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Accidental Inventions That Changed the World

It has been said that necessity is the mother of invention. Someone sees a need for something and invents something to solve the problem. Not all inventions happen that way. Here are three examples:

Alexander Fleming was a highly disorganized scientist. Once an experiment was completed he often just set the petri aside and went on to the next experiment. So it was in 1928 that Felming finally took time off for a vacation. He left his laboratory scattered with petri dishes. Upon returning several weeks later, he found several petri dishes covered with mold. In sorting through the petri dishes, he noticed that in the petri dish that he had been growing bacteria, the mold had killed the bacteria. The mold was the fungus from the penicillium family that normally grew on bread. He wrote a scientific paper about his discovery and it was published. The discovery lay dormant until World War II. Doctors were seeking a way to treat wounds that soliders had. The wounds quicky became infected and therefore caused many soldiers to have the infected limb amputated. Doctors going over past medical jouranals found Fleming's articles and began experimenting with his discovery. It worked! Soon the mold was being made in unbelieveable quantities and rushed to the front. The name of this antibiotic? Penicillin. Fleming received the Nobel Prize for his discovery.

In the summer of 1945 scientist Percy Spencer was experimenting with a magnetron, the powerful tube used on most radar sets. One time, after using the magnetron, he reached into his pocket for a chocolate bar. The candy bar was a gooey blob. He wondered if the magnetron had anything to do with the bar becoming somewhat melted. He dicided to conduct another experiment. He set a cup of corn kernels in front of the magnetron and turned it on. Sure enough, the kernels popped. The first batch of microwave popcorn! Spencer quickly patented his discovery. The Raytheon Company snapped up his discovery and produced what they called the Radarange. It weighed 750 pounds and had a price tag of $3,000. It took nearly 30 years before the microwave oven became commonplace and in most kitchens.

Working in the research department for the 3M Company, in 1970, Spencer Silver was trying to develop a stronger adhesive. Silver developed a new adhesive, but it was even weaker than what 3M already manufactured. It stuck to objects, but could easily be lifted off. It was super weak instead of super strong. He set aside the new adhesive formula and continued working on a stronger adhesive. He never succeeded in finding a method of making a stronger adhesive. He did not give up on the "weak glue" and spent 5 years trying to find a use for it. Five years later, he convinced 3M to manufacture sheets of cork-colored paper and then cover the entire sheet on both sides with the new adhesive. Thi way people could "attach" the paper to a wall and be able to "pin" things on the make-shift bulletin board without pins. The product was a failure.

Then one Sunday four years later, another 3M scientist named Arthur Fry was singing in the church's choir. He used markers to keep his place in the hymnal, but they kept falling out of the book. Remembering Silver's adhesive, Fry used some to coat his markers. Success! With the weak adhesive, the markers stayed in place, yet lifted off without damaging the pages. 3M began distributing Post-it Notes nationwide in 1980 -- ten years after Silver developed the super weak adhesive. Today they are one of the most popular office products available.

It Takes All Kinds! - Part Two

Several subscribers emailed me to relate how much they enjoyed my "It Takes All Kinds" article in the last issue. So here goes a second round. However, instead of focusing on antiques or collectibles, I will now relate some of my humerous happenings when I worked in the Emergency Room of a 500 bed hospital in the 1970's.

  • One morning, while on break in the cafeteria, one of the nurses complained that her mailman had tried to rip her off. After many questions we finally determined what the problem was. She had seen a commercial on television offering a record album. (This was in the days before CD's.) She decided to order it so she telephoned the number on the screen and ordered it COD. When the mailman delivered the package she was suppose to pay him the $3.98 plus a shipping and COD fee. This is how she perceived that the mailman was trying to rip her off. "Afterall, the commercial said to send no money now if ordering by COD. This means it is free! None of us could make her understand that she had to pay for what she ordered! By the way, she had went to four years of college to become a registred nurse.

  • While on another break, the topic of President Nixon meeting with the Russian Premeir in the White House came up. A custodian spoke up that we "shouldn't let that Commie over here." Although he had a PHD in Poetry, this was his reasoning: "Look, all the Russian Premier has to do is excuse himself saying he had to go to the bathroom. Then sneak outside the White House and run across the street and buy a map of the United States. Then he would know where our cities are so he could bomb us."

  • One day we had a new ambulance service deliver a patient into our Emergency Room. It was the Durand - Owosso Area Ambulance Service. (These are two small towns outside of Lansing, Michigan.) On their first trip in to the Emergency Room, one of the doctors came running in to the nurses station and told us to go outside and see their new ambulence. Well, OK. Once outside we saw the problem. Although the name Durand - Owosso Area Ambulance Service was spelled out at the top of both sides, the doors presented the problem. There circled around the city seal was the acronym - DOA Ambulance Service! (For those that haven't worked in a hospital, DOA is the medical acronym for Dead on Arrival.) Once pointed out, they changed their name to Owosso - Durand Ambulance Serivce - ODA Ambulance Service.

  • I've saved the best one for last :-)

    Often people will call the Emergency Room seeking medical advice. One night, about 3 in the morning, the Emergency Room was devoid of patients. We were all sitting around the nurses station chatting away. The phone rang and the Ward Secretary answered it as was the custom. After listening to the caller's story, the Ward Secretary told the caller "Just one moment. I will get a nurse for you." The nurse went to push the button to answer the call. However, the Ward Secretary told us all we "had" to listen to this call. Each of us got by a phone and pushed the button at the same time. The conversation went something like this:

    "This is a nurse. How may I help you?"

    "I 'aint been able to poop for a week. Should I come into the Emergency Room?"

    "Not necessarily. Have you tried a laxative?"

    "What's that?"

    "You know, like Fenamint or ExLax?"

    "Oh them! No honey child i'm allergic to them."

    "Oh! When you take one what symptoms do you have?"


    "When you take one do you break out in a rash? Become nauseated?"

    "Oh no! It gives me the runs! Should I come into the Emergency Room?"

    "No. Just go to a drug store and ask the pharmicist for a Fleet's Enema."

    "Fleet's Enema? What is that?"

    "Don't worry, Just ask the pharmicist. He will tell you where to put it. Goodbye." Update

Twnety-five newspapers have been added to the Online Newspaper Archives. Events range from coverage of the French-Indian War to the death of President Eisenhower. All twenty-five newspapers are currently on auction at

April Contest


1) Only one American president received no popular votes, no electoral votes and was not a Vice-president before becoming president. Who was he?

ANSWER: I made a major error in the wording of the question. When I wrote the question I had Gerald Ford in mind. To be correct, I should have added one word: "was not an elected Vice-President." As the question was worded, Gerald Ford would not be correct as he was Vice-President before becoming president - although not elected. George Washington was also incorrect. Although he received no popular votes and was not Vice-President before becoming President, he DID receive electoral votes. David Atchinson, who some claim was President for a day, although correct in the other factors, he was NOT officially sowrn in as president. Under the circumstances, the only correct answer could have been Jefferson Davis. One person had Jefferson Davis for the answer BUT did not indicate which prize he wanted so was disqualified. Not wanting no one to win, I decided that all those answering either George Washington or Gerald Ford became qualified IF the other rules were followed.

Ninety-six people entered the contest. Thirty-two were disqualifed due to an incorrect subject heading, did not indicate which ONE prize they wanted or sent their entry too late. All prizes were awarded.

The April winners were:


    • Lois Stimax - Maryland
    • Bill Wade - South Carolina
    • Orville Groves - California
    • Michael Neft - Pennsylvania
    • Don Hupfauer - Illinois
    • Michael Casati - Massachusetts
    • Angela Gunn - Washington
    • R. A. Foster - Deleware
    • Everette Carr - Pennsylvania
    • Kevin McFarland - Texas

This Issue's Question

To enter the Grand Prize Contest, send by email an essay of not more than 75 words relating why you want to win it.

To enter the Alternate Contest, answer the question below and indicate which prize you want if you win. (Only one of each is available.)

Alternate Contest Question: Only one American President was inaugurated using his nickname rather than given name. Which President was it?

Contest Rules

  • Contest entry deadline is Monday, May 16, 2005. Later entries will be disqualified. Winners will be notified by email within 24 hours of the contest deadline. Winners names and states will be published in the next issue of the Newsletter.

  • Subscribers may enter both contests, but can only win one prize.

  • To enter, email your answer to

  • If entering for the Grand Prize, enter "Contest Entry Grand Prize" for the subject heading. Include ONLY your essay and NOT the answer to the alternate contest question.

  • If entering for any of the alternate contest prizes, enter "Contest Entry" for the subject heading and answer the Alternate Contest Question.

  • If entering both contests, send separate emails.

  • From subscribers submitting the correct answer, correct subject heading, submission received by the deadline, as well as advising which prize they want to win, 10 will be selected to win one of the prizes below.

  • Subscribers to this newsletter that won a prize in my trivia contests in the last 90 days are ineligible to win.

Grand Prize
(One winner will be selected)

Two DVD SET - History Channel Presents Troy
      • Rise and Fall of the Spartans
      • Ancient Mysteries - The odyssey of Troy
      • Treasure1 The Ancient Gold of Troy
      • The Trojan City

Alternate Contest Prizes

Shirley Temple Shorts
One hour of classic 1930's Shirley

The Jackie Robinson Story (1950)
Staring Jackie Robinson

Oliver Twist (1933)
Staring Dickie Moore before
he became a Little Rascal

Computer Game
Now you can direct the
Battle of Gettysburg
From the Union or Confederate side!
Original Historic Newspapers

Original New York Spectator historic newspaper from 1834

Original The Morning Star (Washington, DC) historic newspaper from 1860

Original Portland Transcript (Maine) historic newspaper from 1879

Original The Cuba Patriot (New York) historic newspaper from 1882

Original Norristown Register (New Jersey) historic newspaper from 1895
That's it for this issue.

Rick Brown

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