The 5 Most Insane Original Uses of Famous Products
Plenty of products we use every day have interesting little back stories to them. For instance, we bet your fourth grade self could find no greater joy than discovering that Q-tips were originally called "Baby Gays."
But what is even more interesting than that is how some world-changing inventions were created for a completely different, and often stupid, purpose. For instance ...
Lysol Was a Terrible Gynecological Snake Oil
The next time you get the chance, take a look at the warning label on a bottle of Lysol. The first one that catches the eye is "Do not spray on skin." A close second: "Extremely flammable."
Now, let's play a fun game: Bearing these in mind, see if you can read the rest of this entry without cringing.
Boy, are you doomed to fail.
That wince of sympathetic crotch pain is perfectly natural. Or the onset of a kidney stone.
The Original Use:
There really is no way to put this gently: Lysol used to be peddled as a genital disinfectant for the ladies.
When the product first came out in the 1920s, it was marketed as a feminine hygiene product and, we kid you not, a form of birth control by way of vaginal douching. Lysol ads proclaimed a plethora of benefits for pretty much every gynecological need, making claims that were 100 percent, natural horseshit. The ads were, however, backed up by a bunch of prominent European doctors no one had ever heard about (because they were completely made up). The American Medical Association eventually called the makers of Lysol out, but by then their product had already been the leading form of female birth control from 1930 to 1960.
Modern ladies, did you know that Lysol stops ghosts from cockblocking you?
The obvious problem that somehow got completely ignored for decades was that Lysol is very much a caustic poison. If you apply it to your skin, which more or less all the women were doing for freaking 30 years, it burns and itches like there is no tomorrow. Which they of course attempted to cure by applying more Lysol. Which got exactly as ugly as you imagine, to the point where words like "severe inflammation" and "fatal" get thrown around.
After the AMA finally put the cork on the genital Lysol, what was left of the company was acquired by Sterling Drug in 1967. The new owners took a look at what had been going on and, presumably after some violent retching, decided to actually take the product's beneficial side (being a kind of good, if poisonous, disinfectant) and apply it to uses it was best suited for (anything that is not a living thing, and especially not a vagina). Lysol found a new life as a cleaner and disinfectant, and scores of confused women found themselves living in a world where they suddenly had to clean floors with something they had been using to clean something else altogether for years. Something that was now clearly marked as being highly toxic.
Lysol's marketing team would go on to successfully promote Chesterfield cigarettes and the Ford Pinto.
Bubble Wrap Used to Be Wallpaper
We would probably live in a much more productive world if it weren't for bubble wrap. In addition to being one of the best products for packaging fragiles, it was everyone's favorite procrastination material before the Internet came along. Popping those air bubbles under your thumbs has to be one of the most satisfying simple pleasures in life.
As soon as the camera's off, she'll toss that bear and go for the bubble wrap.
Hell, even today popping bubble wrap is so addictive they're actually making electronic devices to simulate the experience. Lucky for us, then, that no one thought to make wallpaper out of it or anything. Humanity would've gone extinct in no time, as everyone would've just stayed home, popping their walls ...
... wait, that actually happened?
The Original Use:
The first thing you need to realize is that necessity isn't always the mother of invention -- sometimes inventors just invent something that seems cool, even if they have no idea what to do with it. For instance, aluminum foil was invented by the French in 1903, but nobody figured out that you could wrap food with it until two decades later (before that, they used it to mark racing pigeons). Bubble wrap is like that -- a couple of dudes figured out how to manufacture the stuff, and then they were like, "Well, now what?"
That's when inventors Alfred W. Fielding and Mark Chavannes decided their wondrous new material could be sold as "bubble wallpaper" and they started peddling it for the new, hip generation as the "must have" interior decoration thing. The world took a look at what they had to offer, laughed heartily and didn't even consider buying it (which is weird, because a bubble wrap house is all we can think about now).
Undeterred, Fielding and Chavannes' company Sealed Air set their sights on a new market: greenhouse insulation. It failed miserably once again. And there, the bubble wrap story would have ended ... if it hadn't been for IBM.
It would take a subdivision worth of bubble wrap wallpaper to ship this thing.
The up-and-coming technology giant had just launched their 1401 computer model and needed a way to keep the expensive equipment safe in transport. Fielding and Cavannes noticed that they had a warehouse full of stuff that was essentially tiny airbags, thought "Eh, what do we have to lose?" and somehow managed to convince IBM that the best possible way to keep their incredibly valuable high-tech computers safe was to wrap them in old, unsellable wallpaper. Bubble wrap found its niche as a packaging material and was an instant, huge hit.
Surprisingly, it only saw moderate success as a street drug.
And the rest, friends, is procrastination history. But the really strange thing is this isn't the only time the wallpaper industry has popped out something this huge ...
Play-Doh Was a Wallpaper Cleaner
Perhaps no toy relies more on imagination than Play-Doh. There it sits, a blob, waiting to be fashioned into anything a child can imagine: a snake, a worm, a bowl, an ashtray. A differently shaped blob. Those five things.
Unless you use stencils, the imagination's crutch.
So, of course such an abstract and creativity-enhancing toy must have a really, really weird-ass background to make it on a list like this.
The Original Use:
Wallpaper stain remover. It was a goddamn wallpaper stain remover.
Which primary color best matches "dilapidated"?
Play-Doh came into existence as a nameless, unpleasantly off-white wallpaper-cleaning compound sold by a company called Kutol. However, it hit a speed bump in the form of vinyl wallpapers, which, unlike bubble wrap wallpaper up there, were actually a big thing in the 1950s and played merry hell with the wallpaper-cleaner industry, as they provided consumers with the ability to clean their new wallpaper with just a little water and soap.
This was before they invented "taste."
Their product rendered obsolete, things looked bleak for Kutol -- until they learned by chance that a nursery school was using their remover goop to make Christmas ornaments. Not being ones to look a gift horse in the mouth, or for that matter think things through, Kutol immediately removed the detergents from their goop, renamed themselves the Rainbow Craft Company (despite the product only coming in that fucking off-white color at the time) and began selling their wallpaper remover as a toy.
Eventually, other colors came along and the product was rechristened Play-Doh. And that is how the only toy empire was born from the practice of letting toddlers play with household cleaning chemicals.
Anything that doesn't kill when ingested is halfway to being a great kid's toy.
Corkscrews Were Military Tools for Removing Bullets
Oh, come on! What else could corkscrews have been used for? It's right there in its name: It unscrews corks, and that's that. Ever since people have had corks that need to be removed from wine bottles, they must've had corkscrews to do it. There are even pictures of old corkscrews you can find anywhere online:
WARNING: Not for use in torture.
The Original Use:
Actually, that's not a corkscrew. It's a gun worm, one of the few products that sound like a video game enemy.
There was a time when guns were, to put it bluntly, worth slightly less than their weight in manure. Bullets got stuck in muskets all the time, which was a problem because if your bullet got stuck it meant you were unable to fire until it was free, and someone was probably shooting back at you. The gun worm was developed to remove those stuck bullets and other blockages, and were therefore essential in stopping you from getting killed.
"Shit, can we stop the war for a second? I need to find a long stick."
Now, how do corkscrews tie into all of this?
The answer is synchronicity. Cork bottle stoppers followed the traditional route of human invention, meaning people started using them before they really knew what they were doing. In this particular case, it meant corks were used to secure bottles before there actually was a product to remove them, thus forcing people to just leave the cork half hanging out so they could grip it with pliers or whatever.
With anything involving alcohol, the easiest answer is usually the best one.
Since that wasn't a very secure way to close a bottle, it was just a matter of time before people started ramming their wine bottles too tightly shut. Corks were broken, and people were still hell bent on drinking their wine. Eventually, one such someone had enough military background to know how to operate the gun worm, and realized it seemed strangely suitable for removing corks. And since situations when soldiers needed their gun worms during a battle and noticed their family had "borrowed" them for removing corks probably made for some pretty awkward moments, by the 17th century a variety of gun worm that would become known as the corkscrew was manufactured specifically for that purpose.
It also made it easier to stay drunk on campaign, which was critical for unit morale.
WD-40 Spray Was Used to Protect Nuclear Missiles
Ah, WD-40. A can of this lube spray sits in every garage in the Western world. Used most often to loosen up rusty screws and to quiet squeaky hinges, it actually has enough uses to replace MacGyver's whole toolbox. Really, they make the stuff sound like they probably had to add that little red straw that's always getting lost just so that their product wouldn't be too perfect.
It's called a smart straw, because it's clever enough to escape any mortal garage.
But there's one use their site doesn't exactly crow about: The original use for WD-40 is hand waved with only a passing mention behind several clicks of the mouse. There, the history section reads exactly like thousands of other product websites ... and then suddenly, BAM! Atlas nuclear missiles.
It's actually more of an all-consuming roar than a "BAM!"
The Original Use:
We're going to get into some advanced chemistry here:
Water causes metal to rust.
So if you want to keep metal rust-free, you need something to repel or displace the water. In 1953, a little-known company from San Diego called Rocket Chemical Company set out to make a water displacement formula to end all water displacement formulas. They got their shit together on their 40th try and named it with an abbreviation of "water displacement, 40th attempt," a random note a chemist had scribbled in his notebook, because that's what happens when your marketing budget is an apple core and a broken shoe string. That eventually got shortened to WD-40.
It's no "crystal meth," but chemists aren't famous for their skill with words.
Then they put their new hit product to its intended use: intercontinental ballistic nuclear missiles.
The very first thing WD-40 was used for was to prevent the potentially catastrophic effects of water in the outer skin of SM-65 Atlas missiles, which didn't have any kind of rust-proofing. WD-40 enabled them to keep functional and rust-free (rust on the skin of a missile is bad news -- it can make them veer off course and presumably drop right on your house).
"We should really build our world-killing missiles out of something less persnickety."
WD-40 might have remained a classified top secret abandoned to the warehouse where the government keeps the Ark of the Covenant if the employees at the Rocket Chemical Company hadn't started sneaking some home from work, having figured out it had endless uses. When the company's founder, Norm Larsen, found out, he had visions of dollar signs and started making the stuff available at retail.
See that, boss? This is what we've been trying to tell you: There are all sorts of benefits to letting your employees steal.
For products we're lucky to have, check out 6 Geniuses Who Saw Their Inventions Go Terribly Wrong. Or learn about the 6 Geniuses Who Saw Their Inventions Go Terribly Wrong.
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