British shorthair silver tabby cat pplaying with bubble wrap
HT-Pix/istockphoto

Viagra, Kleenex, and Other Products Originally Invented for Another Purpose

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British shorthair silver tabby cat pplaying with bubble wrap
HT-Pix/istockphoto

Happy Accidents

Many of the products we know and love today have been around forever, so we only know them as they are — and how we use them — today. But what you might not know is that so many of those products were originally invented for another purpose entirely. From bipolar medication that became a popular soda to pie dishes that became college lawn toys, here are some of the popular items we use today that were created with other purposes in mind. 


Related: 21 Things We Use All the Time That Didn't Exist a Decade or So Ago

Listerine  Ad
wwing/istockphoto

Listerine

Original purpose: Surgical Antiseptic


Invented in 1879, Listerine was originally supposed to be a floor cleaner, surgical antiseptic, and was even used to treat gonorrhea. It had many different purposes over the next 100+ years, from dandruff treatment to cigarette additive, but didn’t become a halitosis quick fix until the 1910s.

 

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WD-40 Oil
hallopino/istockphoto

WD-40

Original purpose: Nuclear Missile Lubricant


While the original purpose of WD-40 isn’t too far off from what it’s used for today, it was originally created by a California-based company called Rocket Chemical Co. as a way to lubricate nuclear missiles during the Cold War era. The name is an abbreviation for “water displacement, 40th attempt.” 

 

Related: What That’s Really For: Items With Hidden Design Features

British shorthair silver tabby cat pplaying with bubble wrap
HT-Pix/istockphoto

Bubble Wrap

Original purpose: Wallpaper


Originally intended to be wallpaper, bubble wrap got a second chance when IBM announced a new computer release in 1959. Al Fielding and Marc Chavannes, inventors and founders of Sealed Air Corp., pitched their failed product as packaging materials for fragile items, and bubble wrap took off. 

colorful play dough in yellow can
Tigercat_LPG/istockphoto

Play-Doh

Original purpose: Wallpaper Cleaner


In the 1930s, Cleo McVickers, a soap manufacturer in Cincinnati, created a moldable clay as a way to clean wallpaper. The clay didn’t become a toy for children until a relative, Kay Zufall, shared it with her preschoolers. She even gave the product its name: Play-Doh

Treadmill used to punish prisoners at Breakwater Prison, Cape Town
Treadmill used to punish prisoners at Breakwater Prison, Cape Town by Lennon001 - (CC BY-SA)

Treadmills

Original purpose: Mill Grain Tool for Idle Prisoners


In 1818, English engineer Sir William Cubitt wanted to find a way to do something with idle prisoners and reform them, so he created an endless staircase with a handrail for prisoners to mill grain as they walked. The original staircase looks much more like a modern day stairclimber than a treadmill.

 

Related: Cheap Alternatives to Pricey Stationary Bikes and More

Close-up of a slinky toy in children's hands against the background of a colored strip T-shirt
andreygonchar/istockphoto

Slinky

Original purpose: Keep Navigational Equipment from Shifting


The slinky was invented in the 1940s when Richard James, a naval engineer, tried to solve the issue of keeping navigational equipment from moving while at sea. He coiled wired to create a spring and when he saw it “walk” away, he told his wife and they developed the modern day Slinky together.

 

Related: Vintage Toys That Will Make You Wish You Were a Kid Again

81zbXxa3YrL._SL1500_.jpg
Amazon

Kotex Pads

Original purpose: Surgical Dressing


During WWI, Kimberly-Clark created a surgical dressing for treating battle wounds. The nurses at the Red Cross discovered that the material called Cellucotton, made from wood pulp, was incredibly absorbent and inexpensive — qualities that would pave the way for the first mass-marketed disposable sanitary napkin for menstruation. The product got its name when an employee described it as having a “cotton-like texture,” which was then shortened to “cot-tex,” but “kotex” was easier to say.     

Coca-Cola Started As Drug-Infused Wine
Wikimedia Commons

Coca-Cola

Original purpose: Alternative to Morphine Addiction


John Pemberton, the inventor of Coke, created the drink in 1892 as a way to treat his headaches and relieve anxiety brought on by his morphine addiction. Originally called Pemberton’s French Wine Coca, the recipe took another 20 years to become what it is today.

 

Related: Fun and Little-Known Facts About Coca-Cola

Historical osteotome, a medical bone chainsaw
Wikimedia Commons

Chainsaws

Original purpose: Birthing Tool


Two Scottish doctors invented the chainsaw in 1780 to split a woman’s pelvis during childbirth, allowing the baby to pass through the birth canal more easily. It would be another century before the bone-cutting device was patented for wood-cutting.

Gas mask and helmet from 1st world war
narvikk/istockphoto

Kleenex

Original purpose: Gas mask filters 


Kleenex was originally sold as a filter for gas masks in the first World War, but in 1924, Kimberly-Clark made the sheets thinner and softer and sold them as a replacement for cold-cream towels, used to help apply skincare serums. It wasn’t until 1930 that marketing shifted to include nose needs, six years after Kleenex was invented. 

 

Related: Everyday Words That Are Actually Brand Names

Two blister packs of Viagra, blue anti-impotence tablets
clubfoto/istockphoto

Viagra

Original purpose: Hypertension Treatment


Officially called Sildenafil, Viagra was created by Pfizer to treat symptoms of heart disease like angina and hypertension, but during clinical trials, the drug wasn’t treating those things the way it was supposed to. Male patients, however, were experiencing erections as a common side effect. In 1998, Viagra hit the market as a treatment for erectile dysfunction. 

 

Related: 18 Myths About Seniors and Sex

Graham Crackers Were Invented to Curb Sexual Urges
bhofack2/istockphoto

Graham Crackers

Original purpose: Curb Sexual Desires


Graham crackers were invented in New Jersey by Presbyterian minister Sylvester Graham as a way to curb sexual desire. Graham believed sex was a rapant evil in the world and that a diet of simple foods would curb any desires. 

 

Related: 15 Ways to Enjoy S'mores, from Basic to Boozy

Rogaine
Amazon

Rogaine

Original purpose: Blood Pressure Medication


The popular hair-growth medicine was originally created to lower blood pressure, which it did. However, an unexpected side effect was increased hair growth in patients. Rogaine was adjusted to avoid growth in unwanted areas before taking off and becoming the popular hair growth serum it is today. 

 

Related: These Are the Biggest Hair Myths You Should Get Out of Your Head

Can of 7 Up drink on ice isolated on white
darios44/istockphoto

7UP

Original purpose: Bipolar Disorder Treatment


Originally called “Bib-Label Lithiated Lemon-Lime Soda,” 7UP was made with lithium and used as a drug to treat those suffering from bipolar disorder. The soda contained lithium until the 1950s, and it has been suggested that the “7” in the name refers to lithium’s atomic mass.

Nalgene Water Bottles
Nalgene Water Bottles by Nmnogueira (CC BY-SA)

Nalgene Water Bottles

Original purpose: Laboratory Equipment


Nalgene was originally developed as a line of polyethylene laboratory equipment, meant to be an unbreakable container that could withstand reactive chemicals and high temperatures. Some of the scientists used the bottles while hiking, prompting Nalge’s president to take the products camping to test them out for himself. They were still used in the lab, but later advertised as water bottles as well. 

1973 Ad, Lysol Fresh Scent Deodorizing Cleaner
1973 Ad, Lysol Fresh Scent Deodorizing Cleaner by Classic Film (CC BY-NC)

Lysol

Original purpose: Feminine Hygiene Spray


When Lysol first hit the market, it was advertised as a household cleaner, vaginal douche, and even hinted at the ability to be used as contraception. The product was not just dangerous, it didn’t prevent pregnancy, either. Today the brand has grown into many other cleaning products, all of which are meant for inanimate objects. 

 

Related: Does Lysol Kill Coronavirus? The EPA Weighs In

Illinois Corn Flake
tomasworks/istockphoto

Cornflakes

Original purpose: Curb Sexual Desires


In the same vein as Sylvester Graham, William and John Kellogg created cornflakes in the 19th century to quell sexual desires. The brothers developed the recipe to feed their patients at their sanitarium in Battle Creek, Michigan. Although their relationship was fraught with drama and lawsuits, the Kellogg brothers patented the cereal and built the Kellogg brand. 


Related: 30 Things You Didn't Know About Your Favorite Childhood Cereals

Gray Taped Window
steverts/istockphoto

Duct Tape

Original purpose: Sealing Ammunition Cases


Duct tape was invented by Vesta Stoudt, who had two sons in the Navy, for military use in World War II as a way to seal ammunition boxes. Carpenters also used the tape on ducts, hence the name duct tape. Today, you can find the adhesive in any craft aisle in an array of colors, patterns, and prints. 

Funny catching
cerae/istockphoto

Frisbees

Original purpose: Pie Pans


In 1871, William Frisbie sold pies to students at Yale in tin pans. Once the students ate the pies, they threw the tin pans around yelling “Frisbee.” It wasn’t until 1957 that Wham-O sold plastic versions of the tins, called “Pluto Platters.”

 

Related: Toy Brands Still Made in America

Herbal Tea
CaitlinElizabeth/istockphoto

Teabags

Original purpose: Tea Sample Container


In 1904, a tea importer from New York, began using silk sachets to bag tea samples and make tea more stylish. People loved the silk bags of tea, not because of their look, but because it was much easier to enjoy a cup of tea by steeping the porous silk bags.