Necessity May be the Mother of Invention

Jul 2, 2020 | News

Did you know that stainless steel was invented by someone trying to find a way to keep bullets from wearing away the inside of a gun barrel?  In 1912, a metallurgist named Harry Brearly from Sheffield, England was trying to come up with more durable gun. He wasn’t having much success, but after several months and many failures, he noticed that one of his metallic formulations stayed shiny while others began to rust.

Have you ever of heard of Bakelite—a hard plastic-like material once used for a list of products that includes buttons, combs, toys, billiard balls, chess pieces, electronics insulation … and literally thousands of other things? Many of these products were previously made from hardwoods (like ebony), ivory or marble and were quite expensive. Bakelite made them affordable for the masses. Yet this impressive material—discovered by Belgian-born chemist Leo Baekeland—was actually supposed to be a new kind of shellac.

Such happy accidents are actually not that uncommon in the world of invention. This is one reason we’re always so excited about the work done by our OEMDivision. It is there that RubberForm offers custom product design and development, recycled content formulation, manufacturing and packaging. Not only do we get to experience the excitement of turning our clients’ ideas for new recycled rubber products into reality, we never know what other inspirations might spring from our work.

Here’s an example from inside RubberForm’s plant doors:

One of our customers came to us asking for a better way to manage the wires on a construction site—which by law must be elevated for worker safety—we put our thinking caps on. Out of our work, we developed the Portable Electric Cable Support Tower, and realized that this product’s base was unique… What else could we make with it? How about a Sign Base Weight and an Umbrella Base that can be customized with special logo/image discs?? Yeah!

Just for fun, here are a few more examples of unintended inventions:

Saccharin, the artificial sweetener, was discovered in 1879 because a chemist at Johns Hopkins University didn’t wash his hands. After a day of experimenting with coal tar derivatives—combining them with other tasty chemicals like phosphorus, chloride, ammonia—Constantine Fahlberg was having his evening meal and noticed his rolls were unusually sweet. It turned out that the taste was coming from the chemicals on his hands, residue from his earlier experiments.

Remember Play Doh, the delight of small children and bane of parents across the world? It wasn’t originally intended as soft modeling clay for kids to exercise their earliest artistic impulses (and occasionally try to eat). Instead, it was originally used as wallpaper cleaner.

In 1953, Patsy Sherman, a chemist for 3M was trying to develop a rubber material that wouldn’t deteriorate when exposed to aircraft fuel.  One day, an assistant accidentally spilled an experimental mixture on her Sherman’s shoes. Later she noticed that the place that had been splashed stayed clean, while of the rest of the shoe got dirty. Voila! Scotchgard!

You never know when inspiration will strike. If you have a specific goal, but you aren’t sure how to reach it, we can help you fabricate a solution from recycled rubber and plastic. It’s not only fun—and cost effective—it’s great for the environment. Someday you too may have a story of innovation to share!