How a Stupid Rule Gave Birth to the Jell-O Shot

Make mistakes and market them.

Photo by Girl with red hat on Unsplash

Oops. You hear the word all the time, especially from the kids. But what if the oops moment leads to a creation that comes to be enjoyed by society at large? You weren’t looking for it, but you found a new way to do something because you worked hard to get around being told what not to do. You not only made your desire come true, but you did it because you received a nudge to make something happen.

Necessity is the mother of invention. We don’t know the author of the saying, but it is sometimes ascribed to Plato. What we understand better is the meaning behind the words. When someone is put in a difficult situation, they will find a way to overcome it. That is to say, you’ll find a creative way to accomplish your goal. When the chips are down, you’ll become a creative, solution-based thinker.

Such is the story of the Jell-O shot. You can give credit to Le Viandier de Taillevent of the 14th Century to first flavor his wine if you want to. Or you can give credit the Jerry Thomas, a bartender of the 19th century for his punchy jello. The most exciting story I’ve found about how the Jell-O shot came to be, credits Thomas Andrew Lehrer with the invention.

Lehrer, a retired American singer, songwriter, and mathematician, graduated from Harvard. He’s known for his dark humor and songs like “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park” and a song about “The Elements” — all the elements of the periodic table of elements known at the time of writing the song.

Possibly it’s his mix of creativity, humor, fun, and smarts that led to the invention of the Jell-O shot. Lehrer didn’t have a high school diploma, yet he had a master’s degree from Harvard. He was drafted into the US Army and had a fondness for sharing drinks with his brothers in arms.

Lehrer and his buddies wanted to attend a party on a naval base in Washington DC and no alcoholic beverages were allowed. They got together the day before the party to find a way around the issue.

“We wanted to have a little party, so this friend and I spent an evening experimenting with Jell-O. It wasn’t a beverage…” he told San Francisco Weekly, “…so we went over to her apartment and we made all these little cups…”

Lehrer wanted to have fun with friends. And just like that, the Jell-O shot was born. The recipe involves a little experimenting.

Experiment for Best Results

Recipes abound, they are widely known to be a favorite at college parties, but they don’t disclose the perfect Jell-O to alcohol ratio. Gin, vodka, cinnamon whiskey, tequila — select your chosen option and perhaps experiment a little before the party. Lehrer and his buddies suggest orange Jell-O as the best option, but that was before General Foods and the varieties of Jell-O we have today. Fruity flavors of Jell-O seem to have the best results.

Have Fun

Jell-O Shots are made with hard alcohol and have high alcohol content. Depending on the ratio of alcohol to Jell-O, you may want to be careful while throwing back shots with friends, because you can consume a lot of alcohol very quickly and lose track of how much you have consumed.

Add alcohol into the gelatin mixture, pour into small cups, and refrigerate until firm. Once completely firm, you can wet the rim of the cup and place each cup onto a plate of sugar or salt. Add a wedge of lime, too, if desired. You then have a classy beverage fit for an adult party, or skip these steps and quickly be out the door to where friends are ready to be entertained. Who knows, your time together may lead to a new invention.

Great Inventions Come From Mistakes

Did you know Play-Doh, potato chips, x-rays, post-it notes, and penicillin were all mistakes? Play-Doh was intended to clean wallpaper. The soap company instead made this paste mixture, and a pre-school teacher commented that her students liked to play with it. She even helped coin the name, Play-Doh.

A hotel chef, George Speck, reportedly got annoyed that his potatoes kept being returned by guests who complained they were too soggy. He got annoyed and sliced the potatoes super thin and fried them.

X-rays were invented when Wilhelm Röntgen accidentally covered cathode ray tubes and shot them across the room.

Post-It notes were a failed experiment of trying to make a super-strong adhesive for the aerospace industry. Instead of a super-strong compound, we have a super weak adhesive that can be used multiple times.

Possibly the most famous mistake is the invention of penicillin by Alexander Fleming who was in a hurry to go on vacation. He sloppily cleaned out his Petri dishes and when he returned two weeks later, he found a mold that killed bacteria. The mold is what we know as penicillin.

Bottom Line

We have some of the best inventions because we failed at something else. Fortune favors the bold. Have the courage and determination to create something. Have fun, stay creative, and keep good friends around who dare to make mistakes and find a good use for them. Put the mistake first and develop the marketing plan later. Maybe you’ll make a fortune. If not, you can enjoy a Jell-O shot and tell great stories.

Written by

Founder of Publishous. Mom of 2. Helps writers write better. Get my book, Make Money on Medium: Build Your Audience & Grow Your Income:

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