Author:  Birgit Krols

ISBN 9781608870738

In 1827, the British chemist John Walker was trying to create a new explosive by mixing antimony sulfide and potassium chlorate, when he was called away from his laboratory. Upon his return, he noticed that the mixture had formed a hard lump on the stirrer. When he tried to remove it by scraping it over the floor, he was astonished to see the whole thing catch fire. The matchstick was born!” (p. 112)

Accidental Inventions: The Chance Discoveries That Changed Our Lives, by Birgit Krols is as  entertaining as it is informative. Each page is filled with a large, glossy, colorful photographs that make the book fun to look at. Then on the opposite page is the short story of how the invention came to be, along with pertinent facts and statistics.

For example, John Walker refused to patent the matchstick, for humanitarian reasons. Curious about how many matches are used every year? The answer is about 500 billion.

In the section for “Entertainment,” we read about Play-Doh, roller skates, the Frisbee, and more. Under “Food and Drink,” we learn the origin of 17 items, including the Popsicle, chocolate chip cookies, the tea bag, and brandy. “Medicine” includes x-rays, LSD, and Band-Aids. 

My personal favorite is “Everyday Life” which tells about Post-its, the flashlight, rear-view mirrors, guide dogs, and much more. I found it humorous that women wrote into the Kleenex company complaining that their make-up remover tissues were being used by their husbands and sons to blow their noses. These complaints segued into an “aha moment” for Kleenex, who then launched a new marketing angle and greatly increased their sales.

The book wraps up with “Substances,” giving the history of TNT, radioactivity, Scotchgard and more.

One truth that becomes clear is that accidents can turn into terrific ideas. Another is that looking at something in a different way can be life-changing. These are both good perspectives to teach to children and teens, and I think they would enjoy the book as much as adults.

I have to add that the appearance of the cover and every page is spectacular, so a person could use this as a coffee table book and a conversation-starter when they’ve finished reading it.

I’ll conclude with one of the quotation on page 50, made by American President Rutherford B. Hayes: “An amazing invention—but who would ever want to use one?” He was talking to Alexander Graham bell about his telephone. 

If you enjoyed Hayes’ quote, if you like short, fascinating clips of history along with gorgeous photographs, you’ll love this book. I highly recommend it, both for yourself and as a gift.

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