10 Accidental Inventions You Won't Believe


Artificial sweeteners surely top the invention list for those of you with a sweet tooth. But do you know the story of how saccharin, one of the first sweeteners, came to be?

Working in the lab of Ira Remsen at Johns Hopkins University, Constantine Fahlberg discovered saccharin by chance in 1879 while synthesizing other chemicals. As was the case with other accidental inventors, Fahlberg unknowingly carried some of his work home with him on his hands.

While eating at home, he noticed that his bread tasted particularly sweet, even though no sugar had been added to his meal. Connecting the dots, Fahlberg realized that the sweetness originated from the substance he was working with in the lab. After running more tests on the strange, sugary substance, Fahlberg patented saccharin independently -- a decision that angered Remsen, who had collaborated with Fahlberg to create the compound [source: Walters].

Although Fahlberg's poor hygiene would be considered a nightmare for most lab practices today, his discovery expanded consumers' choices in the food industry.

Years later, saccharin can be found in many products, including the popular artificial sweetener Sweet'N Low. Since saccharin is not metabolized by the body, it's virtually a non-calorie option. In reality, one gram of the sweetener contains less than five calories, which is usually reported as zero, according to U.S. Food and Drug Administration standards [source: FDA]. Saccharin appeals to people looking to sweeten food without sugar, especially those living with diabetes -- a condition in which sugar levels are already high in the bloodstream.

This next accidental invention has also changed the food industry -- one beam of waves at a time.