The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office issues about 187,000 patents per year. That means inventors and entrepreneurial types are constantly producing new products for profit and/or the betterment of humankind. But the Weimar Republic (Germany today) provides a great example of inventions (and administration thereof) gone bad.
The country decided to finance World War I solely by borrowing money from central banks. Papiermarks, German currency introduced in 1914 when the war started, experienced extreme hyperinflation. The government printed trillions of them to pay back reparations owed to several countries after the war. The money became so worthless, Germans were using it as toilet paper, scratch paper and even as fire starting material to keep warm.
Here are three more products that were never meant to become popular for the reasons they are today.
Romy and Michele gave a convincing explanation at their high school reunion as to how they invented Post-It notes. Unfortunately [SPOILER ALERT], Janeane Garofalo’s character outed them in front of everyone. But the real story of how Post-Its came to be isn’t far off from how Michele explained it.
According to the Mozy blog, Dr. Spencer Silver was on a quest to invent the next super glue in 1968. He accidentally created what would become the reusable adhesive used for Post-Its. He pitched the idea to 3M, but they ignored his propositions. A colleague of Silver’s ultimately utilized 3M’s internal innovation program to develop the product himself. The yellow color for Post-Its was chosen by default, as it was the only color scrap paper available for the project.
Today, you can make thoughtful, creative art from Post-Its. Check out this CraveOnline story about an employee at a graphic design firm who made pixel-like depictions of Marvel and DC comic book characters out of different-colored Post-Its to spruce up his barren office walls. There is even downloadable software on Instructables.com to assist would-be Post-It artists in making mosaic portraits.
Those of you who use this product daily as mouthwash may want to stop reading now. Listerine will certainly give you fresh, kissable breath, but its original uses may frighten you.
According to the Chemical Heritage Foundation, Dr. Joseph Lister of England first came up with the idea of antiseptic surgery in 1879 to reduce the 50 percent death rate of patients back then. An American doctor picked up on the idea for his own procedures and named the antiseptic Listerine, after the doctor who inspired him. He also marketed his product as a foot fungus and dandruff eliminator. But the uses of this stuff went far beyond that.
Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, in their book “Freakonomics,” wrote that Listerine was marketed in the early 20th century as a cure for gonorrhea and as floor cleaner. But clever marketing, particularly using the term “halitosis” to describe bad breath, made Listerine a popular mouthwash in the 1920s, and of course it remains on shelves today.
Admit it: You have killed several minutes of several days popping those little bubbles. It’s entertaining, right? The original purpose of bubble wrap was also meant to entertain (and decorate), but it never came to fruition.
Forbes reports that Alfred Fielding and Marc Chavannes invented bubble wrap in 1957 as a new, hip wallpaper. Predictably, the idea failed to catch on. It was then marketed as an insulation for greenhouses, but that campaign also failed. The two ambitious inventors would have gone bankrupt had IBM not introduced its 1401 computer in 1959; Fielding and Chavannes convinced company executives to protect their expensive machines during shipping by wrapping them in bubble wrap. The rest, of course, is history.