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10 Things that Were Originally Invented for a Different Purpose

6. An Exxon geophysicist invented Auto-Tune while analyzing seismic waves looking for oil deposits. Auto-Tune is now immensely popular in the music industry, mainly used to correct the pitch of singers’ voices.


Andy Hildebrand was a research scientist in the geophysical industry. He was working for Exxon Production Research and Landmark Graphics. He co-founded this company to create the world’s first stand-alone seismic data interpretation workstation. The company used to map sound waves to map the Earth’s surface and find oil fields.

One of his colleague’s wives joked about a possible device to help her sing in tune. Andy turned this joke into an invention. He began studying music composition. With the help of his earlier expertise in analyzing seismic waves, he brought over digital signal-processing technology from the geophysical field.

He created a vocal-pitch correction technology, called “Auto-Tune” in 1997. Initially, Auto-Tune was meant to be used discreetly. Its purpose was to correct imprecise intonations and make music more expressive. However, the use of technology increased rampantly after the song “Believe” became a hit in 1998. The makers used the technology to exaggerate the pitch of the song. (1, 2)

7. During the war, Kotex sold cellucotton bandages for soldiers. With World War I over, the company was looking for new ways to utilize the material. They did so by inventing sanitary napkins from cellucotton.

Kotex history
Cellucotton, was used in World War 1 hospitals as a bandage. Image credits: Library of congress

Founded in the 1880s, Kotex was an American paper-product company. During the war, the company sold bandages for wounded soldiers. The main ingredient in those bandages was cellucotton, made from wood pulp.

This material was five times more absorbent than cotton bandages. After World War I ended, Kotex had little use of cellucotton. Therefore, it decided to launch a new product.

Kotex news paper advertisement
Kotex news paper advertisement. Image credits:

Kotex assigned the task to Walter Luecke. The American Fund for the French Wounded gave the idea of the new product. They received letters from army nurses. Those nurses used cellucotton bandages as makeshift sanitary napkins. The company was excited as this product would appeal to almost half of the population of the country.

However, one of its manufacturers refused to create this product as the manufacturer believed that a product for menstrual periods could never be advertised. The company pushed and finally successfully introduced the product into the market. (1, 2)

8. Harry Coover and his fellow associates were trying to design gun sights for the military using cyanoacrylate. However, they found it too sticky and useless. Harry recognized the uniqueness of this material and invented Super Glue.

Dr. Harry Wesley Coover Jr. discovered cyanoacrylate in 1942 while looking for materials to create plastic gun sights for military purposes. At that time, he was working in a chemical plant of Eastman Kodak. He found the material to be quite sticky and therefore discontinued the research on the product.

Nine years later, Harry and his team at Eastman Kodak started examining cyanoacrylates again. This time, they tested cyanoacrylates for creating heat-resistant polymers for jet canopies. Cyanoacrylate did not give the desired results.

During the experiments, a chemist in the team informed Harry that he had permanently damaged an expensive refractometer by gluing it together. Harry realized that they had created a strong adhesive. Kodak started selling the adhesive as “Eastman 910” in 1958. Later, they changed the name to “Super Glue.” (1, 2)


9. Percy Spencer, an engineer, was working on an active radar set in 1945. He noticed that the microwaves from the instrument melted a chocolate bar in his pocket. On 8 October 1945, his company filed a United States patent application for Percy’s microwave cooking process.

Percy Spencer
Percy Spencer.

After World War I, Percy Spencer, a self-taught engineer, started working in an American appliance company. The company’s name changed to Raytheon in 1925. While working in the company, Percy developed detonators during World War II. He earned many patents for his work.

Percy accidentally discovered the heating effect of a high microwave beam in 1945. He kept an active radar set in his pocket. After some time, he noticed that the microwaves from the device melted his chocolate bar. The chocolate bar became sticky.

Afterward, he popped popcorn with the microwave, and the second was hard-boiling an egg. Accidentally, the egg exploded in the face of one of the experimenters. Percy created a high-density electromagnetic field by feeding microwave power from a magnetron into a metal box from which it had no way to escape.

He placed the food in the metal box and the food was quickly heated. On 8 October 1945, his company filed a United States patent application for the microwave cooking process. (1, 2)

10. Charles Leiper Grigg launched a beverage named “Bib-Label Lithiated Lemon-Lime Sodas.” The original formulation contained lithium citrate, which was used in various patent medicines at the time for improving moods. It has been used for many decades to treat manic-depression. It was marketed as a mixer for hard liquor and named as 7 Up.

7up history
Image credits:

In the first half of the twentieth century, Charles Leiper Grigg developed two orange drinks. However, those drinks did not perform well in comparison to Orange Crush, a market leader at that time. He decided to shift his focus and started working on lemon-lime flavors.

He invented a new drink called, “Bib-Label Lithiated Lemon-Lime Sodas” in October 1929. Initially, the formula of the drink contained lithium citrate that was used in various patent medicines for improving moods. It was also used for the treatment of manic-depression. While launching the product, Charles marketed the product as having effects on mood.

As the drink was introduced at the time of the stock market crash of 1929 and at the beginning of the Great Depression, this was a selling point. In 1936, this drink was renamed “7 Up.” The government banned the use of lithium citrate in soft drinks in 1948. The company was then forced to remove this mood-stabilizing drug from its formula. (1, 2, 3)


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