Inspiring inventors and entrepreneurs often think too hard when brainstorming the next big thing. Not all successful million-dollar inventions have to solve world peace or cure cancer — although that’d be nice.
Fortunes have been made in the most unlikely of ways. What some would deem as stupid or silly, others view as worthwhile. Despite all odds, these 15 wacky, yet top-selling products actually became million-dollar inventions for those who created them. How many of these products do you own?
1. Head On
- $6.5 million in 2006
Sirivision, the distributor for Head On, has an unbearingly annoying commercial to thank for its unlikely success. Sales for a product that claims to relieve headaches when applied directly to your head grew by 234% immediately following the commercial’s release. It logged $6.5 million in sales in 2006 alone. Not bad for a wax product that cannot be backed by any scientific research.
Next: Someone in your family definitely owns one of these million-dollar inventions.
- $1 billion
The plastic, albeit slightly unflattering, shoe has sold over 300 million pairs worldwide. They’re most popular in China and Europe but are reemerging in the U.S. with an attempt to rebrand with new, upscale styles. So ridicule the nurses and suburban dads for their fashion choices all you want, but the company made $1 billion in sales in 2011. Company shares are still increasing in 2017.
Next: A product that went viral
3. Shake Weight
- $40 million
Inventors of the Shake Weight also have the internet to thank for making their wacky million-dollar invention profitable. Sales skyrocketed when their unapologetically sexual YouTube ad went viral and found itself on TV. Countless spoofs aside, the advertising ploy worked. The company pulled in $40 million in sales in 2010. It’s also entirely probable this product finds itself in the “As Seen on TV” hall of fame.
Next: A toy that crawls
4. The Slinky
- $3 billion
The Slinky was inducted into the Toy Hall of Fame in 2000. The Philadelphia Inquirer once dubbed it “a toy for regular people.” More than 350 million units have been sold earning a profit of over $3 billion.
But even more, Richard Thompson James secured a patent for his specialized spring, earning him millions in royalties from toy manufacturers to government agencies and farmers who integrated his design into light fixtures, gutter protectors, wave motion coils, therapeutic devices, and antennas.
Next: Millions in profit — hook, line, and sinker.
5. Big Mouth Billy Bass
- Profits unknown
The year 2000 proved America’s love for useless consumer products. One of the most notorious inventions was an aminated rubber fish with an affinity for showtunes. Though a definitive number is unavailable, Gemmy Industries told Entrepreneur they sold “millions and millions and millions” of the plastic singing fish. At $20 a pop, you can bet their profits reached insane heights.
Next: Women love this next profitable invention
- $400 million
Sara Blakely has a net worth of over $1 billion thanks to her crazy, seemingly pointless footless pantyhose idea. The creator of Spanx began with a $5,000 savings investment, which has grown to over $400 million in company revenue. She still owns 100% of the company today, as well as part of the Atlanta Hawks basketball team.
Next: Who knew this next product would get so popular?
7. Magic 8 Ball
The Magic 8 Ball still sells over 1 million units every year, even after being around for nearly 80 years. Albert Carter invented the useless gadget after seeing his clairvoyant mother use something similar. Though popular with kids, more adults find relief in turning their future over to a magical sphere because even the negative answers aren’t that negative. It is one of Time Magazine’s greatest toys of all time.
Next: No one thought this next invention would go anywhere
8. Ped Egg
- $450 million
The useful, yet totally gross Ped Egg is one of the most successful infomercial products ever. People attribute sales of over $450 million to the fact that the product solves an everyday problem at a very low cost. It’s for that reason consumers continue to buy it more than once.
Next: We all know someone who has this
9. Billy Bob Teeth
- $50 million
Besides being a go-to party starter and Halloween prop, fake teeth molds are a highly profitable product invention. Jonah White partnered with dental student (at the time) Rich Bailey to construct fake teeth molds that look decayed, yellow, and well, ugly. Fifty million in profit, and over 15 million sets of teeth later, White is one of the most successful novelty gift makers in America.
Next: We’re still unsure why anyone bought this product
10. Pet Rock
- $6 million
The product that is perhaps most inexplicable is Gary Dahl’s pet rock invention. He sold over 1.5 million pet rocks with the most brilliant marketing ploy ever: a pet that requires no real work and no actual commitment. The “pet” was even delivered in a box with breathable holes. The New York Times says the lifeless product raked in over $6 million in annual sales.
Next: Speaking of pets…
- $900 million
Tamagotchis were an unmatched ’90’ sensation. But the virtual, egg-shaped pet is making a comeback in 2017 for its 20th anniversary. Mini tamagotchis are available for $14.99, which will undoubtedly skyrocket its sales numbers. The company has sold over 82 million pets since its initial debut and earned over $900 million in total sales. Still it’s unclear why, as the product has a lifespan of only three days.
Next: A pointless bracelet that made millions
12. Snap Bracelets
- $8 million
Slap (or snap) bracelets made money hand over wrist. Shop teacher Stuart Anders created the simple product and allowed Main Street Toy Co. to market it to school-aged children. The company put a ball-park estimate of $6 to $8 million in annual revenue in 1990 alone, although they believe sales could’ve been higher if countless imitation products didn’t undercut their profits so harshly.
Eventually, the accessory became so popular and distracting, some schools banned them — a literal slap of the wrist.
Next: This product sure is silly!
13. Silly Putty
- $300 million
Even astronauts on Apollo 8 carried silly pully to space to ward off boredom and secure tools during weightlessness. Over 300 million eggs of goo have been sold since 1950, despite the fact you can make something similar using ingredients in your own home very easily. Today, the product still retails for just a dollar, meaning the profits earned using such a simple formula are astounding.
Next: Something free that became a billion-dollar industry
14. Bottled Water
- $16 billion
The mere fact that someone had the gall to bottle what was already free, market it as better, and charge thirsty patrons for regular water is pure genius. In fact, 10,000 million units of bottled water products were consumed in the US in 2016. It’s a $16 billion industry today, but that’s only counting U.S. sales. Worldwide sales are likely closer to $60 billion.
Next: Some would call this an unnecessary expense
- $1.7 billion
Paper towels and washcloths were already invented by the time Kleenex emerged on the scene. The company’s tissue products were originally marketed as a cleaning tissue for removing make-up but re-launched as a handkerchief competitor in the 1930’s. Since then, it’s been the No. 1 selling facial tissue in the world, generating over $1.7 billion in sales.
Follow Lauren on Twitter @la_hamer.
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