3A Bunch of Classic Toys (World War II)
In 1943, naval engineer Richard James was working on a doozy of a problem. Delicate equipment aboard battleships had this way of getting knocked the hell around during high seas. So James was messing around with springs to support the phonogram machines or whatever, when what do you know? He dropped one of the springs. And instead of just sitting there like a punk, the little spring kind of stepped away in a very slinky-like manner.
"Holy shit! Jagged metal springs are the perfect child's toy.
Knowing that there was nothing kids loved more than coiled metal, James figured he just might have invented the world's greatest toy ever. Within two years, James found the perfect metal for his toy idea and scored a $500 loan to build his first batch, which he sold in 90 minutes. A few years later, probably still haunted by his failure to actually keep the battleship equipment safe, James gave it all up and ran away to join a cult. Go figure.
While the Slinky was discovered by accident, tons of government dollars worth of research were poured into Silly Putty. In 1943, the wartime rubber shortage was so bad that the government asked private companies to create a synthetic rubber substitute. General Electric had a whole team of scientists throw together every chemical they could think of in hopes that it would create something rubber-like.
Some successes were more notable than others.
One squishy mixture proved to have surprising qualities: It bounced and stretched, it would not stick and it only melted at very high temperatures. Things were looking up until someone pointed out that you can't make tires out of something with the malleability of wet chewing gum, even if it can totally copy the newspaper.
"Mr. President, I'd ask you to reserve judgment until you see it make Blondie look like she's blowing Dagwood."
It was so useless at replacing rubber that GE tried to send it to scientists around the world in hopes that someone, anyone, could figure out something to do with it. Eventually, a toy manufacturer mentioned that little kids will pretty much play with any goddamned thing you give them. He figured that he might as well try to sell the stuff by packing it in small eggs and advertising it through novelty catalogs. The rest is history. Cheap, $2 in a pink plastic egg history.
Finally, there's Walter "Fred" Morrison.
The patron saint of hipsters.
Fred, like most other college kids in the 1930s, spent a great deal of time throwing around pie pans from the Frisbie Baking Company. But it wasn't until he joined the Air Force that he learned about aerodynamics and he realized he was doing science during those pan-flinging sessions.
So, Fred took what he learned about basic aerodynamics from the Air Force and made a prototype of a better flying disc, that didn't have bits of pie crust stuck to it. And instead of tin, he went with plastic. He dubbed his creation the "Pluto Platter," which was ultimately renamed the "Frisbee" and went on to provide hardcore leaping motivation for extreme college kids everywhere.
It is impossible to say the word "extreme" without sarcasm.
2Tabasco Sauce (The Civil War)
If you're thinking that you're about to hear Tabasco sauce was originally brewed as a cannon lubricant or some kind of chemical weapon, relax. The Civil War gave us Tabasco in a much more roundabout way.
Totally worth it.
Edmund McIlhenny was a self-made man, the kind of guy who picked himself up by the bootstraps, worked 12 hours a day and became a prominent New Orleans banker, just in time for the American Civil War to erupt and destroy everything he'd worked so hard to achieve.
Once Union soldiers invaded his town, McIlhenny fled with his family to his wife's home at a place called Avery Island, which wasn't actually an island at all, unless you consider a big ol' salt dome an "island." McIlhenny started a new life helping to run the family salt mines, which was actually pretty good business. The Avery Island salt mine provided the Confederacy with 22 million pounds of salt during the war, and before he knew it, McIlhenny was back on his feet!
Which was more than a lot of folks could say.
That is, until Union forces mounted an attack on his salt mine and he had to flee once more. This time they went to Texas, where the McIlhennys wisely stayed put until the end of the war. And while the cat's away, the Union soldiers will plunder your plantation and burn your crops to the ground, as the McIlhenny family discovered upon their return.
"Look men, off in the distance! Something we haven't burnt yet!"
Everything had been destroyed, Yankee-style, and the only crops that seemed to thrive in the ashy, salty soil were some pepper plants... from the Mexican state of Tabasco.
(Thunder crashes ominously in the background)
Thanks to the war, in 1868 those peppers were pretty much the only thing McIlhenny had going for him. So, he mixed them up with some Avery Island salt, vinegar, other peppers and wham! Tabasco sauce was born. He bottled his concoction in some old perfume bottles and started shipping to them grocers around the country. Two years later he got a patent, and the McIlhenny family has been running the Tabasco brand ever since.
His son went on to ride with Teddy Roosevelt, where his face played host to an impressive satellite mustache.