The 20 most fascinating accidental inventions

Most inventors strive for weeks, months, or years to perfect their products. (Thomas Edison tried thousands of different light bulb filaments before arriving at the ideal mixture of tungsten.) But sometimes, brilliance strikes by accident. Here's a salute to the scientists, chefs, and everyday folk who stumbled upon greatness – and, more important, shared their mistakes with the world.

UPDATE: After great reader feedback, we've added five additional accidental inventions: Stainless steel, plastic, ice cream cones, Post-it Notes, and matches.

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20. Potato chips

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    Potato chips have come a long way since George Crum first served them in 1853.
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The first potato chips were meant as an insult.

Hotel chef George Crum enjoyed a wonderful knack for cooking. From his kitchen at Moon's Lake House near Saratoga Springs, N.Y., Mr. Crum could "take anything edible and transform it into a dish fit for a king." That skill came in handy – the upscale Lake House attracted customers who were used to being treated like kings.

In 1853, a cranky guest complained about Crum's fried potatoes. They were too thick, he said. Too soggy and bland. The patron demanded a new batch.

Crum did not take this well. He decided to play a trick on the diner. The chef sliced a potato paper-thin, fried it until a fork could shatter the thing, and then purposefully over-salted his new creation. The persnickety guest will hate this, he thought. But the plan backfired. The guy loved it! He ordered a second serving.

Word of this new snack spread quickly. "Saratoga Chips" became a hit across New England, and Crum went on to open his own restaurant. Today, that accidental invention has ballooned into a massive snack industry.

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