This is a guest blog by Paul Niemann that was originally published on MarketLaunchers.com, a resource for inventors to build their own web page. Plus, it can be seen by companies who search MarketLaunchers.com’s invention database for new products.  


Image Courtesy: Marcin Wichary via FlickrWhy were Xerox, Monopoly and Pepsi initially considered failures?

“I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.”  

Chester Carlson, Charles Darrow, and Caleb Bradham. You might not recognize their names, but you know their products. And there’s a lesson in this story for every inventor…

Chester Carlson’s working career began early in life, becoming his family’s main provider before he started high school. A few years later, he was working as a patent clerk for Bell Labs in New York when inspiration struck one day. Chester was tired of having to manually re-type patent descriptions and re-draw patent drawings whenever copies were needed, so he set out to devise a method of making photocopies. Chester patented his method in 1937, and it took him only 22 years to become an overnight success when he teamed up with a small paper manufacturing company named Haloid. The product became known as the Model 914, and Haloid soon changed its name to Xerox.

Where would some of America ’s largest office products companies like Staples and Kinko’s be without Chester Carlson’s invention? Answer: They would probably be non-existent. Despite all of Chester’s success, he was rejected at first. IBM, Kodak, General Electric and nearly twenty other companies rejected his idea.  

The precursor to Monopoly was a 1904 game called “The Landlord’s Game,” which taught people the unfairness of realty and tax systems. Soon people were customizing the game to reflect their own neighborhoods. After Charles Darrow of Germantown, Pennsylvania, played one of these games at a friend’s house, he changed the game to what became Monopoly and began manufacturing the games himself and selling them for $4 apiece.  

Despite all of Charles’ success, he was rejected at first. What happened? Parker Brothers rejected it in a big way, sighting 52 fundamental flaws! So Charles did what any determined inventor would do – he continued selling the game himself. When Parker Brothers saw the success Charles was having during the Christmas season of 1934, they agreed to buy the rights from him and the game has gone on to become a huge success.  

North Carolina native Caleb Bradham created Pepsi in 1893, although it wasn’t originally called Pepsi. He named it after himself and called it “Brad’s Drink.” Caleb Bradham poured a sample of his mixture into a beaker and gave it to his assistant to taste it. When he saw his assistant’s face light up upon tasting it, Caleb knew he had created a winner.  

He later renamed it Pepsi Cola after its two main ingredients, pepsin and the cola nut. Pepsi Cola was successful until sugar prices went bad in 1923. Eight years later, the Loft Candy Company purchased a bankrupt Pepsi Cola Company. Despite all of Pepsi’s early success, it was rejected at first. When the Loft Candy Company struggled with Pepsi just like its founder did, they offered to sell it to Coca-Cola. Unfortunately for Coca-Cola, they rejected it without even making a bid.  

So the common theme here is … ? That’s right; each invention was rejected before the decision-makers at the right companies figured out what a great invention it was.  

You can’t really blame the companies that rejected them, though. Chester Carlson’s Xerox technology, with terms like “electrostatics” and “photoconductivity,” was so new and so different from anything that had ever been created that no one else even understood it. Monopoly made Charles Darrow the world’s first millionaire board game inventor, even though he wasn’t the person who designed the original version of the game. Pepsi, on the other hand, was just one of many cola companies of that era, and its early bankruptcy made it less than an ideal prospect.   

At the beginning of this story, I mentioned that there’s a lesson in this story for every inventor – and that is if you have a good product for which there is a market (assuming that it can be manufactured and priced right, and promoted and distributed properly), that you should keep being persistent until you get it onto the market.  

Who was it who said the quote at the beginning of this column?  

Former IBM chairman Thomas Watson, in 1943. And despite all of his success, his comment was rejected at first.

Looking to protect your idea without breaking the bank? Curious why inventors need to protect IP. Check out this related post on utility vs. design patents. Or just have a question? Let us know!


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