I was not the cleanest kid. As a boy, I wore the same filthy blue coat until it basically decomposed off my body. I constantly dragged into my bedroom old sticks, bird’s nests, unwashed rocks, bones, and stuff I called “experiments.” Experiments could be anything composed of unknown liquids, fur, dirt, or bugs. Moreover, I was not fond of bathing. My mother regularly checked behind my ears after forcing me to take a bath. On many occasions she sent me back to the bathtub to clean a bit more vigorously.
I would have given most anything to find a good reason to avoid all that unwarranted washing. And only now, at this late date, have I finally found a valid reason for not washing. This especially applies to anyone (read me) conducting experiments.
Here is the reason for not washing: saccharine.
That’s correct, the artificial sweetener.
Saccharine, as it turns out, was accidentally discovered by Constantin Fahlberg in 1879. Fahlberg, at the time, was experimenting in his lab with coal tar. A messy substance to be sure. He felt certain he could find new uses for the stuff.
One night, after working long hours in the lab, he whisked off to make dinner with hands still covered in whatnot from his experiments. When he ate a piece of bread, he noticed a particular sweetness. His napkin tasted sweet. Even his water tasted sweet. Realizing something on his unwashed hands was responsible for the sweet taste, Fahlberg rushed back to his lab and (at least this is what I would have done) began licking his experiments to find the sweet stuff.
He discovered saccharine.
Saccharine, though having a bitter aftertaste in higher concentrations, is still used to sweeten products such as candies, soft drinks, toothpaste, and medicines. Saccharine, also known as “Benzoic sulfide,” is probably not something you want to ingest in large doses over a long period of time.
But the real story here is dirty hands. What might I have invented if my mother had not forced me to wash so often?