People who developed very important products/concepts/practices as a result of their everyday job...

I’m curious of what kinds of stories there are where people with regular jobs (mechanics, baristas, retail salespeople, etc.) who come up with very important/revolutionary products or concepts as a result of the job.

I’m not talking about Einstein dreaming up the theory of relativity as a patent clerk. Rather, it would be more like a guy who’s been a mailman for thirty years, and has devised a more efficient way to devise routes, which he gives to the USPS, and it changes the way they draw up their routes (not a true story, just trying to think of an example).

Again, it can be intangible things like a way to design mail routes, or it can be an actual product better TV antenna that is developed by someone who installed them for a living (obviously not the most up to date example, but you should get the point).

Liquid paper–invented by a secretary who needed a less cumbersome way to fix typos
post-it notes–guy looking for strong adhesive invents a weak one, and now they’re everywhere!

Gee they are both better stories than you let on:

Mike Nesmith of the Monkees was the son of Liquid paper inventor Bette Nesmith Graham


the corporate policies of 3M led to the use of Post it Notes.

Student’s t-test. And how’s this for a coincidence – that just happened to be the very Wikipedia page I had open at the moment.

About any management fad/system/tool which originated in an actual company: 6-sigma, 5S…

This probably doesn’t count, because he was an inventor (well, Research Fellow) by trade, but my dad envisioned a revolutionary method for making non-woven fabrics when he was giving me a bath as a kid. See, I had really long hair, and seeing it swirl in the bath water made him realize that water could be used to tangle fibers more effectively than the then-current methods.

Took two decades to develop the manufacturing process completely, but now the non-wovens you use everyday in baby wipes, dryer sheets, on diapers and maxipads and incontinence products and more were probably made by some version of the process inspired by my tangled hair! :smiley:

My grandfather has a patent on the modern disposable diaper, too, but again, that was his job. Still, the changes he made, most importantly by using biodegradable nonwovens to replace a cloth fabric inner layer and a plastic outer layer, were indeed inspired by my mother and uncle’s diaper rash!

I’m pretty confident I read somewhere that Frank McNamara invented the credit card when he was a travelling salesman. As far as I recall, he was having dinner in a restaurant during a business trip and had the idea of transposing a concept from hotels - where it had long been customary to charge services to the room bill and settle this bill upon departure - to different stores not run by the same company. McNamara then went on to found Diners Club. Unfortunately, the Wikipedia article doesn’t recall the precise circumstances.

Agreed, concepts similar to present-day credit cards had been around before, but Diners Club was the first in the modern sense, and the first to have a truly big impact on the way we make payments.

I know the guy who invented the Standard Test for some sort of lab thing which I assume is related to mycology, 'cause that’s what he used to do. Standard is his last name, unfortunately. I’m sure most lab tests were invented by scientists doing their jobs, although I’m not sure that’s really in the spirit of the OP.

What about Malcom McLean, generally considered the progenitor of container shipping? He was originally a truck driver.

There’s this, on the origins of Nike:

When Alice Vachss was putting together a prototype therapy program for sexually abused children, one of her volunteers was a blind woman who had a guide dog. They discovered that children who were scared to talk to adults about the abuse would talk to the dog.

When the volunteer moved on, Vachss adopted Sheba, a retired guide dog, and that was the start of the Vachss’s therapy dog program.

This also probably doesn’t count (but should).

Over the course of several long meetings, I devised the invention of the phrase “Listen carefully - 'I don’t fcking care*.” It’s like hitting the reset button.

More to the OP… a colleague of mine developed a risk management tool (for IT) that did alerting every two hours from multiple sources (can’t say much more, because it’s in the process of going into a sales environment). PERL scripting can be your friend.

ETA: He did this because vulnerability management on multiple platforms is a PITA, and felt like a waste of time.

Teflon was accidentally invented by Roy Plunkett at DuPont when he was researching refrigerants.

How about Gatorade Invented by some medical researches at University of Florida to help their football team.

One of the earliest examples I can think of is Henry Shrapnel, a lieutenant in the Royal Artillery, who invented a new kind of shell on his own time. It took him 20 years to convince the British Army to use them. The “bombs bursting in air” line from the Star-Spangled Banner refers to shrapnel shells.

Remember when car headlights were actually big light bulbs? I worked in a factory that made them. A guy working there designed a machine to shape, wind, and cut tungsten wire for the filaments, more efficiently than before. The company promoted him to a salaried job while he perfected the details of his design. When he finished his design, the company demoted him back to his hourly wage job.

As a salaried worker, all his inventions belonged to the company. As an hourly worker, he would have retained his right to the patents. His promotion was a way to take away his inventions. I know that guy. He’s Jack Dollar.

AutoTune was invented by Exxon for interpreting seismic data. The engineer who invented realized that it could also be used to detect and modify pitch.

This is were I was going to link to a comical Autotune youtube video, but I found this instead.