6 World-Changing Ideas Ignored For Stupid Reasons

Alexander Graham Bell (questionably) invented the telephone, and communication was never the same again. Al Gore (never claimed to have) invented the internet, and the quest for porn was never fruitless again. Steve Jobs took the telephone and the internet and squished them together, and now every person has the entirety of the world's porn in their pants at all times. But, sometimes life-changing ideas don't catch on the first time someone thinks of them, leaving future internet comedy writers to ponder what might have been.

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6
Benjamin Jesty Discovers Vaccination, Keeps It Secret To Avoid Flak From His Neighbors

Julo/Wiki Commons

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Despite the alarming number of former Playboy models and Day-Glo presidential candidates against them, there's a decent chance that you owe your very existence to vaccines. If either of your great-great-grandparents happened to be strolling around Continental Europe back in the 18th century, they were damned likely to trip and fall face-first into a heaping puddle of smallpox. For much of the century, the best defense against the disease was variolation -- basically, infecting people with live smallpox virus in hopes that they would a) build an immunity to the disease and b) not die agonizingly while doing so (they often did).

George Kirtland
This involved rubbing yourself with smallpox scabs. Fun!

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But then, in 1774, a British farmer named Benjamin Jesty had an idea. When smallpox struck his small town, Jesty decided not to variolate his family. Instead, he took a cue from local folklore, found a cow infected with cowpox (a disease similar to but less dangerous than smallpox), and jabbed the infected pus from its udders into the arms of his wife and sons with a darning needle, like a scene straight out of a body piercing purveyor's worst nightmares. Nightmarish as it sounds, however, it worked -- though he didn't have a fancy name for the procedure, farmer Jesty had discovered the vaccination for a plague that had wantonly slaughtered humans since about 10,000 BC.

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Why Didn't It Take Off?

When Jesty's neighbors discovered that he had put cow inside his wife and children in some way other than the one true manner in which God intended, they brandished so many pitchforks that he moved his family to a village 50 miles away. Plus, Jesty was a farmer, not a doctor -- he wanted to spend his days milking cows, not draining boils and having literally everyone asking him to "look at this thing on my back."

Roine Magnusson/Stone/Getty Images
There was only one fluid he liked squeezing out.

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Jesty's vaccine remained largely unknown for 22 years, until fellow Englishman Edward Jenner independently discovered it in a terrifyingly similar cow pus experiment in 1796. Jenner published his findings two years later, and the practice gradually became more commonplace until finally, in 1840, the British government banned variolation and made vaccination mandatory.

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The World-Changing Consequence:

In the waning years of the 18th century, smallpox killed an estimated 400,000 Europeans a year. So, that 22-year delay in the discovery of the vaccine almost certainly led to millions of needless, gratuitously pus-filled deaths. In some alternate timeline, an earlier smallpox vaccination saved both the ancestor of the guy who successfully assassinated Hitler and your filthy-rich distant uncle. That's right: On Jesty-Earth, the Holocaust never happened, and you drive a solid gold Ferrari. But, Scott Baio now rules the Earth with an iron fist. It's a trade-off.

Michael William Sharp
And we lost 22 years of buttermaking, so really, it balances out.

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5
Hanaoka Seishu Invents Painless Surgery, Can't Tell The World Because His Government Doesn't Like To Share

Hanaoka Seishu

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Imagine you're living in the 1800s, just going about your old-timey life of riding penny-farthings and accusing your neighbors of witchcraft, when you discover that your pancreas has exploded. It's either due to the vibrations from the penny-farthing or the inevitable consequence of making so many witch-enemies. Now you need surgery, and that means you're going to die. In horrible agony. Because it's the 1800s, and everything sucks.

Security Pacific National Bank Collection
For instance, trying to get on and off these things had a 45 percent mortality rate.

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And the worst part? You didn't even need to! Because anesthesia was perfected in the early 19th century. Starting in about 1785, Japanese surgeon Hanaoka Seishu experimented with a recipe for an herbal anesthetic based on ancient Chinese medicine, using his wife as a willing guinea pig. He, uh ... he permanently blinded her while testing dosages. He wasn't a great husband, but he was a pretty good doctor! By 1804, he had perfected a formula and went on to use it while removing tumors, treating anal fistula, and even performing plastic surgeries. He clocked a total of 156 surgeries for breast cancer alone.

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Why Didn't It Take Off?

It was in Japan. Japan's government practiced an isolationist foreign policy known as Sakoku, under which no one could leave or enter the borders -- at least, not with their heads still attached. Greater mankind wasn't put on the path to painless surgery until 1842, when American surgeon Crawford W. Long first used ether to extract a tumor from a patient in Georgia with minimal squirming.

Wiki Commons
"Note: The ether is for the patient, not for Dr. Long. He just always has that glazed look."

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The World-Changing Consequence:

That 40-year gap in the availability of anesthesia meant that countless patients didn't get the life-saving surgery they required. At the time, it was considered a last resort -- from 1821 to 1846, Massachusetts General Hospital performed maybe one surgery per month. Before anesthesia, the greatest surgeons were praised for their ability to get that s**t over with as quickly as possible. And focusing on speed didn't exactly make for the safest operating procedures: The surgeons at St Bartholomew's Hospital in London, for example, lost one in every four patients.

Thomas Hosmer Shepherd
Londoners affectionately called it "Bart's Corpse Shop."

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Undergoing surgery in the mid-19th century was as likely to kill you as climbing Everest in the mid-20th century. And bragging about "surviving colon surgery" didn't get you nearly the play of climbing Everest.

4
David Edward Hughes Builds A Working Radio Before The Existence Of Radio Waves Is Proven, His Colleagues Call BS

Popular Science

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Radio waves were first theorized by James Clerk Maxwell in 1867, but actually proving their existence proved problematic. In an effort to inspire someone to track down those elusive little bastards, the Prussian Academy of Sciences in Berlin promised a prize of 955 German marks to anyone who could experimentally validate Maxwell before March 1, 1882. And British inventor David Edward Hughes did just that -- three years prior to the deadline, no less.

Wiki Commons
"955 marks solves a lot of bills, man."

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Hughes was the inventor of the induction balance, and in 1879, while playing around with his new homebuilt telephone, he noticed that the induction balance caused the telephone to click from clear across the room. Hughes proceeded to wander the streets of London with his battery-powered telephone receiver in what some have dubbed "the world's first mobile phone call," testing the signal strength and range of radio waves a good 16 years before Guglielmo Marconi demonstrated wireless transmission to the world. Hughes was so excited about his findings that he trotted straight to the Royal Society to show his pals.

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Why Didn't It Take Off?

According to official records, in the opinions of the esteemed Dr. Dream Squasher and the eminent Professor Hope Flusher, Hughes' discovery could be easily explained by known electromagnetic phenomena and could in no way be attributed to the existence of "electric waves." This blow was such a downer for Hughes that he immediately wrote off the 955 marks, ceased his experiments, and straight-up refused to write up his work. Nearly a decade later, Heinrich Hertz officially produced electromagnetic waves in a lab. And that's why we measure their frequency in hertz and not in hughes.

Robert Krewaldt
"Hey, Hughes, hertz, don't it?"

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The World-Changing Consequence:

The U.S. Army Signal Corps first used portable radio communication on the battlefield in 1906. But, they were probably wishing like hell for it in the Spanish-American and Philippine-American wars of just a few short years prior, during which being a member of the Signal Corps meant manually running telegraph lines between communication points. Those communication points were, of course, in the middle of active battlefields. Yes, "communications engineer" used to be a badass title.

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3
Isaac Newton Invents A Life-Saving Navigation Tool For Sailors, Can't Be Arsed To Tell Anyone About It

Sir Godfrey Kneller?

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Because we humans are better at acting than planning, we mastered sailing long before we mastered knowing where the f**k we were going. For much of maritime history, sailors calculated their longitude by planting one thumb firmly up their asses and spinning around until a direction just felt right.

Fortunately, Isaac Newton tackled this problem in 1699 by designing the reflecting quadrant (also called the octant or sextant, depending on its measurement range and bedroom prowess). This device increased the accuracy of measuring the angle between an object in the sky and the horizon, thus exponentially increasing the usefulness of celestial navigation.

NOAA
But, if you still like a finger up the butt with your sextant, we won't judge you.

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Why Didn't It Take Off?

Being more of an idea guy, Newton never actually constructed his design. Instead, he gave it to precisely one man: astronomer Edmond Halley, of Halley's Comet fame. Apparently, neither man thought it was worth mentioning in detail. Ever.

In fact, the only mention in either man's lifetime came when John Hadley independently designed the octant in 1730. When Hadley presented his invention to the Royal Society the following year, an elderly Halley noted that it looked an awful lot like an invention proposed by the recently deceased Isaac Newton, only to later retract his statement and opine that Hadley's device was different enough to be original.

John Hadley
"See, this one's facing right, whereas Newton's was facing left."

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In actuality, the main difference between Hadley's and Newton's octants was the fact that Newton's was invented three full decades earlier. Of course, the world wouldn't know that until after Halley's death in 1742, when Newton's design was finally published after being recovered from the late astronomer's notes.

The World-Changing Consequence:

In 1707 alone, the Royal Navy of the United Kingdom lost four ships and as many as 2,000 sailors (estimates vary) in severe weather off the Isles of Scilly. It was later determined that the ships crashed due in no small part to their navigators' inability to -- you guessed it -- accurately calculate their longitude. Any Kraken involvement is purely speculation on our part, but there was definitely Kraken involvement.

Pierre Denys de Montfort
Awoken, of course, by Halley's Comet.

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2
Michael Servetus Figures Out How The Heart Works, Publishes His Findings In A Book Chock Full Of Heresy

Andreas Vesalius

For some 1,400 years, the predominating theory of blood circulation was that of ancient Greek physician Galen, who claimed the two types of blood -- dark (now known to be venous) and light (now known to be arterial) -- were produced by the liver and the heart, respectively, and consumed by the body's organs like some kind of vampire Slurpee. But then, along came Spanish-born French polymath Michael Servetus in 1553, who accurately described pulmonary circulation -- the process by which oxygenated blood is pumped away from the heart, through the lungs to be oxygenated, and then back to the heart -- in an era in which most people still believed that black cats were the literal spawn of Satan.

Oliver Moggridge / EyeEm/EyeEm/Getty Images
He discovered the truth about blood by chopping cats up.

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Why Didn't It Take Off?

Unfortunately, Servetus' hobby as an anatomical wunderkind played second fiddle to his day job as a professional hell raiser. When he published his pulmonary discoveries, it was in a book called Christianismi Restitutio (or The Restoration Of Christianity) as an illustrated side note to his enthusiastic rejection of Christian doctrines such as the Trinity and the concept of predestination. But, why even discuss blood circulation in a book on religion? Well, Servetus believed that a person's soul was literally in his blood, therefore to comprehend the blood was to comprehend the soul.

Michael Servetus
He thought soul food was rare steak.

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However, this was the 16th century, and nobody talked smack on our boy Jehovah in the 16th century. Servetus was captured and burned at the stake in Geneva, with kindling provided by the entire print run of his ungodly book. The next time anyone described blood circulation with the same level of accuracy was more than 70 years later in William Harvey's book De Motu Cordis, which Harvey based largely on ... Servetus' book, a few partial copies of which had managed to survive the Spanish Inquisition's knowledge barbecue.

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The World-Changing Consequence:

Galen also thought the blood didn't circulate and, as a result, could build up in the body until it either went stagnant or was drained out. This led directly to untold generations of quacks performing bloodletting on trusting patients to treat everything from the green apple splatters to epilepsy, using tools ranging from leeches to unsterile knives. And you just don't know the thrill of getting stabbed until you've been stabbed with something unsterile.

Oliver Moggridge / EyeEm/EyeEm/Getty Images
Like a cat claw.

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1
Englishmen Discover The Catalyst Of The Industrial Revolution, Use It To Make Beer

J. Amman

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One of the advances that spurred the Industrial Revolution was the ability to produce iron cheaply and rapidly. This simply wasn't possible prior to the early 1700s, because iron production required charcoal, and charcoal was relatively pricey and difficult to get in large enough quantities. One solution was to use cheaper and more accessible coal instead, but that created another problem: When coal burns, it releases sulfur and other impurities, and that makes for s****y iron.

Jensen Walker/Blend Images/Getty Images
Weapons forged in hell are surprisingly awful.

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Meanwhile, English beer brewers were encountering the very same problem -- toasting their malt with coal simply wouldn't do, because coal smelled (and tasted) horrible, and this was still a good few-hundred years before American breweries figured out how to trick the public into buying s****y beer via bouncing breasts and Clydesdales. In 1640, brewers discovered the solution: by taking cheap coal and baking the ever-loving s**t out of it in an airtight oven, they produced a chemically pure fuel called coke. Though they didn't realize it, they had just discovered the perfect material to cast the iron wheels of human progress.

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Why Didn't It Take Off?

The brewers didn't tell anybody. Why would they? They were only concerned with human advancement inasmuch as selling a beer advances money into their pockets. While this was admittedly shortsighted on their part -- the Industrial Revolution created tools and technology that made it possible to mass produce beer, after all -- they can hardly be blamed for not being prophetic enough to realize that their twice-baked coal was the very key to transforming them from humble tradesmen into wealthy titans of industry.

Stahlkocher/Wiki Commons
Don't put too much trust in people mixing beer and coke.

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It would take 70 years and the nigh-complete decimation of England's forests for charcoal production before metallurgist Abraham Darby discovered the brewmasters' best-kept secret. Darby was the first to fire an iron blast furnace with coke in 1709, leading to the incidental discovery that coke allowed for larger blast furnaces, which, in turn, led to an explosion in iron production.

The World-Changing Consequence:

More iron changed everything. Darby's foundry helped create the first iron rails for railways and the first cast iron components for civil engineering. If metallurgists had been aware of coke in the 1640s, said knowledge could conceivably have kick-started the Industrial Revolution the better part of a century earlier. That means mass manufacturing, steam power, machine tools, and urbanization would have all arrived on the scene earlier as well. Imagine the Founding Fathers arriving at the Constitutional Convention on trains, Lewis and Clark writing about their expedition on typewriters, and Abraham Lincoln never attending that fateful play -- because he waited for the movie.

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Instead, we focused on beer.

Vicheslav/iStock/Getty Images
We may have made the right call this time, actually.

When Logan Strain isn't writing about the history of technology, he's writing about the future of ecotechnology at GreenFuture.io. Follow him on Twitter.

Deep inside us all behind our political leanings, our moral codes and our private biases, there is a cause so colossally stupid, we surprise ourselves with how much we care. Whether it's toilet paper position, fedoras on men or Oxford commas, we each harbor a preference so powerful we can't help but proselytize to the world. In this episode of the Cracked podcast, guest host Soren Bowie is joined by Cody Johnston, Michael Swaim and special guests to discuss the most trivial things we will argue about until the day we die. Get your tickets here!

For more sad tales of innovation, check out 6 Geniuses Who Saw Their Inventions Turn Evil and 6 Inventors Who Changed The World And Got Screwed In Return.

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