10 forgotten innovations that deserve a second chance

Read time 5 minutes
Posted on March 14th 2020
A fax machine

The thing about great innovation is you don’t always recognise how it has transformed your life. And before you do, it’s too late and you’ve taken it for granted.

Take the Internet for example. It has completely revolutionised our connectivity around the world and put the power of knowledge through the world wide web into the hands of everyone. From the convenience of ordering your weekly food shop with a few clicks on your laptop to having a chuckle into your mobile at the latest meme sweeping social media, the invention of this interconnected network of computers has changed our behaviours and the society we live in. How could we ever live without it now!

But, not every idea gets the credit it deserves or endures the ever-increasing pace of change. Many end up on the forgotten pile of, “I wonder what ever happened to…”

In this listicle, I'll highlight ten of the 'greatest' innovations that humankind tossed aside and forgot. Fools!

Let’s start at 10. The fax machine. Surprisingly, Scotsman, Alexander Bain invented the world’s first ‘electric printing telegraph’ back in 1843. It did its job of faithfully transmitting facsimiles of images and print from one machine to another for years. However, they warbled their funny dial tones into the wrong telephone handset once too often and earned the scorn of a frustrated public.

9. The MiniDisc. With the clarity offered by CDs and its cassette-like convenience the MiniDisc should have dominated in the battle for our ears, but it just did not get traction in the market. Before it knew what happened MP3 players came along and left the MiniDisc to find its own way to a box in the attic.

A MiniDisc player and discs

8. Teasmade. These were common in the UK in the 60s and 70s and then just disappeared from the mainstream. Did people in Britain suddenly stop enjoying a cup of tea in bed?! How odd that we should roll over and pull the blanket up on the notion of a bedside brew.

7. Email. Other forms of digital communication (text, instant message etc) may have taken over - but email still serves a purpose! Who doesn’t love firing off a well-composed email?

6. Fidget Spinners. Billed as a simple, playful way to focus the mind on the task at hand. The trouble was we got so distracted with it whizzing round between our fingers that we lost concentration on the task and never got any work done. Still, is that such a bad thing!?

Someone holding a spinning fidget spinner

5. Bullet journals. Getting organised never seemed so appealing! Creating your own beautifully illustrated flexible Filofax was meant to let you break free from the constraints of mass-made organisers, diaries’ and calendars. Unless you are a gifted artist with more spare time than you can fill, BuJo’s often end up languishing in a drawer. But, we implore you – you get out what you put in!

4. Shell suits. The 1980s were awesome! No doubt about it, and one of the shining highlights was zipping yourself into a lightweight, brightly patterned sports costume even if you were only limbering up for the 50m dash to the bakers for a sausage roll. It’s time for them to make a return!

3. Plaque disclosing tablets. Staining your teeth with a dye to show up where the plaque was and then frantically trying to ensure you brush it all off is up there with one of the best ideas ever! Two minutes brushing, twice a day to get that perfect smile has never been such a challenge.

An open mouth showing pink-coloured dye over areas of plaque on teeth

2. The tin can. Your cupboard may be full of beans, tuna and soup, but do you ever give the humble tin can the applause it’s due? No, you don’t, do you… Shame on you.

And in at number 1… Soap. The ancient Babylonians invented soap around 2,800 BC. Soap is a mixture of fat or oil, water, and an alkali. Its use today for personal cleaning and hygiene is as important now as it ever was. It helps to break down and remove dirt, grime and even things you cannot see like microbes and viruses.

Someone holding a bar of soap.

So, that’s ten innovations I think are worth giving a second chance and some more respect.

Written by digital communications coordinator, Derek Shirlaw.

Do you agree? What are your life-changing innovations?

Tweet us @GSC1 using #Idea59


At Idea No59 - Glasgow Science Centre’s new exhibition bringing ideas to life - you can celebrate the innovative spirit in us all and hone your skills and strengths. Who knows, you may be setting course towards the next great innovation that will shape the future.


Stay updated

Be the first to know of special events, upcoming experiences and special offers at GSC by signing up to our infrequent, engaging newsletter.

Stay updated