10 of History's Happiest Accidents

Benjamin Franklin is supposed to have said, “Beer is living proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.” Good thinking, Ben. CarlosAndreSantos/iStock/Thinkstock

The ancient discovery of fermentation was almost certainly a happy accident – perhaps one of the happiest of all. No one knows who exactly invented the first beer. Humans first began domesticating wild grains around 10,000 years ago in Mesopotamia [source: Food Timeline]. The first breads were unleavened, meaning they were flat and tough. When grain gets wet, it becomes food for naturally occurring yeasts in the air, which produce alcohol as a byproduct.

At some point, ancient bakers must have noticed that this fermented grain rose into fluffier loaves of bread. A few adventurous/crazy folks also decided to take a sip of the stinky foam in the grain bin. And beer was born!

Some anthropologists and archaeologists even theorize that beer — not bread — was the original reason that humans took up agriculture [source: Kahn]. The social lubrication of low-proof alcohol may have softened the rigid social structures of ancient tribes and encouraged collaboration and innovation. Bread, some argue, was just a convenient byproduct of the quest to make tastier beer.

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