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  • Jeff D.

Accidental innovation

Innovation is the act of creating a product or service out of recognition of an underlying issue. Innovation can come from a single entity or a group of personnel identifying a problem and applying scientific methodology and research to solve complex issues however sometimes innovation can come from extreme luck or from an accident. The two accidental innovations that were selected are two items most people use almost on a daily basis. Both innovations have personnel and governmental applications and would have never known that the inception of innovation was from complete accident.

The first accidental innovation is recognized as a household product and critical for ensuring food does not stick when cooking. Roy J. Plunkett was an employee of the DuPont company working from the Jackson laboratory (Science History Institute, 2019). Plunkett's primary job was researching new types of refrigerants to combat some of the side effects of early refrigerants created from sulfur dioxide and ammonia. The refrigerant was linked to multiple cases of food poisoning both in the home and workplace (Science History Institute, 2019). The accidental discovery came about when Plunkett was storing tetrafluoroethylene gas (TFE) in small containers at extremely low temperatures before chlorinating.

When the cylinder was ready for use, they attempted to remove the gas, but it did not come out — puzzled by the reaction Plunkett discovered that the cylinder had the same weight and a white powder which was chemically inert, heat resistant and low surface friction which reduced the potential for an item to stick to the surface (Hiskey, 2011). Teflon is primarily associated with cookware such as non-stick pans for its reduced friction properties. Teflon is also found in other daily use products such as windshield wipers, nail polish, fabric, and carpets.

The second accidental innovations come from the mind of a self-taught innovator. Perry Spencer was born in Howland Main in 1894. After the passing of his father, his mother abandoned him, and he was left to his uncle and aunt for parental protection. Spenser childhood was cut short after the passing of his uncle at the age of seven he carried the burden of both learner and supporter. Working at the early age of 12 trying to provide for both himself and his aunt, Spenser discovered a new opportunity working at a new paper factory that would run on electricity. Fascinated by this concept, Spenser applied to the job learning everything he could about the job. At the age of 18, Spenser joined the U.S. Navy, with a focus on wireless radio technology Spenser began to work with and learn about numerous subjects to include trigonometry, chemistry, and metallurgy.

Spencer moved into working with radar tube designed and works as the chief of the power tube division (Raytheon, 2019). His insight allows the company to win a significant contract for its magnetrons for radar equipment which was pivotal for WWII. The creation of the microwave cooking came upon as an accident. During one of his shifts working inside the facility, he walked across an active radar and noticed the candy in his pocket had melted (Raytheon, 2019). Curious to understand the phenomenon he began experimenting with different food items such as un-popped kernels of corn which under radiation popped. After conducting extensive research, Spencer filed patented his invention in 1945 and created the first commercial microwave in 1947. The first microwave was about 6ft and weighed about 750 lbs. with a cost ranging between 2000 and 3000 dollars (Deffree, 2018).

The first microwave was outfitted for restaurants and ships due to the size. In 1967 the first microwave was developed for home use with a cost of 495 dollars and was reduced in size to fit on kitchen countertops (Ganapati, 2010). Microwaves ovens provided a pathway for the food industry to create food that could be frozen and cooked safely leverage the microwave for meals that can feed the family and for popcorn that is ready under three minutes for a snack to pair with your favorite movie.


Deffree, S. (2018). 1st domestic microwave is sold, October 25, 1955. Retrieved from https://www.edn.com/electronics-blogs/edn-moments/4399387/1st-domestic-microwave-is-sold--October-25--1955

Ganapati, P. (2010). Oct 25, 1955: Time to Nuke Dinner. Retrieved from https://www.wired.com/2010/10/1025home-microwave-ovens/

Hiskey, D. (2011). Teflon was Invented by Accident. Retrieved from http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2011/08/teflon-was-invented-by-accident/

Raytheon. (2019). Raytheon: History. Retrieved from https://www.raytheon.com/ourcompany/history

Science History Institute. (2019). Roy J. Plunkett. Retrieved from https://www.sciencehistory.org/historical-profile/roy-j-plunkett