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Top 10 Products Which Aren’t Used for Their Original Purpose

by Shaun Rose
fact checked by Darci Heikkinen

There are many products in our world, some more useful than others! But did you know that some common household names weren’t always used for what we do now? Here are ten products that ended up being used for something other than their original purpose!

Related: 10 Victorian Invention We Just Can’t Do Without

10 Play-Doh

Play Doh Doctor Drill and Fill Toy Commercial 1979 Kenner

Everybody recognizes Play-Doh—the fun, moldable clay-like substance! But did you know Play-Doh wasn’t always meant to be a children’s toy? Play-Doh’s inventor, Joseph McVicker, had initially created Play-Doh in about 1930 as a wallpaper cleaner!

It was created in Cincinnati, Ohio, and you would use it by rolling it against a wall to remove built-up soot. By the late ’40s, vinyl-based wallpaper had reduced McVicker’s business to moderate success. Later, a friend of his, who happened to be a teacher, told him about her students having difficulties with the clay they were using. McVicker had the great idea to give them his wallpaper cleaner, which could be molded much easier. By 1955, this wallpaper cleaner had become “play-dough” after he supplied it to other Cincinnati schools, becoming what we all know today as Play-Doh.[1]

9 Post-it Notes

“Um, I invented Post-Its.’

Post-it notes have come to the aid of millions of people, whether for school teachers, students, businessmen and women, and so much more. These small sticky notes have reminded us to do our chores, go to work, and that the test is on the 15th. But these notes have quite an interesting backstory.

In 1968, a U.S. scientist working at 3M was attempting to develop a super-strong adhesive. The scientist was Dr. Spence Silver, and what he created instead was…a pressure-sensitive, weak adhesive. It garnered the nickname “unglue” for its useless practicality. However, in 1974, a colleague of Dr. Silver’s and another 3M scientist, Art Fry, found a use for it in his Hymn book! Art found his bookmarks unreliable and annoying, for they would frequently fly out of his book when he was done reading it. When Art applied the adhesive to a piece of paper and stuck it to his book, he found a solution to his problem! The adhesive and paper combo would stick well to his book, and when he was done using it, he could take it right off without any damage.

After this discovery, in 1977, 3M tried to sell it under the name “Press ‘N Peel’ with underwhelming results. A year later, however, they changed the name to “Post-its” and were met with great success! Can you imagine a world without these tiny, handy things?[2]

8 Bubble Wrap

Bubble Wrap Is Losing Its Pop

Bubble wrap, one of the most useful packaging products there is, and an even more useful noise machine! But there’s more to bubble wrap than just meets the eye. Let’s get popping because it was originally wallpaper!

Two engineers working at Sealed Air Corporation, Alfred W. Fielding and Marc Chavannes, attempted to make it big with their new invention in 1957. What was it, you ask? Well, it was a textured wallpaper! This interesting idea was created by pushing two shower curtains with bubbles spread across them and sealing them together. Unfortunately for Fielding and Chavannes, their wallpaper idea didn’t do them any good. They searched for alternative uses, and by 1959, they found some luck.

The tech company IBM announced their new computer, and Sealed Air Corp proposed using bubble-wrap as a packaging material to protect the computer. IBM approved, and soon enough, bubble wrap was used for packaging things worldwide—computers, phones, microwaves. They all came in this amazing packaging[3]

7 Super Glue

Super Glue Commercial (1977)

Super Glue doesn’t play around when you want to stick two things together. Super Glue is the go-to when you want the job done with its incredible adhesive power and quick-dry. But can you believe Super Glue wasn’t always supposed to be a super glue? In fact, it was almost something other than super glue twice!

During World War II, Dr. Harry Wesley Coover attempted to create clear, plastic gun sights for the allied armies to use. While searching for materials for his project, Coover and his research team came across a substance called cyanoacrylate, an extremely sticky compound he deemed perfect for holding the gun sights. The problem with it was that the cyanoacrylate would stick to anything it came in contact with, nearly destroying the project. So Coover searched elsewhere for materials.

However, in 1951, Coover came across the substance again! At Eastman Kodak, he rediscovered this sticky substance when assisting a team attempting to create heat-resistant polymers for jet engines. This time, however, an assistant of Coover’s, Fred Joyner, put the adhesive to use when he used it to glue two prisms together. To both of their amazement, the prisms stuck together almost instantly without any problems. Eastman Kodak began production of the adhesive and set it up for sale. The name “Super Glue” comes from when Eastman Kodak licensed the cyanoacrylate to the company Loctite, which sold it under the name “Super-Bonder.”

Besides being the product to use when needing a strong bond, Super Glue was also used in the Vietnam war to seal American soldiers’ battle wounds on the field. When injured, the main focus was to stop the bleeding, so the soldiers could be brought to the medic before they bled out. Super Glue almost instantly sealed the wounds and saved countless lives.[4]

6 The Treadmill

The treadmill, one of the most popular pieces of exercise equipment! It gets your cardio game up and your heart pumping. But did you know it was not always meant to help you lose weight?

The first known treadmills originated in the Roman Empire, where they were used as a winch in their ancient cranes. Here, the treadmill was a “tread wheel” of sorts, where men would walk inside the wheel to lift double their weight. The treadmill evolved in the 1800s, when farmers, needing a more reliable energy source for their stationary machines, found that if they put horses on the treadmills, they could produce much more energy than wind and water. The power needed to power the machines became known as “Horse Power.”

Our next iteration of the treadmill brings us to 1818 Great Britain, where engineer William Cubitt created a prison treadmill (or penal treadmill). These treadmills were used by putting prisoners on them and having the mills grind corn, occasionally being used for punishment only. The Prison Act of 1889 ended these treadmills, though, as hard labor was abolished in the prisons. At last, in the 1960s, Bill Staub and Dr. Kenneth Cooper brought to fruition the first home exercise treadmill, which is where it has comfortably stayed for the most part. The treadmill has had hundreds of years of innovation and history—just be grateful it’s in your home and not in a prison![5]

5 WD-40

WD-40 Commercial 2007

WD-40 is most commonly used as a maintenance product, usually as a lubricant of sorts, but for the most part, it’s a multi-use substance! WD-40 wasn’t always this multi-use wonder it was today, though.

In 1953, the three-person staff of Rocket Chemical Company decided to look into creating a rust-preventing, slick chemical to use in the aerospace industry. In San Diego, California, the staff members tried multiple times to get the results they wanted. It took them 40 times to perfect their Water Displacement substance. That’s right, WD-40 is an acronym, which stands for Water Displacement, 40th attempt.

WD-40 was first used by Convair to cover the outer shell of the Atlas missile, surprising so many Convair employees with its good results that they took some bottles of WD-40 for themselves. In 1960, Norm Larsen, the founder of Rocket Chemical Company, decided to put WD-40 in commercial cans to sell to the public.

The company grew substantially, and by 1961, WD-40 was being used to treat damage to vehicles and houses after Hurricane Carla struck the U.S. Gulf Coast. By 1969, Rocket Chemical Company was renamed the WD-40 Company, Inc., and the rest is history. WD-40 has come quite far, with a product meant simply for rust prevention turned into a product with thousands of uses. WD-40 can be found in 4 out of 5 American homes—that’s a lot of WD-40![6]

4 Chewing Gum

Chewing gum—the tasty, chewy, addicting candy “rubber”—pleases adults, children, and those who stick it under tables. Chewing gum wasn’t always meant to be heard because of lip-smacking, though!

Gum has existed for thousands of years, specifically in the Mayan and Aztec cultures, where it was known as chicle and used as a food and a breath freshener, respectively. The chewing gum we know today brings us to the United States in 1869, where Thomas Adams Sr., learns of “chicle” from Mexican general Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. Adams tries creating many things with the chicle: rain boots, face masks, and even toys! However, none of these creations brought him any success.

Later, though, Adams had a bright idea. Add flavor to the chicle! Adams began commercially selling the flavored chicle as “Adams New York Chewing Gum.” By 1870, Adams and Sons began selling sour orange-flavored gum as a candy. Adams eventually patented a chewing gum machine, and after years of innovation, we were given the chewing gum we know today. Can you imagine wearing rain boots made out of gum?[7]

3 The Necktie

The necktie, one of the most formal items you can wear! It’s dapper, classy, and all-around gives you a sophisticated look. But did you know the necktie wasn’t always meant to serve as a simple fashion item?

It is the 17th century, and the 30 Years’ War is raging throughout most of Europe. French King Louis the VIII has paid off mercenaries from Croatia to fight on the side of France. These Croatian soldiers had an ornate piece of cloth around their neck, used to hold up the top of their jackets. (LINK 18) King Louis the VIII took a liking to these cloth designs, so much so that he made them an official part of Royal Gatherings, making them a mandatory accessory to wear. He gave them the name “La Cravate.” While ties were much different in the 17th century, sometimes old habits don’t die hard! The tie we most commonly know was most likely brought into fashion around the 1920s.[8]

2 Listerine

Listerine Mouthwash – Mouth TV Commercial

Listerine, one of the most popular mouthwashes in the world, is used by about a billion worldwide. That’s a lot of people, hopefully with clean teeth! But Listerine wasn’t always meant to be a mouthwash.

In 1865, after the findings and theory of germs had been published by Louis Pasteur, the first surgery performed in a sterilized chamber was achieved by Sir Joseph Lister, allowing for a drop in death rates among patients. A man following the footsteps of both of their works, Doctor Joseph Lawrence, concocted an interesting solvent that would disinfect wounds, both on an operation table or on a battlefield.

He dubbed it “LISTERINE” after none other than Sir Joseph Lister. Throughout the late 19th and early 20th century, Listerine was sold as a floor cleaner, deodorant, and even a remedy for diseases. In 1923, it was finally settled on as an antiseptic mouthwash. Listerine has had quite an interesting history—it makes you wonder if it can still clean your floors![9]

1 The Slinky

Classic 1970’s Slinky® Commercial

The Slinky, one of the most infamous toys there is! Almost everyone has played with a slinky at least once in their lives, a simple spring coil that looks cool while going down your stairs! The Slinky has quite a significant history, though!

In 1943, a mechanical engineer named Richard James attempted to invent a spring that could keep a naval ship’s equipment steady as it voyaged across the sea. While working, James knocked a couple of his previous spring designs down off of a shelf. Rather than tumbling over or rolling off the shelf, the springs uncoiled and “gently” landed off the shelves. Astonished by what he saw, James set off to turn this tension spring into a toy.

When his wife Betty caught wind of his idea, she scavenged the dictionary for a name for his new toy. She found the word “Slinky,” meaning “graceful and sinuous in movement.” The name matched the toy perfectly, and thus it stuck. After another two years of experimentation with different lengths and sizes for the Slinky and a 500 dollar loan to manufacture the product, Richard and Betty James hit the jackpot after an initial sales slump. At the 1945 Gimbels Department Store in Philadelphia, Christmas time, the two sold 400 Slinkys in minutes! From a maritime device to a children’s favorite toy—the Slinky is quite the novel invention![10]

fact checked by Darci Heikkinen