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Accidental Inventions of the Office

Accidental Inventions of the Office

Hard work or happy accident?

Many inventions came about as a result of mistakes, inaccuracies and evolutions. In fact, some of the features of the 21st century office that we can see around us today were the result of a strange happenstance or a thought that evolved from a different idea.

Read on for the top 5 inventions of the workplace that came about by chance…

1906 – The Humble Teabag

When you brew yourself a nice warm cuppa at the office in the morning, consider how much more complicated the process would be if you had to use loose tea leaves. Such would be the state of the world as we know it if it werenΓÇÖt for the marketing skills of Thomas Sullivan, who worked as a tea and coffee exporter in New York at the turn of the 20th century.

Sullivan sent portions of tea off to customers in carefully hand-sewn silk pouches, simply for show. Soon, he was inundated with sales ΓÇô not for tea, but tea in a bag! It appears that customers were mistakenly dunking the whole bag in hot water and loving the simple results.

1946 ΓÇô Microwave Ovens

In a bid to improve radar sensitivity during World War II and speed up production, US electronics firm Raytheon had one of its few employees, Percy Spencer, begin testing newly refined technology. After successfully improving production rates of the ΓÇÿmagnetronΓÇÖ ΓÇô or ΓÇÿmaggiesΓÇÖ as they were known to the fighter pilots who used them ΓÇô Spencer was awarded for his service to the public.

Touring a factory after the war, Spencer ΓÇô whose achievements were not yet over ΓÇô felt the chocolate bar in his pocket melting when around the device. Inspired, he sent for a packet of popcorn and held it up to the magnetron. It began popping. Raytheon began manufacturing the first microwave ovens in 1946.

1968 – Office Cubicles

Inventor Robert Propst reportedly rued the day he developed the innovative workspace that eventually led to the office cubicle. Originally, the idea was to provide employees with open desk space for their work (as opposed to stacks or trays), as well as a board to pin up work in progress and partitions to improve privacy and concentration.

While this sounds a lot like the cubicle space of today, the original design was supposedly much more open and inviting. However, the cruel laws of economics took precedence and what was once known as the ΓÇÿAction OfficeΓÇÖ became smaller and squarer until hundreds of cubicles were packed in together.

1972 – Post-It Notes

The intention at 3M in the late 1960s was to create a super-strong adhesive. But employee Spencer Silver got his formulas mixed up and ended up inventing an adhesive that was weak enough not to leave a mark but strong enough to suspend a piece of paper.

Four years later, in 1972, colleague Art Fry first put the accidental invention to practical use, sticking papers in his hymn book to mark his place. The idea quickly revolutionised office life around the world and, as of 2011, 3M is generating around $29.6 million (over £19 million) in sales each year.

1977 – The Inkjet Printer

Far from being the deeply scientific and abstractedly thought-out result of ages of pondering and technological advancement, the inkjet printer that graces many of our offices was first invented as the result of a clumsy accident.

Legend has it that an engineer at Canon set down a hot iron on top of an ink pen. The resulting expulsion of the ink from the pen in a sudden movement first sowed the seeds of thought that led to ΓÇô quite literally ΓÇô ΓÇÿinkjetΓÇÖ printing.

Do you know of any inventions that surprised the inventor as much as the consumer? Tell us in the comments below.

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