It might interest you to know that most of the popular brands you know were started after an inspiring incident, or an accident occurred. Contrary to what many might think, these business ideas were not a product of sleepless nights and diets of coffee, in fact, most of them came to mind in seconds, imagine, a billion-dollar business idea springing up just like that. Well let’s get on with it; let’s look at those popular brands that started in a slightly unorthodox way.
First on our list is Levis, yes the popular Levis. Most of the jean trousers worn in the United States are made by Levis, they also make boots, hats, shirts, skirts, and belts, and they are licensed to manufacture novelty items. This brand is quite popular all over the world that is, given the number of years they have been manufacturing clothing accessories.
Levis Strauss was born in Buttenheim, Bravaria on February 26, 1829. He had three older brothers and three older sisters. Two years after his father succumbed to tuberculosis in 1846, Levi and his sisters decided to join his two older brothers who owed wholesale dry goods business “J Strauss Brothers & Co” in New York, soon Levis began to learn the trade.
When news of the California Gold rush reached New York, Levis made his way to San Francisco to make his own fortune. However, young Strauss was not looking to make it mining gold; he established a dried goods business and named it “Levis Strauss & Co”. One day, Levis heard miners complaining about their pants and how they do not last, so when he got a letter from a tailor named Jacob Davis, Levis saw an opportunity and took it. Jacob’s letter revealed his unique way of making pants through the use of rivets at points of strain to make them last longer. He wanted to patent his idea but needed a business partner to lift the idea off the ground, and since Levis was enthusiastic about the scheme, the patent was granted to the two men and the blue jeans as we know it was born. If those miners hadn’t complained to Strauss about to their flimsy clothing, Levis might have swept Jacob Davis letter aside and probably continued with his dry goods business.
I don’t think there is a single woman in the world that doesn’t have a Spanx in her closet or have at least heard about the brand. It was voted one of the most popular Underwears in a woman’s closet. Spanx was definitely not a result of sleepless nights; in fact, Spanx was born from the frustration of a middle-aged woman who decided that she would make her own underwear since she couldn’t find the perfect one.
Sara Blakely like every other woman had clothes in her closet that she didn’t wear, mostly because she couldn’t figure out what to wear underneath. So one day, she cut the feet out of the control top pantyhose that she had spent so much money on, threw them on with white pants and went to a party. According to Blakely; “I felt so great, I looked fabulous, had no panty lines, and I looked thinner and smoother and remembered thinking, “This should exist for all women”. With no prior business experience and $5,000 to her name, Sara wrote her own patent and with the help of an attorney, she successfully submitted the patent online with the help of a New York lawyer, whilst still working on the prototype.
She came up with the name S-P-A-N-X while sitting in Atlanta traffic. She immediately trademarked the name for $350 and finished her work on the packaging. SPANX began to make waves after popular presenter and billionaire, Oprah Winfrey, recommended it for all women on her show.
3. Coca Cola
This particular one has a little twist to it, Coca Cola wasn’t made to be the popular beverage we know today, in fact, the drink was made to cure headaches. American pharmacist John Pemberton was trying to find the cure for headaches when he created one of the most popular beverages in the world. He created syrup made from coca leaves and kola nuts, took it to a pharmacy in his neighborhood, where it was accidentally mixed with carbonated water and considered “perfect”. Dr. Pemberton’s partner and bookkeeper Frank M.Robinson is said to have come up with the name Coca Cola. The drink was sold at 5 cents a glass, it was considered tasty and very refreshing.
Dr. Pemberton, however, did not realize the potential of his accidental idea, and he sold off his remaining interest in coca-cola to an Atlanta born businessman, G. Candler. This businessman went ahead to build a marketing strategy that saw Coca Cola, initially meant to cure headaches, become the most popular beverage through the 20th century.
4. Radarange Microwaves
This is my favourite, not just because it’s surprising, but also because it is very inspiring. Microwave was discovered by an orphaned boy who never even finished grammar school. Percy Spencer was just 16 years old when he heard about electricity and became obsessed with it, he began learning everything he could about electricity and at the age of 18, Spencer joined the navy. He worked as a radio technologist in the Navy, he taught himself: trigonometry, calculus, chemistry, physics, and metallurgy, among other subjects.
In 1939, Spencer who was now one of the world’s leading experts in radar tube design was working for a private company called Raytheon, as the head of the power tube division. Spencer was working on building magnetrons for radar sets, he was standing in front of active radar set when he noticed the candy bar in his pockets had melted. Spencer went on to investigate this occurrence. The first intentionally microwaved food was popcorn kernels. Spencer fashioned what might be referred to as the first true microwave oven by affixing a high-density electromagnetic field generator to an enclosed metal box.
The company Spencer worked for, Raytheon, immediately filed a patent on October 8, 1945, for a microwave cooking oven, ultimately named Radarange. The first commercially sold microwave ovens went for $5000 and weighed 750 pounds. It wasn’t until 1967 that affordable microwaves started entering the market for $495, and in reasonable shape.
5. The Popsicle
I bet you that this one might blow your mind, next time you are sucking on a Popsicle, I want you to remember that you are consuming the accidental invention of an 11-year-old boy.
This 11-year-old kid was called Frank Epperson and he lived in San Francisco, California. One 1905 night, Frank forgot a mixture of sugary soda powder outside, it was a cold night and the mixture froze up. Epperson woke up the next morning and consumed his accidental icy concoction and enjoyed it, he decided to start selling what he named an Episcle around his neighborhood, just before he turned 18, he expanded to a nearby amusement park which saw the popsicle achieve great success along with the snow cones which also made its debut. Frank Epperson went ahead to patent his idea of an attractive, icy candy-like concoction which was surprisingly hygienic in 1924, he was however convinced by his own children to change the name of his invention to “Popsicle”.
Things did not really go well for the inventor, and he sold the rights to his idea to one Joe Lowe co in the late 1920s, “I was broke and had to liquidate all my assets” he later said, “I haven’t been the same ever since”. The Lowe Co, however, took that 11-year-old boy’s idea and catapulted it to national success.
6. Kellogs Cornflakes
Just like their fellow accidental inventor, two brothers, Dr. Harvey Kellog and Will Kellog left something out for too long, and it resulted in a globally recognized product. They were both seventh day Adventists and were busy looking for a portion of food they could use to fulfill their strict Adventist vegetarian diet.
Will accidentally left some wheat outside and it went stale before he returned. Rather than throw it away, they tried making long sheets of dough from their stale boiled wheat, instead, they got flakes. The flakes later became a big hit with patients, they toasted it and went on to patent the idea under the name Granose. Will went ahead to start a company that would sell the corn flakes after the brothers started experimenting with corn. On principle, Harvey refused to join the company after Will reduced the nutritious content of the product by adding sugar.
This one is for all those car junkies out there, this also a tale of the age-long rivalry; your favorite car model was not particularly thought out, in fact, Lamborghini was started as a result of what one Ferruccio Lamborghini considered an insult.
Ferrucio was born into a family of farmers but he never really had an interest in family farming, instead, he liked mechanics. After World War II, Ferrucio took parts and made tractors; he eventually became very wealthy and made a hobby out of driving luxury cars like the Ferrari. However, he had some issues with the Ferrari cars, they were too rough on the road and the gearbox had to be changed often. In good spirit, Ferruccio approached Enzo Ferrari and suggested his improvements; but, Ferrari told him he didn’t need advice from a tractor driving man. Lamborghini considered this a big insult and decided to start his own sports car brand; after all, he had the money.
George de Mestral, a Swiss engineer, was hunting in the Jura mountains in Switzerland with his dog, he noticed that tiny hooks of cockle-burs were stuck on his dog’s fur. He observed the hooks and even began experimenting with it, and with the help of his friends and after 8 long years, they were able to create a replica of Mother Nature hooks and loop fasteners. He later went on to patent the idea in 1955 and named it Velcro, after the French words velvet and crochet. Velcro became popular after astronauts used it to hold their pens, food items and equipment while in orbit, and became even more popular after it was added to standard-issue uniforms for the army.
This one was definitely very awkward for the people involved. The Viagra as you know it was originally meant as a treatment for hypertension, and enigma Pectoris. However, during the clinical trials for this drug, it was discovered that the drug was more effective at inducing erection than chest pain. The nurses who often went to check on patients reported that men would lie on their stomachs; one nurse went on to say that they were embarrassed because they were getting erections. It turned out that the sildenafil was working- however, it was working in the wrong part of the body. That was how the drug meant to treat chest pain was repurposed and became a major market success.
It is also called “the little blue pill”, it was the first phosphodiesterase 5 (PDE5) inhibitors approved to treat erectile dysfunction (ED). Erectile dysfunction is known to be a major problem for men, especially older men.
Saccharin was accidentally invented after a doctor finished working and ultimately forgot to wash his hands well before eating bread. Constantine Fahlberg was employed to work in a lab in John Hopkins University, he worked for a company called the H.W Perot who wanted Fahlberg to test the purity of sugar impounded by the United States government, and he was to use the lab of one professor of chemistry Ira Remsen.
One day, after a successful day at work in the lab, Fahlberg journeyed home and was about to munch on his bread roll, after taking a bite out of his bread roll, Fahlberg noticed that the bread he just tasted was unbelievably sweet. Rather than panicking- he knew he had just tasted a chemical; Fahlberg became excited and was eager to find out which chemical had caused such a sweet taste. He went to work the next day and began tasting every single chemical he worked with the previous day, amazing right? He later discovered that it was a beaker filled with sulfobenzoic acid.
The initial paper published listed both Remsen and Fahlberg as the creators of the compound. However, after realizing the commercial potential of this compound, Fahlberg had a patent done and this time, listed himself as the sole compound creator. You can be sure this pissed Remen off, he later went on to say “Fahlberg is a crook, I will be very upset to have both our names used in the same sentence”.
However, saccharin did not become popular until the world war when sugar was greatly rationed. It continued to grow even after the war and became widely know during the 60’s.
Scottish bacteriologist Alexander Fleming accidentally discovered the antibiotic penicillin in 1928, after returning from a holiday only to discover that a green mold called penicillin notatum was killing bacteria he’d been growing. He isolated the fungus and began experimenting, checking to see how many types of bacteria it could kill- many was the answer. During that time, if you had a little cut and it got infected, you are very likely going to die. Fleming worked as a doctor during the 1st world war, he saw many soldiers die from infected wounds, and so he made it a goal to find a treatment for infected injuries.
After discovering Penicillin, Fleming didn’t immediately name it, instead, he began trying to make enough to help people but it wasn’t sufficient, he was however able to publish his research. In 1938 oxford pathologist saw his research and adopted it, and by 1942, injectable, mass-produced penicillin was available for distribution, just in time to help soldiers during the Second World War.