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Famous Failed Inventions that Lead to Success


“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”.

Those are wise words from the prolific inventor Thomas Edison. It is a mantra that we all would benefit from adopting. No one likes to fail, but failure is something we should all embrace and accept. To make advances in any field, mistakes have to happen so we can learn the correct solution.

There are many famous inventions which grew from mistakes and failures, and went on to change the world.


Sir Alexander Fleming was conducting experiments to reach his goal of discovering a “wonder drug” to cure a variety of diseases. One day he noticed an unknown fungus growing in a discarded Petri dish. The strange fungus was dissolving the surrounding bacteria. Fleming had completely unintentionally found one of the most important drugs for treating infections.


Sir James Dyson is well known for his innovative advances in vacuum technology. The Dyson brand of vacuums is highly regarded. But did you know it took thousands of prototypes, before he successfully produced the world’s first bag-less vacuum. That was thousands of mistakes and failed attempt to deal with, before getting it right. When asked about experiencing failure, he said “Instead of being punished for mistakes along the way, learn from the. I fail constantly, and I wouldn’t have it any other way”.


Wilhelm Conrad Rontgen was a German physicist who discovered the X-ray. He was observing cathode rays escaping from a glass tube covered with black cardboard. Noticing a glow appearing from his pitch black laboratory from the covered glass tube, he investigated further. He found that this new ray could permeate solid objects and even record images of skeletons onto photographic negatives. He won the very first Nobel Prize in 1901 for his accidental discovery of the X-ray.


Percy Spencer was working as a navy engineer in 1945. He was using a magnetron which emits microwaves. He just so happened to have a chocolate bar in his pocket. The chocolate melted since he was standing next to the magnetron. This sparked the idea that led to the eventual invention of the microwave oven.

For every successful invention, there are thousands which failed and never got to market. But even the successes were only possible thanks to failures, flukes and mistakes. Thomas Edison put it well, when he said “Failures are pivotal moments that force you to take a different path – a path to a better place.”

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