Scientist Louis Pasteur said that "Fortune favours the prepared mind." In other words, it's not enough to get hit by a stroke of luck, you have to recognize it for what it is. Here is a small selection of mistakes and unexpected occurrences that proved to be goldmines.
1. Rotting tobacco
In Florence, August 1815, a huge load of freshly-harvested tobacco leaves was accidentally left in the rain got soaked and fermented. The staff decided to dry the rotting leaves, make them into second-quality cigars and sell them in the outskirts of the city at ultra-low prices. Contrary to their expectations, the irregularly-shaped, dark brown, pungently-fragrant cigars were immediately a hit. Three years later, the factory had converted the error into a production progress, and to this day, the Toscano cigar is an Italian favourite.
2. Exploding bottles
In the area around Hautvillers, the local grapes were used to create a white wine, but on many occasions this began to referment in the bottle, creating pressure inside and causing the bottle to explode. In the 17th century, Dom Pérignon, abbot at the Abbey of Hautvillers, utilized the process, adding sugar to the wine in the bottle, reinforcing the glass and tying down the cork, to create one of the most famous wines of all time: Champagne! Production is now in excess of 330 million bottles a year.
3. From mould to gold
Long, long back in history, a shepherd was eating his lunch of bread and sheep's milk cheese, when he saw a girl that he fancied at the bottom of the field. He quickly took his provisions into a nearby cave, and left them there, before running off to see her. Things went well, and he only returned to the cave near Roquefort-sur-Soulzon a few months after. He discovered that the cheese had become riddled with blue veins of mould. Still today, only the cheese that ages in the natural caves of Mont Combalou can be labelled Roquefort.
4. The drug that got harder and harder
Pfizer were surprised when the people taking an experimental drug didn't want to give the medication back. The substance, sildenafil, was being tested for its effect at lowering blood pressure. The male human guinea pigs encountered the unexpected side effect of having harder and longer-lasting erections. That was back in the late 1990s. Today, the drug, active ingredient in Viagra, has been used by 35 million men all over the world. Income: close on a billion dollars a year.
5. A chemical reaction that went wrong
Roy Plunkett was only 27 years old, a chemist at Du Pont in 1938. He was attempting to synthesize a new refrigerant gas to sidestep a patent owned by another manufacturer. During the procedure, something went wrong, and when he opened the reaction vessel to pipe off the gas, nothing came out. He discovered that the reaction had formed a white solid. He realized that it was worth exploring, and found that it reacted with virtually nothing. It was this property that led to the development of the non-stick coating Teflon.