55 Weird Stories About How Famous Things Got Invented
Not many people know this, but the RTX 3080 graphics card from Nvidia was invented completely by chance. A customer came up to the electronic components shop late at night and said, "Hey, do you have any components for sale?" Turns out they were all out, but the one employee still on duty said, "Let's see what I can whip up for you." He put some circuitry in a blender, turned it on, and then boom, he discovered he had created the RTX 3080.
Okay, that story's obviously not true. But the following ones are.
1. The Bicycle
The bicycle was invented following the summer of 1816, when a massive volcanic eruption caused worldwide famine. People couldn't feed their horses and killed their horses for meat, so Baron Karl von Drais invented a new form of transport.
Jacuzzis weren't decadent luxuries originally. Candido Jacuzzi invented the device to treat his son's rheumatoid arthritis.
Though we all know Alexander Graham Bell as the inventor of the telephone, Elisha Gray submitted a patent for the phone the very same day as Bell. At the time, neither of them had an actual working phone, but Bell won the patent war, so he got to continue tinkering.
4. The Pill
The birth control pill was invented by John Rock, a devout Catholic who earlier ran a clinic that taught Catholicism-approved birth control methods. He thought the church might embrace his new invention. He was wrong.
Doorknobs were invented much later than you'd think -- Black teenager Osbourn Dorsey invented it in 1878. Before that, people could only latch doors shut with heavy bars.
6. Baby Monitors
Lobotomies sound like the worst kind of abuse, but they were originally invented as the humane alternative to mental hospitals. With a lobotomy, the inventors reasoned, the patient was able to go home.
Cocktails have existed in various forms for centuries, but they really gained their modern form thanks to Prohibition in America. People used them to cover up the foul taste of bootleg liquor.
The practice of chiropractic was invented by a spiritualist named D.D. Palmer. He claimed to have received the idea from a ghost and said chiropractic can heal your soul and raise your intellect.
10. The Pacemaker
Wilson Greatbatch wasn't trying to invent the artificial pacemaker. He was trying to detect a heartbeat, not create it. But he used the wrong transistor, so his device sent heart pulses out instead.
11. The Telegraph
Samuel Morse invented Morse code and the telegraph. He set out on this path (following a previous successful career as an artist) after missing his wife's funeral because no one was able to send him the news of her death fast enough.
Botox wasn't originally injected to serve people's vanity. It was originally for truly extreme cases -- facial spasms so severe that patients couldn't speak or see without treatment.
13. The Super Soaker
15. Victoria's Secret
Victoria's Secret started because Roy Raymond wanted to design a lingerie store men would feel comfortable in. It only became very successful after he left, and the store shifted to marketing women's underwear to women.
Camping became a recreational activity (rather than something for soldiers and explorers) thanks to a Connecticut minister, who sold it as a spiritual experience.
These Nintendo avatars are based on kokeshi, a type of Japanese doll. These dolls were carved by parents who gave away or murdered their babies, as memorials or grim reminders of what they'd done.
18. The Washington Times
The Washington Times was started by cult leader Sun Myung Moon. "I will conquer and subjugate the world," said Moon.
19. Travel Agents
The first travel agent was Thomas Cook. He started selling tickets to give British people something to do besides drink since he was a member of the temperance movement.
Ambulances barely existed in the US until a TV show called Emergency popularized the few paramedic units that operated, convincing Congress to take the idea nationwide.
22. The Recycling Symbol
The symbol on plastics, telling you what kind of plastic it is, was invented by the plastic companies to fool you into thinking various plastics are recyclable. In reality, few are, and even those that can be recycled aren't recycled, even if you turn them in for recycling.
23. Keep America Beautiful
Similarly, this anti-littering campaign was created by drinks manufacturers to shift the burden off themselves for phasing out single-use plastics.
24. The Bulletproof Vest
The concealable bulletproof vest, made of synthetic fibers, was invented by pizza delivery guy Richard Davis. He realized he needed such an accessory after a night delivering pizzas in Detroit left him with two bullet wounds.
Before it became a form of entertainment, ventriloquism was a religious practice, supposedly a way the gods talk to us. The name means "talking from the tummy," and ancient Greece had a cult of belly prophets.
26. Sleep Deprivation
Sleep deprivation is torture, most would agree. But it was developed as an alternative to torture -- one that people believed actually produced results since those accused of witchcraft soon started talking about flying or turning into animals. These were actually hallucinations brought on by sleep deprivation.
The most popular YouTube channel, T-Series, began as a company founded by a New Delhi fruit seller. It pirated music, sometimes by getting artists to cover songs without permission and sometimes by stealing the scores to new releases before the official artists even recorded them.
Instead of dealing with natural disasters, FEMA originally aimed to protect politicians and the government once the US was attacked by nukes.
Before ecstasy became a recreational drug, it was designed to help blood clots. Now, after decades as a party drug, it's coming full circle, with doctors finding new medicinal applications.
German chemist Joseph Wilbrand invented TNT as a yellow dye. And he used it successfully as a dye for years before its explosive properties became known.
Luaus were a Hawaiian tradition going back centuries, but they used to be governed by kapu, the prohibitions that separated men from women. Then the new king overturned the regulations by sitting with the ladies, leading to a vast war and the end of the religion.
33. Solitary Confinement
Today, solitary confinement is a special level of punishment inflicted on prisoners, beyond the punishment they're already receiving simply by being in prison. Originally, though, the goal was pure rehabilitation -- separating the prisoner was supposed to let him reflect on his sins without suffering.
34. Flamin' Hot Cheetos
35. News Corp
News Corp, which owns the New York Post and the Wall Street Journal, began as a newspaper about Australian mines. Specifically, it was a newspaper secretly owned by the mines themselves to share pro-mine propaganda.
36. Foie Gras
Foie gras, though it existed in ancient Egypt, came to the modern world thanks to Jewish migrants fleeing slavery. They made it not as a delicacy but as a source of kosher cooking fat.
Nitrous oxide, or laughing gas, was the first real anesthetic. Humphry Davy discovered its applications while looking for a hangover cure.
Guacamole as a casual snack, rather than an exotic luxury, was invented by the PR company Hill & Knowlton, hired by avocado growers. They tied it to Super Bowl Sunday by sending free samples to reporters and players.
39. The Electric Chair
Quite a few execution methods were designed for clean efficiency rather than brutality. That's why the guillotine was invented, and it arguably succeeded. The electric chair was similarly supposed to be quick and painless. It often did not succeed at this.
40. Taco Bell
Tacos are generally soft in Mexico. Taco Bell founder Glenn Bell grabbed the recipe for his signature hard-shell taco from a rival called Mitla Cafe, then he formed a multinational chain, while the café stayed in obscurity.
41. The Academy
42. The Food Network
The network's been around for decades, but it really took off thanks to 9/11. People wanted comfort, and the Food Network provided.
43. Nose Jobs
The first nose jobs weren't about conforming to beauty stereotypes. They were about restoring noses to those who'd had them chopped off ... as a punishment for adultery.
44. The Big Bang Theory
A Catholic priest came up with the big bang theory. Georges Lemaitre was also a professor of physics, and despite what you may have heard, there's no conflict between the theory and religion. In fact, many scientists at the time dismissed it as a religious, creationist view of the universe.
44. Truth Serum
Truth serums don't work, and they're perhaps best known for eliciting false confessions. But when they were first developed in the 1920s, the goal was the opposite. Researcher Robert House thought it would be a great tool for avoiding wrongful incarceration.
46. The Forward Pass
The forward pass is a legal move in American football due to reforms in 1905 when 18 players died on the field that season, most of them high school students. Forward passes limited contact and aimed to make the sport safer, to prevent people from banning the game altogether.
We know the connection between the pancreas and diabetes thanks to Oskar Minkowski. He removed his dog's pancreas to settle an argument, then discovered flies really liked the dog's pee because it was now sweet.
48. Dance Marathons
Reality TV network TLC was originally The Learning Channel, and that name described its actual mission. It was created in 1972 by the forerunner to the Department of Education and was backed by NASA.
Ronald Reagan told the military to make GPS available for civilian use after a Korean airplane, for want of better navigational equipment, accidentally entered Russian airspace. Russia shot the plane down, killing over 250 people, including an American congressman.
51. The Pink Triangle
The pink triangle, a gay rights symbol, was created by the Nazis ... to mark gay prisoners in concentration camps. Gay Jews wore a pink triangle against an inverted yellow triangle, forming a six-pointed star.
52. Little League
Organized youth sports outside of a school setting began in the 1800s. The reason? Urban reformers wanted to occupy the time of poor immigrant children (richer kids had stuff like music and dancing) in a way that would make them fit as laborers in industrial society.
53. The Polio Vaccine
Jonas Salk famously invented the polio vaccine. But we forget that Hilary Koprowski came up with one a few years earlier. It was, in fact, an improved version of Koprowski's vaccine, not Salk's, that eradicated polio from most of the world.
Not only did "Pop" Epperson first invent the Popsicle when he was 11 years old -- he invented it before freezers existed. He first made it by leaving a drink mix outside in the winter.
55. Supersize Meals