Inventing anything takes a lot of time and effort, sleepless nights, and mad concentration. After all the rigorous efforts, it sure is heartbreaking to see that your work isn’t useful to anyone, but some failed inventions find a new purpose over time and shine bright. We have looked around and found you a list of ten such inventions that were originally devised for an entirely different purpose than they are used for today.
1. In the 18th century, two Scottish doctors came up with the prototype of the modern-day chainsaw. It was designed as a surgical tool to aid in cases of a difficult childbirth.
No one in the right mind would associate a “chainsaw” with “childbirth,” but in fact, the initial use of chainsaws was to help in the process of childbirth. Although a similar device known as osteotome used for cutting bones was invented in 1830 by a German orthopedist Bernhard Heine and which is why the origin of the invention of the chainsaw is often debated upon.
James Jeffray and John Atkin designed the first working chainsaw prototype of the chain saw familiar today, a serrated-link saw which would cut on the concave side somewhere around 1785-1785. The initial use of the tool was for symphysiotomy and to remove diseased bones. The idea was also illustrated in John Aitken’s Principles of Midwifery or Puerperal Medicine in 1786, and according to one paper published by James Jeffary, that excision of diseased joints using the chainsaw would allow smaller wounds and save the adjacent neurovascular bundle.The surgical application of chainsaws was accepted throughout most of the 19th century.
The use of chainsaws in the timber industry only began in the early 20th century. One of the first patents for an “endless chainsaw” was awarded to Samuel J. Bens in 1905. He stated that it could be highly effective in working with the huge redwood trees. It was in the year 1926 that the first electric chainsaw was made by Andreas Stihl who further developed the gasoline chainsaw in 1929. (1, 2)
2. Listerine was invented in the 19th century as an alcohol-based surgical antiseptic. It was later sold in its distilled form as a floor cleaner and a cure for gonorrhea.
Dr. Joseph Lawrence was inspired by an English doctor by the name of Joseph Lister who was the first surgeon to demonstrate the use of carbolic acid on surgical wounds. Dr. Lawrence invented an alcohol-based surgical antiseptic that was composed of eucalyptol, menthol, methyl salicylate, and thymol, and he named it “Listerine” after Joseph Lister.
In 1879, Listerine was formulated by Dr. Joseph Lawrence along with a pharmacist, Jordan Wheat Lambert. Starting off as a surgical antiseptic, Listerine was also sold as a floor cleaner and a cure for gonorrhea. As the product did not sell well, in 1895, it was finally promoted to dentists as a cure for bad breath. It wasn’t until the 1920s that Listerine became the product we know today. It was pitched as a cure for “chronic halitosis” which was a not-so-common term for bad breath. After many marketing and advertising campaigns focused on the disadvantages of “bad breath,” Listerine became more popular and a common name in every household. (source)
3. High heels were designed by the Persian cavalries to keep stability while shooting arrows. Later in the 17th century Europe, they were worn by noblemen as a symbol of status and then eventually transformed into a part of women’s fashion.
The origin of high heels can be traced back to the 10th century where the Persians wore shoes with heels on them while riding horses. The heels would help in maintaining balance while riding the horse and also while shooting arrows as they could be easily locked into the stirrups. The design of high-heeled shoes that we are familiar with today was introduced to Europe in the 17th century by the Persian embassy of Shah Abbas I. Donning high heels became a symbol of class and status and royalty like King Louis IV of France also wore them.
According to Klaus Carl, authorities also assigned a specific heel length based on the social rank. It was a ½ inch for the common people, 1 inch for the bourgeois, 1-½ inch for the knights, 2 inches for the nobles, and 2-½ inches for the princes. Women were not far behind and quickly signed onto the ongoing fad, but the design of the heels for women’s shoes was thinner and pointier than men’s. It was only after the French Revolution in the 1780s that heels became more popular as a part of women’s fashion. Subsequently, with the invention of the sewing machine and other technologies, the production went up. Advertising such as pinup-girl posters during the world wars also helped shape the image of heels into what it is today. (1, 2)
4. Bubble wrap was invented in 1957 as wallpaper. Because it did not sell very well as a wallpaper, it was sold as greenhouse insulation until finally, it became more of a packaging item.
Bubble wrap is very common in packaging and can sometimes be therapeutic. They provide a cushion for fragile items that cannot withstand shock and easily break. The first bubble wrap was invented in 1957 by two engineers named Alfred Fielding and Marc Chavannes in Hawthorne, New Jersey. Their design consisted of two shower curtains sealed together which created small air bubbles. They originally tried to sell their invention as wallpaper but were unsuccessful. They then tried to market the bubble wrap as greenhouse insulation and finally discovered that the product could be very useful in the packaging industry.
One of their first clients was IBM which used the bubble wrap to protect the shipments of their IBM 1401 computers. Popping those small air bubbles can be very satisfying and stress relieving. In fact, Sealed Air’s corporate offices have “stress relief boxes” which are filled with Bubble wraps. To celebrate this soul-satisfying invention, Bubble Wrap Appreciation Day is celebrated on the last Monday of January. (1, 2)
5. The sanitary napkin Kotex was invented in 1920 by the Kimberly Clark company which was looking for a product that would use the extremely absorbent material they had developed for bandages during World War I. “Kotex” stands for “cotton textile.”
It was during World War I that Kimberly-Clark, a supplier of paper, invented a material from wood-processed pulp. “Cellucotton” was more absorbent than cotton and so was used as bandages during the war. After the war ended, the company was in need of a product that would use the leftover cellucotton from the war. They came up with an idea to use the material for creating sanitary napkins which weren’t common during that time. In 1920, Kotex was born. Originally marketed as “Cellunap,” the name was finally changed to Kotex. (source)