September 11, 2009 7:08 AM   Subscribe

Have any things ever been invented because someone lost their temper?

So, while doing some research, I read the origin story for Scottish macaroons on Wikipedia, which says that, in 1931, John Justice Lees lost his rag when he messed up making chocolate fondant bars, threw coconut all over the mix in a fit of pique, and - hey presto - macaroons.

Are there any other famous inventions or innovations, either foodstuffs or gizmos or theories, where they were discovered by the inventor throwing a wobbly? Something about it really appeals to me, but I'm not sure where to start looking! Possibly apocryphal stories still welcome!
posted by RokkitNite to Science & Nature (15 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I heard years ago that potato chips (as we know them today) were created by a chef who was responding angrily to a customer complaining about the fried potatoes that were served (too thick, no flavor, etc).
posted by jquinby at 7:13 AM on September 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

I always heard that potato chips were sort of invented that way -- a chef named George Crum was working in a resort in Saratoga Springs in the 1850's, and one customer ordered french fries -- but then kept on sending his order back because the fries were "too thick and soggy" and asking they be re-done. After a couple go-rounds, Crum supposedly went all, "okay, buddy, you want thin? I'LL show you thin," and sliced up the potatoes paper-thin and fried them to a crisp, specifically to piss off the customer.

Except the customer loved them.

Lots of other people started asking for the "Saratoga chips", and the rest is history.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:13 AM on September 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

I Wish I'd Made You Angry Earlier.
posted by Jorus at 7:32 AM on September 11, 2009

Actually, if this source is to be believed, the source of that quote is slightly different from what you requested:

Perutz had shown his mentor W. L. Bragg his X-ray diffraction results confirming Linus Pauling and Robert B. Corey’s a-helix model for a-keratin and stated that the idea for the experiment was sparked by his fury at missing the structure himself. Bragg replied, “‘I wish I’d made you angry earlier!’ because discovery of the 1.5-Å reflection would have led us straight to the a-helix.”
posted by Jorus at 8:00 AM on September 11, 2009

I should add that angrily doing experiments (especially to show someone you were right to look at this etc) does happen, but it's putting out the welcome mat for confirmation bias.

(Though that doesn't apply to Perutz's excellent science.)
posted by Jorus at 8:05 AM on September 11, 2009

We have an internal technology that my company now uses in 4 different products, all because I was ticked off at one of our vendors and I wanted to build a very large metaphorical gun we could point at his business with the threat to pull the trigger if he didn't cooperate.
posted by plinth at 8:22 AM on September 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

Possibly apocryphal stories still welcome!

Good, because I have one that strikes me as totally untrue, but here goes: I was told a long time ago by my mother that there was a well-circulated story in Barcelona that Gaudí got the idea for the Sagrada Familia, by knocking over his ink-pot onto papers in frustration. He left the house and when he came back 'Hey Presto!' Apocryphal, most likely, but a good yarn nevertheless.
posted by ob at 8:43 AM on September 11, 2009

In a general engineering class I took many years ago, the prof claimed that the toaster oven came about because a toaster-making group at a company was having a "how can we add new features and make our toasters more awesome" brainstorming meeting. and one engineer went off on a rant about how toasters suck because you can't toast bagels or muffins or (etc etc). at which point someone else commented that he didn't want a toaster, he wanted an oven.
posted by rmd1023 at 9:47 AM on September 11, 2009

Sure, did it myself. I couldn't get aerogel to show any ability to insulate things, nor was it pulling water out of the atmosphere like I thought it should, so in a fit of "Ah F* it" I stuck some on a sponge full of water with green food coloring, knowing it would be ruined but half hoping it'd be some what cool looking. And the damn stuff didn't even pull up the food coloring. Pissed me off to no end. I just wanted progress of some kind to show my wife!

I knew something interesting had just happened though so I consulted with some friends and determined the width of it's pores to within a nanometer. One of the guys who worked on Stardust was flabbergasted at that. They'd used a $100,000.00 scanning tunneling electron microscope, and I used $4.00 of food dye.

Probably the coolest thing that came out of that whole study, and it was no where near any of my plans. Just happened on it.
posted by jwells at 10:56 AM on September 11, 2009 [8 favorites]

The invention of Velcro came about because someone was picking burrs out of his dog's coat. But I'm not sure annoyance would fit your anger requirement.
posted by tommasz at 12:32 PM on September 11, 2009

J.K. Rowling made up Quidditch after a fight with her SO.
posted by brujita at 1:57 PM on September 11, 2009

In the 1950s, two mathematicians at MIT, Warren Ambrose and John Forbes Nash (of A Beautiful Mind fame) were intense rivals. Nash would mock Ambrose's verbose and detailed lecture style in seminars, Ambrose would dub him John "Gnash." Nash would have red roses delivered to Ambrose at the podium after a mathematics seminar as if Ambrose were a ballerina, Ambrose would write "Go Fuck Yourself" on the to-do list in Nash's office.

One day, while Nash was ranting about hack mathematicians in the math common room, Ambrose, fed up with Nash's narcissicism and macho posturing, told Nash, "If you're so good, why don't you solve the embedding problem for manifolds?" (An extremely difficult problem that had been unsolved since the mid-19th century).

So he did. And in doing so he produced one of the most beautiful and original proofs in mathematics. []
posted by antiform at 7:55 PM on September 11, 2009

Not exactly inventing, but the naming of the chimichanga has a probably apocryphal* anger story associated with it. The story being that Monica Flin, a cook at the Mexican restaurant El Charro in Tucson, dropped a burrito into the deep fryer and started to swear**, but then caught herself and turned it into the word "chimichanga" (which roughly means "thingamajig").

*Though I seem to remember hearing that this story is due to Ms Flin herself, so I'm not sure if it counts as "apocryphal". Maybe "disputed" or "unverified" is a better word for it.

**I presume some form of "chingar" (similar to "fuck", at least in the sense of being a vulgar word that can mean "have sex" or "make a mistake").

posted by ErWenn at 8:09 AM on September 12, 2009

Goretex. The inventor of Goretex (Bill Gore) had spent a lot of time trying to make a fiber out of teflon by stretching it verrry slowwly. After a multitude of failures, he got so fed up he just grabbed a wad of it and yanked both ends. Voilà, a nice thin strand appeared.
posted by bricoleur at 2:57 PM on September 12, 2009

Again, not quite inventing, but Ferruccio Lamborghini (whose company made farm machinery) reportedly had an argument with Enzo Ferrari over the quality of the clutches in the Ferrari cars Lamborghini owned. Ferrari is reported to have said something along the lines of 'You may be able to build a tractor, but you will never be worthy of a Ferrari'. Shortly thereafter Lamborghini decided he would just build his own car.
posted by pupdog at 9:57 AM on September 13, 2009

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