Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Five business failures that became blockbusters

History is littered with business flops, some of which died and others which led the way to colossal successes. Here are five examples of failures that morphed into hits:

1 of 5

Viagra
Before it put a spring in Bob Dole’s step, Viagra was intended for use in treating cardiovascular problems such as angina. The accidental side effect: boosting blood flow to the penis. Viagra never made it as a heart medicine, but it is now one of the most popular treatments in the world for erectile dysfunction, generating more than $2-billion (U.S.) in sales for Pfizer Inc. last year.

Pfizer Canada Inc.

2 of 5

Corn flakes
This ubiquitous breakfast cereal was born of a cooking mishap. One day in 1894, Will Keith Kellogg accidentally left wheat boiling on the stove. It congealed into paste. He and his brother, John Harvey, rolled out the paste, cut it, toasted it – and Corn Flakes were born.

Paul Sancya/Associated Press

3 of 5

Gorilla glass
It’s 1952, and the experiment flopped. Don Stookey, a chemist at Corning Glass Works placed a glass sample inside a furnace and set the temperature to 600 C. But a wonky instrument allowed temperatures to hit 900 degrees. The result: a light-weight, opaque glass that, when it fell on the floor, did not break. That durability, at that time, limited its appeal. But flash forward to 2007 and suddenly a new use for gorilla glass emerges: as screens on iPhones, creating blockbuster sales for Corning.

Associated Press

4 of 5

Post-it notes
It was meant to be an industrial-strength adhesive, and failed because it wasn’t all that sticky and could be peeled away easily. But that weakness, noted inventor Spencer Silver at 3M in the late 1960s, could be an advantage. It left no residue and was removable – perfect to mark hymns as a bookmark. Thus sticky notes were born.

Seth Perlman/Associated Press

Story continues below advertisement

5 of 5

Potato chips
Blame a picky diner for the world’s most addictive junk food. Flash back to 1853, when a diner in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., repeatedly sent back his fried potatoes, complaining they were soggy. Chef George Crum (or, by some accounts, his wife) sliced the spuds more thinly, coated them in hot grease and covered them in ludicrous amounts of salt. The resulting “Saratoga Chips” became a popular item in town and eventually throughout New England and the world (with another innovation landing in the 1920s, when Laura Scudder wrapped them in waxed paper bags to keep them fresh).

iStock photo

Report an error
Combined Shape Created with Sketch.

Combined Shape Created with Sketch.

Thank you!

You are now subscribed to the newsletter at

You can unsubscribe from this newsletter or Globe promotions at any time by clicking the link at the bottom of the newsletter, or by emailing us at privacy@globeandmail.com.