Inventing anything takes a lot of time and effort, sleepless nights, and mad concentration. After all the rigorous efforts, it sure is heartbreaking to see that your work isn’t useful to anyone, but some failed inventions find a new purpose over time and shine bright. We have looked around and found you a list of ten such inventions that were originally devised for an entirely different purpose than they are used for today.

1. In the 18th century, two Scottish doctors came up with the prototype of the modern-day chainsaw. It was designed as a surgical tool to aid in cases of a difficult childbirth.

A historical osteotome, a medical bone chainsaw. Image credits: Sabine Salfer/Wikipedia

No one in the right mind would associate a “chainsaw” with “childbirth,” but in fact, the initial use of chainsaws was to help in the process of childbirth. Although a similar device known as osteotome used for cutting bones was invented in 1830 by a German orthopedist Bernhard Heine and which is why the origin of the invention of the chainsaw is often debated upon.

James Jeffray and John Atkin designed the first working chainsaw prototype of the chain saw familiar today, a serrated-link saw which would cut on the concave side somewhere around 1785-1785. The initial use of the tool was for symphysiotomy and to remove diseased bones. The idea was also illustrated in John Aitken’s Principles of Midwifery or Puerperal Medicine in 1786, and according to one paper published by James Jeffary, that excision of diseased joints using the chainsaw would allow smaller wounds and save the adjacent neurovascular bundle.The surgical application of chainsaws was accepted throughout most of the 19thcentury.

(Image 1) Typical of the earliest chainsaws. (Image 2) Electric Chainsaw. Image credits: Claus Ableiter/Wikipedia, Pixabay

The use of chainsaws in the timber industry only began in the early 20th century. One of the first patents for an “endless chainsaw” was awarded to Samuel J. Bens in 1905. He stated that it could be highly effective in working with the huge redwood trees. It was in the year 1926 that the first electric chainsaw was made by Andreas Stihl who further developed the gasoline chainsaw in 1929. (12)

2. Listerine was invented in the 19th century as an alcohol-based surgical antiseptic. It was later sold in its distilled form as a floor cleaner and a cure for gonorrhea.

Image credits: Britta Gustafson/Flickr, Americanhistory

Dr. Joseph Lawrence was inspired by an English doctor by the name of Joseph Lister who was the first surgeon to demonstrate the use of carbolic acid on surgical wounds. Dr. Lawrence invented an alcohol-based surgical antiseptic that was composed of eucalyptol, menthol, methyl salicylate, and thymol, and he named it “Listerine” after Joseph Lister.

From surgery antiseptic to modern mouthwash. Image credits: Listerine

In 1879, Listerine was formulated by Dr. Joseph Lawrence along with a pharmacist, Jordan Wheat Lambert. Starting off as a surgical antiseptic, Listerine was also sold as a floor cleaner and a cure for gonorrhea. As the product did not sell well, in 1895, it was finally promoted to dentists as a cure for bad breath. It wasn’t until the 1920s that Listerine became the product we know today. It was pitched as a cure for “chronic halitosis” which was a not-so-common term for bad breath. After many marketing and advertising campaigns focused on the disadvantages of “bad breath,” Listerine became more popular and a common name in every household. (source)

3. High heels were designed by the Persian cavalries to keep stability while shooting arrows. Later in the 17th century Europe, they were worn by noblemen as a symbol of status and then eventually transformed into a part of women’s fashion.

Image credits: Bata shoe museum/BBCArmymuseum/Wikipedia

The origin of high heels can be traced back to the 10th century where the Persians wore shoes with heels on them while riding horses. The heels would help in maintaining balance while riding the horse and also while shooting arrows as they could be easily locked into the stirrups. The design of high-heeled shoes that we are familiar with today was introduced to Europe in the 17th century by the Persian embassy of Shah Abbas I. Donning high heels became a symbol of class and status and royalty like King Louis IV of France also wore them.

According to Klaus Carl, authorities also assigned a specific heel length based on the social rank. It was a ½ inch for the common people, 1 inch for the bourgeois, 1-½ inch for the knights, 2 inches for the nobles, and 2-½ inches for the princes. Women were not far behind and quickly signed onto the ongoing fad, but the design of the heels for women’s shoes was thinner and pointier than men’s. It was only after the French Revolution in the 1780s that heels became more popular as a part of women’s fashion. Subsequently, with the invention of the sewing machine and other technologies, the production went up. Advertising such as pinup-girl posters during the world wars also helped shape the image of heels into what it is today. (12)

4. Bubble wrap was invented in 1957 as wallpaper. Because it did not sell very well as a wallpaper, it was sold as greenhouse insulation until finally, it became more of a packaging item.

(Image 1) Production of bubble wrap at Sealed Air. (Image 2) Bubble wrap wallpaper. Image credits: Sealed AirToday I found out

Bubble wrap is very common in packaging and can sometimes be therapeutic. They provide a cushion for fragile items that cannot withstand shock and easily break. The first bubble wrap was invented in 1957 by two engineers named Alfred Fielding and Marc Chavannes in Hawthorne, New Jersey. Their design consisted of two shower curtains sealed together which created small air bubbles. They originally tried to sell their invention as wallpaper but were unsuccessful. They then tried to market the bubble wrap as greenhouse insulation and finally discovered that the product could be very useful in the packaging industry.

One of their first clients was IBM which used the bubble wrap to protect the shipments of their IBM 1401 computers. Popping those small air bubbles can be very satisfying and stress relieving. In fact, Sealed Air’s corporate offices have “stress relief boxes” which are filled with Bubble wraps. To celebrate this soul-satisfying invention, Bubble Wrap Appreciation Day is celebrated on the last Monday of January. (12)

5. The sanitary napkin Kotex was invented in 1920 by the Kimberly Clark company which was looking for a product that would use the extremely absorbent material they had developed for bandages during World War I. “Kotex” stands for “cotton textile.”

(Image 1) Cellucotton, the material used to make Kotex sanitary pads, was used in World War 1 hospitals as a bandage. Nurses quickly found another use for it. (Image 2) A Kotex newspaper advertisement from 1920. Image credits: Library of Congress/SmithsonianCellucotton products company/Chroniclingamerica.

It was during World War I that Kimberly-Clark, a supplier of paper, invented a material from wood-processed pulp. “Cellucotton” was more absorbent than cotton and so was used as bandages during the war. After the war ended, the company was in need of a product that would use the leftover cellucotton from the war. They came up with an idea to use the material for creating sanitary napkins which weren’t common during that time. In 1920, Kotex was born. Originally marketed as “Cellunap,” the name was finally changed to Kotex. (source)


6. Botox was invented to treat muscle spasms. It was only in 1987 that Dr. Alluster Carruthers and his wife Jean discovered the cosmetic use of botox.

(Image 1) Botox treatment. (Image 2) Jean and Alistair Carruthers. Image credits: Oceanview MedSpa/FlickrJean and Alistair Carruthers/BusinessInsider

Botulinum toxin, or “Botox,” is a neurotoxin that is responsible for the disease called botulism. The toxin is naturally produced by a bacterium called Clostridium botulinum. It can partially paralyze facial muscles that cause wrinkles and frown lines.

In 1980, Alan Scott started producing botulinum toxin in his lab in California to treat patients suffering from strabismus. After the supply of the drug was partially halted during 1986, the patients began to travel to Canada for their eye injections. It was in 1987 that Vancouver-based Dr. Alluster Carruthers along with his wife Jean discovered the cosmetic use of botox when a patient asked them to inject her forehead with botox as it makes her wrinkles go away. (source)

7. Treadmills were originated in the 1st century AD. by the ancient Romans to manipulate and lift heavy objects. During the 19th century, they were used as a punishment for prisoners and also for purposes of grinding grain and pumping water in the prisons.

(Image 1) Human-powered treadmill for grinding grain. (Image 2) Treadmill used to punish prisoners at Breakwater Prison. Image credits: WikipediaLennon001/Wikipedia

Treadmills were always used as power sources. One of the first uses of treadmills was by the ancient Romans. They designed a tread-wheel which was a wheel connected to a crane. As a person would walk inside the wheel, the attached crane would subsequently lift heavy objects.

A popular version of the treadmills was used also in the prisons. The first design for the prison treadmill was created by an English engineer named Sir William Cubitt in 1817 after witnessing the idleness of the prisoners. The design was similar to the tread-wheel, except there were steps fitted on the outside of the wheel. He also altered his designs so that the treadmill could be used for pumping water and grinding grains.

The modern treadmill as we know today is based on the design developed and patented by Claude Lauraine Hagen which included a treadmill belt in 1913. Until the invention of the modern version, treadmills were used manually. The motorized version of the treadmill was invented by Dr. Robert Bruce and Wayne Quinton at the University of Washington in 1952 to diagnose cardiovascular disorders.  Finally, in 1960, William Staub designed the first commercial treadmill for home use. (source)

8. Braille was invented as “night writing” for soldiers by the French. It was later modified in the year 1824 to be used by the visually impaired.

Napoleon wanted to create a system which would allow French soldiers to communicate with each other during the dark hours of the night without making any sound. Charles Barbier, a captain in the French Army, invented a military code known as “night writing.” The system consisted of 12, carved dots which encoded 36 different sounds. The system turned out to be confusing and difficult to comprehend and was eventually rejected by the military.

Charles Barbier introduced “night writing” to Louis Braille when he visited the Royal Institute for the Blind in 1821. Braille identified two flaws in the system. First, that the dots represented only sounds and not the spelling of the words, and second, a human finger could not encompass the whole 12 dots without moving. He suggested that they reduce the dots to six and assign patterns to the letters of the alphabets. His ideas were taken into consideration, and various modifications were made which finally resulted in an independent writing system for blind people. (source)

9. Play-doh was invented by Noah McVicker to clean coal residue off wallpaper. The clay-like substance he developed was later re-purposed as a children’s toy in 1956.

Image credits: AmazonNevit Dilmen/Wikipedia

Play-doh was actually marketed and used as wallpaper cleaner for about 20 years. At the request of Kroger Grocery which wanted a product that could clean coal residue off wallpapers, Noah McVicker developed putty-like. non-toxic substance. Soon after WW II, people shifted from coal-based heating systems to more advanced systems based on natural gas. This, along with the invention of vinyl-based wallpapers that could be washed, crashed the market for the wall cleaner. The sales started plummeting, and the company was looking for a new use of their clay-like substance.

Joe McVicker, the nephew of Noah McVicker, came across a brilliant idea to use the substance as a plaything when he heard about nursery students enjoying making art with the wallpaper-cleaning putty. Eventually, they adopted the idea and starting selling the putty as a children’s toy in 1956. (source)

10. Mountain dew originated in the 1940s as alcohol mixer, preferably for whiskey. The term “mountain dew” was also Southern U.S. and Irish/Scottish slang for “moonshine.”

(Image 1) 1950s Mountain Dew advertisement. Image credits: Bellczar/WikipediaThomas Hawk/Flickr

Two Tennessee bottlers, Barney and Alley Hartman, were having difficulty finding the perfect soda to mix with whiskey, so they came up with their own mixer and called it “Mountain Dew.” The Hartman brothers introduced the soda to Charles Gordon, founder of Tri-City Beverage, who made a deal with them to bottle Mountain Dew.

The name “Mountain Dew” was trademarked for the soft drink in 1948. The taste and formula of the drink was revised a couple of times since. Finally, in the year 1964, Pepsico acquired the brand and production rights and expanded its distribution. (source)

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