Remember the movie The Butterfly Effect? You definitely remember it being a first-rate movie that made you question the nature of reality and disturbed you in a profound way you couldn’t quite put your finger on—but it got a 33 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, so now you’re suspicious of your original assessment. You typically align with the critics from that site. Then again, its audience score is 81 percent, so maybe the critics got this one wrong?
When you rewatch the trailer, what you remember as a powerful, edgy film just seems…goofy. Ashton Kutcher gallivanting through time and space. That one dude from The Mighty Ducks. The booming, dramatic voiceover of cinematic trailers from the days of yore. Now that you’re questioning why you enjoyed this movie, and probably everything else you thought you knew, let’s dive into some of the real ‘butterfly effect’ moments from history.
Accidental discovery of antibiotics
As you may remember from elementary school science class, it was by accident that, in September 1928, Scottish scientist Sir Alexander Fleming discovered something that would change the course of human life: Antibiotics.
After vacationing for the summer in his home country, Dr. Fleming returned to the lab at St. Mary’s Hospital in London to find that everything was a mess. He noted that a mold called penicillium notatum had contaminated his petri dishes, where there had originally been colonies of staphylococcus aureus.
After examining the dishes under his microscope, his findings amazed him. The mold that had grown in his absence had prevented the normal growth of the staphylococci.
“When I woke up just after dawn on September 28, 1928, I certainly didn’t plan to revolutionize all medicine by discovering the world’s first antibiotic, or bacteria killer,” he wrote later. “But I guess that was exactly what I did.”
To be fair, this didn’t happen without some help, and Fleming’s role in the development of antibiotics has been a bit overblown. Dr. Howard Markel, the director of the Center for the History of Medicine and the George E. Wantz Distinguished Professor of the History of Medicine at the University of Michigan, points out in ‘The real story behind penicillin’ that it wasn’t until the “landmark work” of others a decade later that antibiotics could become usable.
In 1908, Adolf Hitler moved from Linz, Austria, to Vienna. He was 18 years old. Though he was of the same time and place as Sigmund Freud, the composer Gustav Mahler, and the painter Egon Schiele, Hitler was, as Peter Schjeldahl writes in The New Yorker, “one of the city’s faceless, teeming poor” who “often slept in a squalid homeless shelter, if not under a bridge.”
Young Hitler wanted to become an artist. Though he was able to scrape by with the help of friend, drawing postcard views of Vienna and selling them to tourists, he kept hitting walls. Twice, Hitler failed an admission test for Vienna’s art academy, which deemed his drawing abilities “unsatisfactory.” The rejections continued. Schjeldahl writes:
“As with any drifting young life, Hitler’s might have gone in a number of ways. The most exasperating missed opportunity was the possibility of working under the graphic artist and stage designer Alfred Roller, a member of the anti-academic Secession movement whose sets for the Vienna Court Opera’s productions of Wagner, which were conducted by Mahler, foreshadowed Nazi theatricality. With a letter of introduction to Roller, Hitler approached the great man’s door three times without mustering the nerve to knock. As it turned out, he seems never to have consorted with anyone whose ego overmatched his own.”
Although “Jews were among his companions and patrons,” Hitler found himself drawn to the anti-Semitism stirring around him, and he began to direct his resentment toward the most obvious scapegoat of the times: The wealthy Jewish bourgeoisie.
The Great Depression hit…and now we have LEGO toys. This may seem to be a bit of a reversal in terms of the relative importance of cause and effect. It would be more interesting if the invention of LEGO blocks had caused the Great Depression.
Still, it’s kind of wonky to think that something most associate with innocence, childhood, and playfulness, even the toy’s name, LEGO, is a contraction of ‘leg godt’, which is Danish for ‘play well’, came out of one of the most devastating economic crises in history.
Before the depression hit, the company had been a business that built houses and furniture. But, all of that came to a halt. “In 1932, as a consequence of the Great Depression, nobody could afford building or renovating their houses and the family was about to go broke when Ole Kirk Christiansen began the production of wooden toys, and bartered in kind, since most people at the time didn’t have any money,” Mark J.P. Wolf explains in ‘LEGO Studies: Examining the Building Blocks of a Transmedial Phenomenon’.
“After the war, in 1947, Ole Kirk Christiansen acquired the first plastic molding machine in Denmark, and the company started producing and selling plastic toys. In 1949, the first plastic bricks with four and eight studs were manufactured, and the following year Godtfred Kirk Christiansen [Ole’s son] was appointed Junior Vice President of the company. A few years later, in 1954, Godtfred Kirk Christiansen, inspired by a conversation with a toy buyer from a department store, set out to design a general toy system, and one year later the LEGO System of Play was invented. The LEGO brick was about to change the company.”
Can you imagine a time when potato chips didn’t exist? Neither can we, but it’s true. And what a sad time it must have been.
Supposedly, the chef who created them was unhappy; however, the snark that produced potato chips might have been nothing without one picky diner to ignite it all.
As the story goes, in 1853, a particular customer at a New York resort complained that the head chef, George Crum, had made the french fries too thick and soggy. Angered, Crum sliced up some potatoes super thin, fried them within inches of their life, et voilà, potato chips!
But, according to the fact-checking site Snopes, this origin story is only a fun legend. They write:
“The most credible version is that Katie Speck Wicks [Crum’s sister] invented the chip in an accident not dissimilar to the culinary misfire in which the brownie was born (from a mix-up of cake and fudge). ‘Aunt Katie,’ who also worked at Moon’s Lake House, was frying crullers and peeling potatoes at the same time. A thin slice of potato found its way into the frying oil for the crullers, and Katie fished it out. Noticing the chip, Crum tasted it and said, ‘Hm hm, that’s good. How did you make it?’ After Katie described the accident, Crum replied, ‘That’s a good accident. We’ll have plenty of these.’”
Even if revenge potato chips is a lie, the next time you’re about to make a fussy order and you’re worried your demands will make the cook want to spit in your food, there’s at least a small chance something delicious could come of it.