8 of the Most Ironic Inventions Ever
Space-age infant formula, a dangerous safety device, and more products that prove the uncertainty of innovation.
A dentist invented cotton candy
Some historians date spun sugar, or “fairy floss,” to 19th century Europe. But the machine-spun, nearly 100 per cent sugar variety that is an amusement park staple was invented by none other than New Orleans dentist Joseph Lascaux in 1921. Perhaps a bid for more patients?
Dynamite was meant for peaceful purposes
In 1867, Swedish chemist and engineer Alfred Nobel introduced his shelf-stable mixture of nitroglycerin, powdered rock, and sodium carbonate as an alternative to the volatile nitroglycerin-only explosives meant for blasting rock. Later, Nobel commented that he hoped that his explosive would help stop war, but he didn’t live long enough to see the damage it caused in World War I.
The inventor of the parachute died testing it
French tailor Franz Reichelt had an admirable goal when he began designing cloth “flying suits” in the early 20th century. He wanted to provide a suit for pilots that would allow them to survive a fall should they be forced to leave their aircraft. Several tests of the suit had been successful using dummies, but he insisted he try out a jump from the Eiffel Tower himself. The parachute failed to deploy and Reichelt died after hitting the ground at the base of the tower.
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Infant formula is a product of NASA
Didn’t realize that the world’s preeminent space program was is in the baby business? It wasn’t intentional, but in the 1980s, Martek, a bioscience company, partnered with NASA to develop a nutritional supplement to sustain astronauts during long-duration space flights. Coincidentally, the supplement was made, in part, of microalgae high in DHA and ARA, two fatty acids important for infant development. When the partnership was over, Martek made a spin-off of the supplement, now found in nearly 95 per cent of infant formula on the market today.
The microchip was meant for war-time purposes
After World War II, the U.S. military provided funding to several groups to develop a tiny device to help make missile targeting more accurate. Without this startup money, companies such as Texas Instruments and Intel may not have developed the microchip, the foundation of nearly all modern electronic devices, as quickly as they did.
Chinese takeout boxes are completely American
The decidedly American Friday-night tradition of Chinese takeout just got a little more so. The iconic boxes that house precious General Tso’s were actually invented by a Chicago inventor in 1894. They’re inspired by origami (which makes them at least a little bit Chinese, right?), as you can see by the way the boxes are folded. In the 1970s, once Chinese food was well embedded into the American vernacular, a graphic designer slapped the Chinese-inspired designs on the boxes.
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The inventor of the stop sign never got to use it
William Phelps Eno, the “Father of Traffic Safety,” invented the stop sign in the early 1900s. His other inventions include traffic circles, one-way streets, and crosswalks, among other things. But the irony of this is that Eno never learned how to drive, so he was never able to use or benefit from his inventions.
Piñatas, the Mexican party staple, actually aren’t Mexican at all
Yeah, you read that right. The ubiquitous, themed party staple didn’t actually originate in Mexico. Though they remain an integral part in Mexican culture, they arrived in Mexico from the Spanish Conquistadors (remember them from middle school history class?). But apparently, the Conquistadors didn’t originate it either. They got it from the Italians, who got it from the Chinese. So it seems that the goodie-filled party favor is shared by many cultures.
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