Inventions are fundamental for any kind of human development. They enhance our lifestyle and make it better in multiple ways. Today, we use many products without any knowledge about their history. Some of these products were not created for the purpose they are currently used for; they were invented for another purpose. However, by coincidence or destiny, scientists discovered the unique properties of these inventions. These unique properties benefitted people and were quickly adopted by the masses. After so many years, these products have a heritage of their own. We present to you 10 such things that were originally intended for a completely different purpose than they are used for now.
1. A Confederate soldier named John Stith Pemberton was looking for a cure for his morphine addiction in the 1860s. Accidentally, he mixed one of the syrups with carbonated water and invented Coca-Cola. In Coca-Cola’s first advertisement, it was marketed as an alternative to morphine.
At the age of 19, John Stith Pemberton earned his medical degree in 1850. His main interest was chemistry. He practiced surgery and medicine for a few years, but later, he decided to open his own drug store. During the American Civil War, he served in the Confederate Army.
In April 1865, he was attacked by a saber sword and had a wound in his chest. To ease his pain, he started consuming morphine. Slowly, he became addicted to the painkiller. Looking for an addiction cure, John experimented with multiple syrups and medicines.
He used coca and coca wines, eventually creating a recipe that contained extracts of kola nut and damiana, called “Pemberton’s French Wine Coca.” Later, he prepared a non-alcoholic version of this drink. During an experiment, he added carbonated water to the base syrup by mistake.
John decided to sell this as a fountain drink rather than medicine. He sold this drink as a “valuable brain tonic” that cures headaches, relieves exhaustion, and calms nerves. However, after introducing Coca-Cola to the market, he soon became ill. He sold his share in the company to the other business partners. (1, 2)
2. Lysol was advertised as a female hygiene product from the 1920s to 1950s. At that time, it was a euphemism for contraceptives. Not only did it fail to prevent pregnancy, but it also led to poisoning and deaths. By 1911, doctors had recorded 193 Lysol poisonings and five deaths from uterine irrigation.
In the first half of the 20th century, women believed that douching can help with birth control. Douching is washing the inside of the vagina with water or other mixtures of fluids. The Comstock Act of 1873 classified contraception as obscene and illicit, and thus, ordered that douching products could not be advertised as birth control.
Therefore, Lysol introduced its product as a female hygiene product. However, its main purpose was to act as a contraceptive. It was an antiseptic soap that contained cresol, a phenol compound. However, the product failed to prevent pregnancy.
By 1911, doctors registered 193 cases of Lysol poisoning and five deaths from uterine irrigation. Lysol continued to market its product as safe for women. The company finally realized that its product was not suitable for women and replaced the cresol with ortho-hydroxy-diphenyl in the formula. It pushed Lysol for cleaning toilet bowls and treating ringworm. (1, 2)
3. British scientists experimented with sildenafil citrate, now called Viagra, in 1989. It was tested among patients, mainly for high blood pressure and chest pain. Soon after, scientists noted another interesting effect of Viagra. The medicine worked well for erectile dysfunction.
Pfizer’s scientists synthesized sildenafil citrate in a research facility in England in 1989. It was mainly studied for use in medical conditions like high blood pressure and angina pectoris, a type of chest pain. The first clinical trials were conducted at the Morriston Hospital in Swansea.
These trials were conducted under the supervision of Ian Osterloh, a British clinical researcher. According to Ian, the results of phase one clinical trials clearly highlighted that sildenafil citrate had little effect on angina. Interestingly, during the experiments, it induced penile erections in the subjects.
Therefore, Pfizer decided to launch sildenafil citrate as a cure for erectile dysfunction rather than for high blood pressure and angina pectoris. The drug was patented in 1996 and was approved for use in erectile dysfunction by the FDA on 27 March 1998. It became the first oral treatment approved to treat erectile dysfunction in the United States. (source)
4. Alexander Graham Bell invented a metal detector in 1881. It was an attempt to locate a bullet lodged in the chest of US President James Garfield.
At the end of the 19th century, various scientists tried to invent a metal detector, mainly for the benefit of miners. However, all those early inventions used a lot of battery power and had other limitations. Parisian inventor Gustave Trouvé developed a hand-held device for locating and extracting metal objects.
The US President James Garfield was struck by two gunshots in 1881. Physicians failed to find the bullets in his body. To ease his pain, the president consumed morphine. In such a case of emergency, Alexander Graham Bell devised an instrument to detect metal bullets in the body.
His device was based on Trouve’s model. Unfortunately, the device did not detect any bullet in the president’s body. However, it worked on others. He reinvented the instrument and went back again to test it on the president.
This time also it did not work. After Garfield’s death in September, he successfully demonstrated his instrument to other doctors. Surgeons adopted it, and it was later used during the Boer War and World War I. (1, 2)
5. Robert Chesebrough, the inventor of Vaseline, was a firm believer in its medicinal properties. He stabbed and burned himself to prove its efficacy. He even admitted eating a spoonful of Vaseline every day. However, it was later proved that Vaseline has no curative power.
Robert Chesebrough, the inventor of Vaseline, visited an oil field in 1859. In the oil field, he learned of rod wax, a residue removed from pumps. The workers were using it to heal cuts. Robert became interested and started experimenting with it. He refined the product over a decade and finally launched it in the market as “wonder jelly.”
Pharmacists did not show much interest in his product. Therefore, Robert marketed the product by indulging in roadshows. He would burn himself with acid or stab himself in front of people. Afterward, he put on his product and showed people his previous healed injuries. When he suffered from pleurisy, he ordered his servants to cover him from head to toe with his wonder jelly.
He soon recovered. Before his death, he admitted that he had been eating a spoonful of this product every single day for years. This product was later labeled as “Vaseline.” On further experimentation, it was proved that Vaseline had no curative properties. It only keeps bacteria away. (1, 2)