Not all inventions are born out of necessity or mere curiosity with a straight-forward backstory. There were times when strange events inspired people to invent. Sometimes reasons that defied logic drove people to develop new things. The stories behind these inventions are proof that good things can be borne out of chaos. As a testament, here’s our list of 10 things that were invented because of peculiar reasons.
1. The Roller Coaster
Hosiery businessman, LaMarcus Thompson, was bothered by Americans going to places like theatres and brothels. So, he created the first roller coaster on Coney Island to distract Americans from sin.
The primary function of a roller coaster is entertainment and amusement. However, this was not the case when the first roller coaster was set up in America by LaMarcus Thompson.
He was a businessman who had found success by inventing and patenting a device that manufactured seamless hosiery. After his retirement and during a trip to the hills of Pennsylvania, Thompson was struck with the solution to his worry.
His worry was this: Americans were being badly influenced by the wealth and urbanization prevalent in the country. He wanted his fellow citizens to not indulge in sin.
He came up with a solution when he saw people riding a mining railway car for fun. An amusement ride; a sinless entertainment option in place of theatres and brothels.
Braille was originally not invented for the blind. Charles Barbier developed the precursor to Braille, a raised-dot writing system “night writing” to enable French soldiers to read combat messages in the dark without the use of lamps.
In the early 1800s, Napolean Bonaparte’s French army was losing men because of a simple reason – they couldn’t read in the dark. So, to read combat messages after daylight, they used lamps. The glow from the lamps gave away their position to the enemy and a number of them were killed.
To combat the situation, Charles Barbier, a military veteran of the French Army, invented “night writing.” The idea was to develop a system wherein the writing could be read in the dark with the touch of the fingertips instead of the eyes. This helped the soldiers to read in the dark without lamps by tracing their finger on raised dots.
Though life-saving, the system suffered a drawback. Each cell contained 12 dots. These many dots could not be felt on the fingertip with one touch.
The problem was fixed by a blind boy, Louis Braille. He modified Barbier’s 12-dot-cell into a 6-dot-cell that could be read with one touch of a fingertip, making it faster to read. (source)
3. The Stethoscope
The stethoscope was invented because a modest French doctor, Dr. Rene Theophile Hyacinthe, was embarrassed to place his ear on a young woman’s chest.
In 1816, Dr. Rene Theophile Hyacinthe Laënnec was called to diagnose a woman who showed symptoms of heart disease. He tried to check on her heart by placing his hand on her chest, but it didn’t offer any substantial diagnosis.
A practice called “immediate auscultation,” wherein a doctor places his ear on the patient’s chest would have helped him to diagnose better. But as the patient was a young female with a plump body, the 35-year-old French physician was too shy to practice it on her.
In this embarrassing moment, he recalled an incident he had witnessed a few months back in the courtyard of the Le Louvre Palace. There he had seen two children playing with a long piece of wood and a pin. A child scratched one end of the wood with the pin and the other heard its amplified sound by placing his ear on the other end.
Taking inspiration from his observation, he placed one end of a tightly rolled sheet of paper on the woman’s chest and his ear on the other. To his excitement, the impromptu instrument greatly improved the clarity of the sound of her heartbeat. And so, the stethoscope was invented. (1, 2)
4. The Bicycle
The bicycle was invented by Baron Karl von Drais because of a shortage of horses. After the eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia, the Northern Hemisphere faced severe climate changes, crop failures, and starvation of animals including horses.
In 1816, the world faced severe climate abnormalities and global temperatures decreased by 0.7–1 °F. This was a direct effect of the eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia in 1815.
The extreme weather conditions caused food shortages due to crop failures, and animals died of starvation.
Horses, which were important to the transport system of the time, died due to a lack of oats. This created a shortage of horses, pushing German inventor Baron Karl von Drais to search for alternatives.
In 1817, he was successful in inventing a mechanical means of transport that was powered by humans instead of horses. They were called “hobby horses,” the first archetype of the modern bicycle. With no gears and pedals, the 50-lb, wooden, two-wheeler was pushed forward by riders with their feet. (1, 2)
The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) has its origin in bootlegging and evading law officers. During the US Prohibition, bootleggers would modify and improve their cars for faster speed to transport illicit moonshine whiskey without getting caught. This developed a culture of modifying street cars and racing which eventually led to the formation of NASCAR.
From 1920 to 1933, the United States had forced a nationwide ban on alcohol. This boomed the sale of bootlegged whiskey produced in the Appalachian region of the United States. As the whiskey had to be transported without getting seized by the police, bootleggers would modify their cars for better speed and control.
Even after Prohibition was revoked, the demand for moonshine whiskey in the South never dried up. The cars began speeding on winding backroads, this time evading revenue officers. As a result, drivers were constantly modifying and improving their cars.
In the late 1940s, these modified cars were featured in races in the rural areas of the South. Bootleggers who had made a fortune selling moonshine invested in these races. All this led to the development of stock car racing in the US.
Eventually, in December 1947, all the top stock car owners, drivers, and mechanics assembled on the call of Bill France, a leading stock car driver, and together formed the National Association for Stock Auto Car Racing. (1, 2)