Dynamite, for mining purposes.
Lived to See:
It used to blow the shit out of many people.
Alfred Nobel came from a family that liked to blow stuff up real good. His father, who had declared bankruptcy the same year Alfred was born, eventually rebuilt his wealth in the early 1850s selling explosive mines to the Russian military (still a great way to raise a few extra bucks, by the way). When the Crimean War ended and the Russian bomb cash stopped coming in, Alfred and his brothers began experimenting with ways to safely manufacture, transport and use the recently discovered explosive nitroglycerin.
"Safely" was the main issue. In 1864, the Nobel family's factory exploded, killing five employees and Alfred's youngest brother. It was this and numerous other deadly accidents that led to Nobel's invention of dynamite, a less dangerous, more easily transported form of nitroglycerin, in 1866.
#594 from the 1865 Topps trading card set "America's Wackiest Nitroglycerin Explosions."
Dynamite, as were all of Nobel's explosive inventions, was meant for industrial purposes such as rock blasting and mine excavation. While he certainly wasn't naÃÂ¯ve enough not to be able to imagine their dismembering potential, he believed that it was precisely this capability that might prohibit their violent use. "My dynamite will sooner lead to peace than a thousand world conventions," he wrote. "As soon as men will find that in one instant whole armies can be utterly destroyed, they surely will abide by golden peace."
Sure, we can totally see that.
In the annals of regret, nobody holds a candle to Alfred Nobel, and not just because any flame near him would've ignited a huge freaking explosion. Nobel's regret is celebrated annually like Christmas, and bestowed upon worthy recipients like a laurel wreath.
In 1888, after a couple of decades of armies using dynamite in various ways to blow people into chunks, Alfred's older brother Ludvig died of a heart attack. A French newspaper, having received a jumbled report, printed an obituary of Alfred instead, and not one of those nice, cheerful obituaries.
It featured the headline "The Merchant of Death is Dead," and wrote that "his fortune was amassed finding new ways to mutilate and kill." So distraught by this evidence of how he would be remembered, and probably noticing the lack of the glow that his predicted "golden peace" would have given off, Alfred Nobel bequeathed 94 percent of his fortune to establish the prizes that bear his name, honoring those who "have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind."
Holy shit, newspapers should write nasty premature obituaries more often. It seems to really make people think.
To find out about some more inventions that were a result of dumb luck, check out5 Accidental Inventions That Changed The World. Or find out about some inventions that are just plain dumb, in The 10 Most Ridiculous Inventions Ever Patented.
And go to Cracked.com's Top Picks to see we reinvented the wheel (read: ass and titties).