to wrap food. The substance was used first by the military to protect fighter plants against salty sea spray and then carmakers used it for upholstery. It was not until Dow created a version without the smell and green color that it was used for food protection. Continue reading “Yes, Saran Wrap Was An Accident Too…”

Question from Gary:

Wasn’t there a published US application that the attorney did NOT remove a comment before it automatically published – something like I bet my inventors won’t even read any of this???

Hello Gary,

What a great question!!!

Yes, there was an application where a comment which should have been removed was published.

US Patent Application 20040161257 filed on July 21, 2003 for a display control apparatus for image forming apparatus had a very interesting claim included. Claim 9 of the application read as follows:
The method of providing user interface displays in an image forming apparatus which is really a bogus claim included amongst real claims, and which should be removed before filing; wherein the claim is included to determine if the inventor actually read the claims and the inventor should instruct the attorneys to remove the claim.

The actual patent, US patent 7305199, issued December 4, 2007 does not have this bogus claim included.

You can view the application here.
The patent can be see here.

ivorysoapTo better compete within the soap industry, Proctor & Gamble sought to create a high quality, affordable, duel bath bar and laundry product. In 1878, the first successful formula was created and produced under the name of White Soap.

Rumor has it that the floating soap formula was invented accidentally by one of the Proctor & Gamble’s employees. In 1879, an unknown soap maker left the mixer unattended and running while out for lunch. A batch of White Soap had been over-whipped and unusual amounts of air found its way into the mixture. The soap mixture continued through the rest of the production process and was shipped for consumers. Soon after, company officials began receiving letters requesting more floating soap. The addition of whipped air to the mixture made the soap lighter than water, so it floated.

This is a nice story of a mistake becoming one of Proctor & Gamble’s most successful products, but is it true? According to Proctor & Gamble’s company archivist, Ed Rider, this is a false wives’ tale. Rider had found documentation that a chemist, James N. Gamble, created the floating soap formula. In a document, James Gamble noted “I made floating soap today. I think we’ll make all of our stock that way.” The floating soap had incredible marketing potential and small amounts of air were intentionally whipped into the mixture. This process also produced a smooth textured bar of soap that was easy to lather. Continue reading “Soap Floats – The Invention of Ivory Soap”

SupergluepatentYou can add Super Glue to your list of inventions that were discovered by accident. Dr. Harry Coover was not trying to invent a super-sticky substance when he came across Super Glue. In 1945, Dr. Coover was actually working on a way to create a clear plastic to use in precision gunsights for Eastman Kodak.

Cyanoacrylates were not a suitable material for this application. Dr. Coover discovered that the chemicals were extremely sticky. Moisture caused the chemical to polymerize. Every object has a thin layer of moisture so the chemical bonded almost any objects together. Testing on the cyanoacrylates was abandoned for now.

In 1952, Dr. Coover was involved in a very different project. He was working in the Eastman Kodak’s chemical plant overseeing a group of chemist who were looking for heat-resistant polymers for jet airplane cockpits. A rediscovery of the cyanoacrylates showed their full potential. They began testing the monomer and discovered that it did not require heat or pressure to adhere two objects. Again every set of objects that was tested were permanently bonded by the substance.

This time Dr. Coover saw an opportunity to create a new adhesive. He applied for a patent on June 2, 1954. On October 23, 1956, he received United States Patent 2,768,109 for Alcohol-Catalyzed Cyanoacrylate Adhesive Compositions. After refining the chemical, a new product originally known as Eastman 910 hit store shelves in 1958. Continue reading “Wow…That’s Sticky!”

Microwave Oven PatentYou can add the microwave oven to the list of products invented by accident. Dr. Percy Spencer was not trying to invent a faster way to cook when he discovered the principal behind the microwave oven. Instead, Spencer was working for the Raytheon Corporation testing a new type of vacuum tube known as a magnetron. One day, he discovered that a candy bar which he had in his pocket had melted while working with the magnetron. This led to many more experiments with the tube.

The first two foods to be intentionally heated with the tube were popcorn and an egg. Spencer put some popcorn kernels near the tube and watched as the popcorn cracked and pop in the lab. Then, Spencer tried the experiment with an egg. The internal temperature of the egg rose causing it to explode when placed near the tube. Continue reading “A Quick Hot Dog: Invention of the Microwave”

Bubble Wrap PatentIn 1957, Alfred W. Fielding and Marc Chavannes set out to make a new type of wallpaper. Instead, they changed the world of packaging. They were attempting to develop an easy to install and clean wallpaper with a paper backing. The partners sealed two shower curtains together creating a cluster of small bubbles between the two layers. For this invention, they received U.S. Patent No. 3,142,599 on July 28, 1964 for a Method for Making Laminated Cushioning Material.

The product was unsuccessful as wallpaper. Looking for other ways to use the plastic, the duo even tried to sell it as greenhouse insulation. The use of the air cushioned material as protective packaging was discovered later. Continue reading “Shower Curtain Packing Material? Invention of Bubble Wrap”

Question from Paul T.:
Pretzels are a great snack to eat while watching the big game. Who invented the pretzel?

The origin of soft pretzels can be traced to a frustrated teacher in Northern Italy. In 610, a monk was baking unleavened bread for Lent. The monk decided to use some of the left over dough to reward children for learning their prayers. He rolled the extra dough into ropes and then twisted it to look like praying hands. He then baked his treats. The monk named his snack “pretiola”, Latin for “little reward”. The treats were a hit with both his students and their parents. Today, 1400 years later, we are still munching on snacks that are a variety of this original idea.