Business Unusual

The surprising history of some well known products

Our lives are enriched by the hundreds, if not thousands, of products that have been developed over many years. What we may not realise is that some of the best known were created for something else and either failed or were more popular, practical or profitable with a new use.

Bubble Wrap

In 1957 two men had an idea to make a textured wallpaper in the hope of launching a successful business. The texture was created by enclosing pockets of air in small evenly spaced bubbles on a layer of plastic.

It may have worked as a temporary padded cell, but it did not work as the next great thing in wall coverings. Nor did it work as greenhouse insulation. The product popped thanks to another standout product. IBM’s new 1401 console in 1959. Packaging had not been used for products much before then and it was novel for electronic equipment. It was a hit and sparked significant growth in packing materials. Bubble Wrap became a trademark of the Sealed Air Corporation which still lists it as one of its main products to this day. A 1992 study found that popping sheets of bubble wrap would have a calming effect on those using it.

Coca-Cola

An even more well-known product Pemberton’s French Wine Coca, created using cocaethylene which is cocaine in alcohol. The chemist that mixed it based it on versions that had been popular in Europe. He created it to manage his and others addictions to morphine which was widely used at the time. A prohibition required the alcohol removed but cocaine remained. Koala nuts were used and contain caffeine. The syrup was combined with carbonated water and sold as a kind of medicine as carbonated water was considered to have health benefits. It would have disappeared along with many other strange medicines if it were not for the sale of the most of the company to Asa G. Candler. He extended its availability and began what could arguably be called the most successful and sustained marketing effort in human history. According to Coca-Cola, they have grown from nine drinks sold per day in the first year to 1.9 billion per day now.

Listerine

Another product from the 1800s you may have used today was initially marketed as a surgical antiseptic, it was also marketed to more general use as a floor cleaner. But the use that proved most successful was as a cure for bad breath, although it appears bad breath was not considered an issue at the time. Listerine’s antiseptic nature of most of its ingredients - mint, thyme, wintergreen and eucalyptus - combine with alcohol, which are all antibacterial.

The latest application first tested in 2016 was for the treatment of oral gonorrhoea and showed it was effective in reducing the bacterial count of those studied.

Post-It Notes

You probably used a Post-it note in the last month, it has a unique adhesive that is sticky but only enough to hold the little paper squares to a board or other paper. It was supposed to be a super strong glue developed in 1968. It wasn't and so the next five years were spent looking for a use for it. The answer came slowly when it was first used as a bookmark with 3M encouraging staff to develop non core products. It began to grow in popularity in the late 70s and remains so today.

Viagra

Sildenafil was intended to manage pulmonary hypertension which relates to increased blood pressure in the lungs. Suffers would have shortness of breath, chest pains and a rapid heartbeat. The Sildenafil trial showed it could be used for its treatment, but it was a side effect that had made it the product we know today, Viagra. It affects the blood pressure regulation mechanism in the penis. At one point sales were over R16 billion per year.


Recommended

by NEWSROOM AI
Read More
Watching the 2019 Rugby World Cup from your couch may be better than being there

Watching the 2019 Rugby World Cup from your couch may be better than being there

Television has been a game-changer for watching live sport

WeWork hopes to fix old office problems with big data, disruption and community

WeWork hopes to fix old office problems with big data, disruption and community

The We Company is due to list later this year but there are big problems with its valuation and business model.

The Silicon Age - How one element has powered most of human innovation

The Silicon Age - How one element has powered most of human innovation

Wherever you look you will see silicon at work. This is a tribute to the 14th element on the periodic table and its many uses.

Doomsday weapons, a deterrent or a real threat?

Doomsday weapons, a deterrent or a real threat?

The World is both safer and more dangerous than it has ever been and these weapons could end human life on the planet.

Who gets the biggest cut of the billion dollar hair loss industry?

Who gets the biggest cut of the billion dollar hair loss industry?

Stem cells and 3D printing may give hope to those tearing their hair out trying to save theirs.

It's called the web. Is it any surprise we got caught in it?

It's called the web. Is it any surprise we got caught in it?

The World Wide Web is 25 years old. What was supposed to connect us has become more like a trap and we all helped it happen.

Popular articles
4 things you should never say if you want to get rich

4 things you should never say if you want to get rich

Don’t ever say or, worse, believe any of these wealth-destroying platitudes, implores personal finance expert Warren Ingram.

'We have evidence that the EFF and Julius Malema took bribes for tenders'

'We have evidence that the EFF and Julius Malema took bribes for tenders'

Arabile Gumede interviews Stefaans Brummer, a journalist at the amaBhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism.

Mail & Guardian: Hawks investigating Floyd Shivambu's Range Rover Sport purchase

Mail & Guardian: Hawks investigating Floyd Shivambu's Range Rover Sport purchase

Investigative journalist Thanduxolo Jika gives details of the report he filed on the EFF leader and the connection to VBS.

[WATCH] 'If this world were mine', grocery store impromptu rendition goes viral

[WATCH] 'If this world were mine', grocery store impromptu rendition goes viral

Khabazela shares tweets and Facebook posts that have gone viral.

How to buy a new car even if you don’t really have enough money for it

How to buy a new car even if you don’t really have enough money for it

South Africans are increasingly buying cars they can’t afford using balloon payments, says consumer journalist Wendy Knowler.

Forensic investigator pokes holes in Watson death probe

Forensic investigator pokes holes in Watson death probe

The recent findings of a private pathologist ruled out suicide as the cause of death of the former Bosasa boss.