Almost every single item you use at the office came to existence as a result of years of research, planning and development: your Mac, the coffee maker, that cool office chair you sit on. That’s just the way inventions usually work. However, there are things all around you at the office, which began as an accident and ended up being a life-changing discovery.  Here are stories of five of the most commonly used ones.

Post-It Notes

It’s safe to say that every office you have ever been into…or walked by…or heard of, uses Post-Its. Over a billion dollars worth of them is sold every year. That’s a lot of Post-Its.

Oddly enough, the Post-It note was an accidental invention. The story goes like this.

In 1968, Dr. Spencer Silver, was working at 3M and came up to an awesome, light, pressure-sensitive adhesive. Everybody loved it and the rest is history.

Just kidding.

As cool as Dr. Silver’s adhesive was, nobody had any use for it and for over 8 years, Silver tried unsuccessfully to market his invention internally at 3M. During that time, there was another chemist at 3M, Art Fry. Art has seen Dr. Silver talk about his invention but, as most other, paid no mind to it…for a while. See, Art was an avid participant in a local church choir and, as so many of us, he was very frustrated by the fact that when he opened his hymnal book to sing, the paper bookmarks would simply slip out. We’ve all been there, Art. One day at church, in a moment of singing-induced genius, Art remembered Dr. Silver’s invention and had an idea to make bookmarks using that cool reattachable adhesive. And he wanted them to be yellow. Everybody loved it and the rest is history.

Just kidding.

While 3M did go with Fry’s idea and launched the product they then called ‘Press ‘n Peel’ in 1977, nobody bought it. It was only in 1980 when Post-It Notes finally launched successfully after a 3-year research and marketing preparation. Oh and as to the staple yellow color of the Post-Its, that was an accident too. The lab next door to the Post –It team had leftover yellow paper, which was used for initial product creation, and it stuck. Now of course, Post-it Notes are available in 57 colors, 27 sizes, and 20 fragrances.

Microwave Oven

Microwaves are omnipresent at offices, otherwise the whole frozen lunch industry would go out of business. Here are some words you could use to describe the microwave: convenient, quick, military experiment. Wait what? Yes, the microwave, like so many other amazing things in life, were brought to you by the good old military.

‘But why was the military developing kitchen appliances?’ you may ask. They weren’t. You see, the World War II spawned a whole number of military inventions and one of them was the high-power microwave radar transmitters. In 1945, one of those machines was being studied at a military contracting company by a scientist by the name of Percy Spencer. One day, Percy was working nearby an active radar when he noticed that Mr. Goodbar in his pocket melted. Instead of freaking out and running to the doctor to see if the rays melted anything else of Percy’s, the man calmly proceeded to create a metal box that would trap the microwaves and tried ‘cooking’ things like popcorn in it and it worked like magic. The microwave cooking process was patented later that same year.

The first commercially available microwave oven was released in 1947. It was called…wait for it… the RADARANGE! That is awesome. Radarange was almost 6 feet tall and weighed 750 pounds and cost $5,000 (about $52,000 in today’s cash).

Velcro

Okay, so you don’t really use Velcro in your office every day (unless you work at a hip-hop recording studio, in which case, these are a must). But your IT guys surely do. How else do you think they organize all the wires required to run your ‘wireless’ internet? Universally, wires are bundled together by little Velcro straps, so there you go.

Here is the story of Velcro. George de Mestral, a Swiss engineer, was walking his dog in the Alps (must have been a long walk) when he noticed burrs sticking to his clothing and to his dog’s fur.  The burrs were somewhat difficult to remove so he decided to examine their composition under a microscope. What he saw were hundreds of ‘hooks’ that would catch on anything with a loop. Being Swiss, George went right to work and several years later, synthetic Velcro was born. For years however, nobody wanted to use it in clothing because it was ‘ugly’. Finally in the 1960’s a fashion powerhouse, NASA, started adopting the invention and the rest of the world followed.

Plastic

We don’t need to weave in a smart comment about how you use plastic at the office daily, do we?

Here goes the story. In the beginning of 20th century, electric products universe was quickly expanding. In that exciting time, the most widely used insulator for most of the wires was shellac, which was made from the excretion of lac beetles. So everybody understood and, we imagine, fully supported Leo Baekeland, a Belgian-born chemist, when he set out to find a replacement for the grosseness that was shellac. Imagine how happy everyone was when Leo found that combining phenol (C6H5OH) and formaldehyde (HCOH) formed a material, which when mixed with wood flour, asbestos, or slate dust, created moldable, erosion and heat-resistant material. And that, boys and girls, is how plastic came to be pretty much.

Tune in for our future installments of blog posts about other things that are loosely connected to your office environment.