Serendipity is the effect by which one accidentally stumbles upon something fortunate, especially while looking for something entirely unrelated...

JPEG - 45.2 ko

The word has been voted as one of the ten English words that were hardest to translate in June 2004 by a British translation company.

However, due to its sociological use, the word has been imported into many other languages :

  • Portuguese serendipicidade or serendipidade
  • French sérendipicité or sérendipité but also “heureux hasard
  • Italian serendipità
  • Dutch serendipiteit
  • German Serendipität
  • Swedish, Danish and Norwegian serendipitet
  • Romanian serendipitate
  • Spanish serendipia
  • etc.


The word derives from “Serendip”, the Persian name for Sri Lanka [1], and was coined by Horace Walpole on 28 January 1754 in a letter he wrote to his friend Horace Mann (not to be confused with the famed American educator), an Englishman then living in Florence.
The letter read,
« It was once when I read a silly fairy tale, called The Three Princes of Serendip : as their highnesses traveled, they were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of : for instance, one of them discovered that a camel blind of the right eye had traveled the same road lately, because the grass was eaten only on the left side, where it was worse than on the right—now do you understand serendipity ? One of the most remarkable instances of this accidental sagacity (for you must observe that no discovery of a thing you are looking for, comes under this description) was of my Lord Shaftsbury, who happening to dine at Lord Chancellor Clarendon’s, found out the marriage of the Duke of York and Mrs. Hyde, by the respect with which her mother treated her at table. » [2]

 Role in science, technology and life

One aspect of Walpole’s original definition of serendipity that is often missed in modern discussions of the word is the « sagacity » of being able to link together apparently innocuous facts to come to a valuable conclusion. Thus, while some scientists and inventors are reluctant about reporting accidental discoveries, others openly admit its role ; in fact serendipity is a major component of scientific discoveries and inventions. According to M.K. Stoskopf “it should be recognized that serendipitous discoveries are of significant value in the advancement of science and often present the foundation for important intellectual leaps of understanding”.

The amount of contribution of serendipitous discoveries varies extensively among the several scientific disciplines. Pharmacology and chemistry are probably the fields where serendipity is more common.

Most authors who have studied scientific serendipity both in a historical, as well as in an epistemological point of view, agree that a prepared and open mind is required on the part of the scientist or inventor to detect the importance of information revealed accidentally. This is the reason why most of the related accidental discoveries occur in the field of specialization of the scientist.
About this, Albert Hofmann, the Swiss chemist who discovered LSD properties by unintentionally ingesting it at his lab, wrote
It is true that my discovery of LSD was a chance discovery, but it was the outcome of planned experiments and these experiments took place in the framework of systematic pharmaceutical, chemical research. It could better be described as serendipity”.

The French scientist Louis Pasteur also famously said : “In the fields of observation chance favors only the prepared mind.”. This is often rendered as “Chance favors the prepared mind.”.
William Shakespeare expressed the same sentiment 250 years earlier in act 4 of his play Henry V : “All things are ready if our minds be so.

History, of course, does not record accidental exposures of information which could have resulted in a new discovery, and we are justified in suspecting that they are many. There are several examples of this, however, and prejudice of preformed concepts is probably the largest obstacle.

 Serendipity : accidental inventions

As anyone with a knack for clichés knows, necessity is the mother of invention. However, it could also be said that while good inventions are often the product of necessity, great inventions are accidental.

Here are a few other accidental innovations that deserve at least a mention : saccharin (artificial sweetener), Scotchguard (aka Sellotape), Teflon, the band-aid, the frisbee, the sandwich, the popsicle, Silly Putty, x-rays, vulcanized rubber, velcro, safety glass, ...

To demonstrate the importance of serendipity, here’s a list (in no particular order) of 10 examples of unintentional discoveries that too often we find ourselves taking for granted :

 The Microwave

JPEG - 13.2 ko

In 1945 Percy Lebaron Spencer, an American engineer and inventor, was busy working on manufacturing magnetrons, the devices used to produce the microwave radio signals that were integral to early radar use. Radar was an incredibly important innovation during the time of war, but microwave cooking was a purely accidental discovery.

While standing by a functioning magnetron, Spencer noticed that the chocolate bar in his pocket had melted. His keen mind soon figured out that it was the microwaves that had caused it, and later experimented with popcorn kernels and eventually, an egg, which (as we all could have told him from mischievous childhood ‘experiments’), exploded.

The first microwave oven weighed about 750lbs and was about the size of a fridge.

 Potato chips/crisps

JPEG - 7.4 ko

In 1853, in a restaurant in Saratoga, New York, a particularly fussy diner (railway magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt) repeatedly refused to eat the fries he had been served with his meal, complaining that they were too thick and too soggy. After he had sent back several plates of increasingly thinly-cut fries, the chef George Crum decided to get his own back by frying wafer-thin slices of potato in grease and sending them out.

Vanderbilt initially protested that the chef’s latest efforts were too thin to be picked up with a fork, but upon trying a few, the chips were an instant hit, and soon everybody in the restaurant wanted a serving. This led to the new recipe appearing on the menu as “Saratoga Chips”, before later being sold all over the world.


JPEG - 10.3 ko

While many know that Dom Pierre Pérignon is credited for the invention of champagne, it was not the 17th century Benedictine monk’s intention to make a wine with bubbles in it – in fact, he had spent years trying to prevent just that, as bubbly wine was considered a sure sign of poor winemaking.

Pérignon’s original wish was to cater for the French court’s preference for white wine. Since black grapes were easier to grow in the Champagne region, he invented a way of pressing white juice from them. But since Champagne’s climate was relatively cold, the wine had to be fermented over two seasons, spending the second year in the bottle. This produced a wine loaded with bubbles of carbon dioxide, which Pérignon tried but failed to eradicate. Happily, the new wine was a big hit with the aristocratic crowds in both the French and English courts.


JPEG - 8.3 ko

More sticky stuff, though this one was famous for its high adhesive value, unlike Silver’s Post-It Notes. Superglue came into being in 1942 when Dr Harry Coover was trying to isolate a clear plastic to make precision gun sights for handheld weaponry. For a while he was working with chemicals known as cyanoacrylates, which they soon realized polymerized on contact with moisture, causing all the test materials to bond together. It was obvious that these wouldn’t work, so research moved on.

6 years later, Coover was working in a Tennessee chemical plant and realized the potential of the substance when they were testing the heat resistance of cyanoacrylates, recognizing that the adhesives required neither heat nor pressure to form a strong bond. Thus, after a certain amount of commercial refinement, Superglue (or “Alcohol-Catalyzed Cyanoacrylate Adhesive Composition”, to give it its full name) was born.

It was later used for treating injured soldiers in Vietnam – the adhesive could be sprayed on open wounds, stemming bleeding and allowing easier transportation of soldiers ; adding a delicious layer of irony to the story in that a discovery made during an effort to improve the killing potential of guns ended up saving countless lives.


JPEG - 8.3 ko

Everybody knows the story – or at least, should – the brilliant yet notoriously absent-minded biologist Sir Alexander Fleming was researching a strain of bacteria called staphylococci. Upon returning from holiday one time in 1928, he noticed that one of the glass culture dishes he had accidentally left out had become contaminated with a fungus, and so threw it away. It wasn’t until later that he noticed that the staphylococcus bacteria seemed unable to grow in the area surrounding the fungal mould.

Fleming didn’t even hold out much hope for his discovery : it wasn’t given much attention when he published his findings the following year, it was difficult to cultivate, and it was slow-acting – it wasn’t until 1945 after further research by several other scientists that penicillin was able to be produced on an industrial scale, changing the way doctors treated bacterial infections forever.

 Ice Cream Cones

JPEG - 6.8 ko

This story is a perfect example of serendipity, and a single chance encounter leading to worldwide repercussions. It’s also rather sweet.

Before 1904, ice cream was served on dishes. It wasn’t until the World’s Fair of that year, held in St Louis, Missouri, that two seemingly unrelated foodstuffs became inexorably linked together.

At this particularly sweltering 1904 World’s Fair, a stall selling ice cream was doing such good business that they were quickly running out of dishes. The neighboring stall wasn’t doing so well, selling Zalabia – a kind of wafer thin waffle from Persia – and the stall owner came up with the idea of rolling them into cone shapes and popping the ice cream on top. Thus the ice cream cone was born – and it doesn’t look like dying out any time soon.

 Post-It Notes

JPEG - 14.1 ko

The invention of the humble Post-It Note was an accidental collaboration between second-rate science and a frustrated church-goer. In 1970, Spencer Silver, a researcher for the large American corporation 3M, had been trying to formulate a strong adhesive, but ended up only managing to create a very weak glue that could be removed almost effortlessly. He promoted his invention within 3M, but nobody took any notice.

4 years later, Arthur Fry, a 3M colleague and member of his church choir, was irritated by the fact that the slips of paper he placed in his hymnal to mark the pages would usually fall out when the book was opened. One service, he recalled the work of Spencer Silver, leading to an epiphany – the church being a good a place as any to have one, I suppose – and later applied some of Silver’s weak yet non-damaging adhesive to his bookmarks. He found that the little sticky markers worked perfectly, and sold the idea to 3M. Trial marketing began in 1977, and today you’d find it hard to imagine life without them.

 The Pacemaker

JPEG - 6.2 ko

Like penicillin, here is another accidental invention that continues to save lives to this day. American engineer Wilson Greatbatch was working on a gadget that recorded irregular heartbeats, when he inserted the wrong type of resistor into his invention. The circuit pulsed, then was quiet, then pulsed again, prompting Greatbatch to compare this reaction with the human heart and work on the world’s first implantable cardiac pacemaker.

Before the implantable version was used on humans from 1960 onwards, pacemakers had been based on the external model invented by Paul Zoll in 1952. These were about the size of a television and dealt out considerable jolts of electricity into the patient’s body, which often caused the skin to burn. Greatbatch also went on to devise a lithium-iodide battery cell to power his pacemaker.

 The Slinky

JPEG - 13.5 ko

What walks down stairs, alone or in pairs, and makes a slinkity sound ? Well, originally it was just a spring falling off a desk. To be more precise, it was the desk belonging to marine engineer Richard James, who sometime in 1940 noticed that when the spring fell, it stumbled and tumbled across the floor for a while before laying to rest. After a few prototypes, the Slinky was ready to be introduced to toy stores in 1948, where it became one of the most popular and iconic toys of all time.

James’ wife Betty was the one who came up with the name “Slinky”, and has been CEO of the company since 1960. Over 250 million Slinkies have been sold worldwide, and they were even used as mobile radio antennae during the Vietnam war.


JPEG - 10.3 ko

The unintentional discovery of d-lysergic acid diethylamide tartrate-LSD-25 led to a cultural revolution – nobody today can deny that the hallucinogen uncovered by Swiss scientist Albert Hoffman in 1938 helped shape the hippy movement of the 1960s and sparked worldwide interest, having a massive impact on neuroscience research and treatment.

The actual discovery of LSD as a hallucinogen occurred when Dr Hoffman was involved in pharmaceutical research in Basel, Switzerland, hoping to produce drugs that would help ease the pain of childbirth. Having synthesized what would later become known as LSD ; Hoffman catalogued the untested substance and placed it in storage, after finding nothing particularly interesting about it during the initial analysis. It wasn’t until a Friday afternoon in April 1943 when Hoffman discovered the true properties of the compound, inadvertently absorbing a healthy dose of it when handling the chemical at work without wearing gloves. On his bicycle ride back home he observed “an uninterrupted stream of fantastic pictures, extraordinary shapes with intense, kaleidoscopic play of colors”.

Criminalized throughout the USA in 1966 (and most others following suit soon after), further research into LSD was (and still is) constantly hampered by its illegal status. Early researcher Dr Richard Alpert claimed to have administered LSD to 200 test subjects by 1961, and reported that 85% of his test subjects said that the experience was the “most educational” of their lives.

 Some more examples in science and technology...


  • Gelignite by Alfred Nobel, when he accidentally mixed collodium (gun cotton) with nitroglycerin
  • Silly Putty by James Wright, on the way to solving another problem : finding a rubber substitute for the United States during World War II.
  • Chemical synthesis of urea, by Friedrich Woehler. He was attempting to produce ammonium cyanate by mixing potassium cyanate and ammonium chloride and got urea, the first organic chemical to be synthesised, often called the ’Last Nail’ of the coffin of the Élan vital Theory
  • Pittacal, the first synthetic dyestuff, by Carl Ludwig Reichenbach. The dark blue dye appeared on wooden posts painted with creosote to drive away dogs who urinated on them.
  • Racemization, by Louis Pasteur. While investigating the properties of sodium ammonium tartrate he was able to separate for the first time the two optical isomers of the salt. His luck was twofold : it is the only racemate salt to have this property, and the room temperature that day was slightly below the point of separation.
  • Teflon, by Roy J. Plunkett, who was trying to develop a new gas for refrigeration and got a slick substance instead, which was used first for lubrication of machine parts
  • Scotchgard moisture repellant, used to protect fabrics and leather, was discovered accidentally in 1953 by Patsy Sherman. One of the compounds she was investigating as a rubber material that wouldn’t deteriorate when in contact with aircraft fuel spilled onto a tennis shoe and would not wash out ; she then considered the spill as a protectant against spills.
  • Cellophane, a thin, transparent sheet made of regenerated cellulose, was developed in 1908 by Swiss chemist Jacques Brandenberger, as a material for covering stain-proof tablecloth.
  • The chemical element helium. British chemist William Ramsay isolated helium while looking for argon but, after separating nitrogen and oxygen from the gas liberated by sulfuric acid, noticed a bright-yellow spectral line that matched the D3 line observed in the spectrum of the Sun.
  • The chemical element Iodine was discovered by Bernard Courtois in 1811, when he was trying to remove residues with strong acid from the bottom of his saltpeter production plant which used seaweed ashes as a prime material.
  • The synthetic polymer celluloid was discovered by British chemist and metallurgist Alexander Parkes in 1856, after observing that a solid residue remained after evaporation of the solvent from photographic collodion. Celluloid can be described as the first plastic used for making solid objects (the first ones being billiard balls, substituting for expensive ivory).
  • Rayon, the first synthetic silk, was discovered by French chemist Hilaire de Chardonnet, an assistant to Louis Pasteur. He spilled a bottle of collodion and found later that he could draw thin strands from the evaporated viscous liquid.
  • The possibility of synthesizing indigo, a natural dye extracted from a plant with the same name, was discovered by a chemist named Sapper who was heating coal tar when he accidentally broke a thermometer whose mercury content acted as a catalyst to produce phthalic anhydride, which could readily be converted into indigo.
  • Aspartame (NutraSweet) was accidentally ingested by G.D. Searle & Company chemist James M. Schlatter, who was trying to develop a test for an anti-ulcer drug.
  • Another sweetener, cyclamate, was discovered by graduate student Michael Sveda, when he smoked a cigarette accidentally contaminated with a compound he had recently synthesized.
  • Saccharin was accidentally discovered during research on coal tar derivatives.
  • Saran (plastic) was discovered when Ralph Wiley had trouble washing beakers used in development of a dry cleaning product. It was soon used to make plastic wrap.


  • Minoxidil’s action on baldness ; originally it was an oral agent for treating hypertension. It was observed that bald patients treated with it grew hair too.
  • Viagra (sildenafil citrate), an anti-impotence drug. It was initially studied for use in hypertension and angina pectoris. Phase I clinical trials under the direction of Ian Osterloh suggested that the drug had little effect on angina, but that it could induce marked penile erections.
  • Retin-A anti-wrinkle action. It was a vitamin A derivative first used for treating acne. The accidental result in some older people was a reduction of wrinkles on the face
  • The libido-enhancing effect of l-dopa, a drug used for treating Parkinson’s disease. Older patients in a sanatorium had their long-lost interest in sex suddenly revived.
  • The first benzodiazepine, chlordiazepoxide (Librium) was discovered accidentally in 1954 by the Austrian scientist Dr Leo Sternbach (1908–2005), who found the substance while cleaning up his lab.
  • The first anti-psychotic drug, chlorpromazine, was discovered by French pharmacologist Henri Laborit. He wanted to add an anti-histaminic to a pharmacological combination to prevent surgical shock and noticed that patients treated with it were unusually calm before the operation.
  • The anti-cancer drug cisplatin was discovered by Barnett Rosenberg. He wanted to explore what he thought was an inhibitory effect of an electric field on the growth of bacteria. It was rather due to an electrolysis product of the platinum electrode he was using.
  • The anesthetic nitrous oxide (laughing gas). Initially well known for inducing altered behavior (hilarity), its properties were discovered when British chemist Humphry Davy tested the gas on himself and some of his friends, and soon realised that nitrous oxide considerably dulled the sensation of pain, even if the inhaler was still semi-conscious.
  • The first oral contraceptive (a.k.a. The Pill) was discovered by Dr. Carl Djerassi accidental production of synthetic progesterone and its intentional modification to allow for oral intake.
  • Prontosil, an antibiotic of the sulfa group was an azo dye. German chemists at Bayer had the wrong idea that selective chemical stains of bacteria would show specific antibacterial activity. Prontosil had it, but in fact it was due to another substance metabolised from it in the body, sulfanilimide.

Medicine and Biology

  • Bioelectricity, by Luigi Galvani. He was dissecting a frog at a table where he had been conducting experiments with static electricity. His assistant touched an exposed sciatic nerve of the frog with a metal scalpel which had picked up a charge, provoking a muscle contraction.
  • Anaphylaxis, by Charles Richet. When he tried to reuse dogs that had previously shown allergic reactions to sea anemone toxin, the reactions developed much faster and were more severe the second time.
  • The role of the pancreas in glucose metabolism, by Oskar Minkowski. Dogs that had their pancreas removed for an unrelated physiological investigation urinated profusely ; the urine also attracted flies, signaling its high glucose content.
  • Coronary catheterization was discovered as a method when a cardiologist at the Cleveland Clinic accidentally injected radiocontrast into the coronary artery instead of the left ventricle.
  • Interferon, an antiviral factor, was discovered accidentally by two Japanese virologists, Yasu-ichi Nagano and Yasuhiko Kojima while trying to develop an improved vaccine for smallpox.
  • The hormone melatonin was discovered in 1917 when it was shown that extract of bovine pineal glands lightened frog skin. In 1958 its chemical structure was defined by Aaron B. Lerner and in the mid-70s it was demonstrated that also in humans the production of melatonin exhibits and influences a circadian rhythm.

Physics and Astronomy

  • Discovery of the planet Uranus by William Herschel. Herschel was looking for comets, and initially identified Uranus as a comet until he noticed the circularity of its orbit and its distance and suggested that it was a planet, the first one discovered since antiquity.
  • Infrared radiation, again by William Herschel, while investigating the temperature differences between different colors of visible light by dispersing sunlight into a spectrum using a glass prism. He put thermometers into the different visible colors where he expected a temperature increase, and one as a control to measure the ambient temperature in the dark region beyond the red end of the spectrum. The thermometer beyond the red unexpectedly showed a higher temperature than the others, showing that there was non-visible radiation beyond the red end of the visible spectrum.
  • The thermoelectric effect was discovered accidentally by Estonian physicist Thomas Seebeck in 1821, who found that a voltage developed between the two ends of a metal bar when it was submitted to a difference of temperature.
  • Electromagnetism, by Hans Christian Ørsted. While he was setting up his materials for a lecture, he noticed a compass needle deflecting from magnetic north when the electric current from the battery he was using was switched on and off.
  • Radioactivity, by Henri Becquerel. While trying to investigate phosphorescent materials using photographic plates, he stumbled upon uranium.
  • X rays, by Wilhelm Roentgen. Interested in investigating cathodic ray tubes, he noted that some fluorescent papers in his lab were illuminated at a distance although his apparatus had an opaque cover.
  • S. N. Bose discovered Bose-Einstein statistics when a mathematical error surprisingly explained anormalous data.
  • The first demonstration of wave–particle duality during the Davisson–Germer experiment at Bell Labs after a leak in the vacuum system and attempts to recover from it unknowingly altered the crystal structure of the nickel target and led to the accidental experimental confirmation of the de Broglie hypothesis. Davisson went on to share the 1937 Nobel Prize in Physics for the discovery.
  • Cosmic gamma-ray bursts were discovered in the late 1960s by the US Vela satellites, which were built to detect nuclear tests in the Soviet Union
  • The rings of Uranus were discovered by astronomers James L. Elliot, Edward W. Dunham, and Douglas J. Mink on March 10, 1977. They planned to use the occultation of the star SAO 158687 by Uranus to study the planet’s atmosphere, but found that the star disappeared briefly from view five times both before and after it was eclipsed by the planet. They deduced that a system of narrow rings was present.
  • Pluto’s moon Charon was discovered by US astronomer James Christy in 1978. He was going to discard what he thought was a defective photographic plate of Pluto, when his Star Scan machine broke down. While it was being repaired he had time to study the plate again and discovered others in the archives with the same « defect » (a bulge in the planet’s image which was actually a large moon).
  • High-temperature superconductivity was discovered serendipitously by physicists Johannes Georg Bednorz and Karl Alexander Müller, ironically when they were searching for a material that would be a perfect electrical insulator (nonconducting). They won the 1987 Nobel Prize in Physics.
  • Metallic hydrogen was found accidentally in March 1996 by a group of scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, after a 60-year search.


  • Discovery of the principle behind inkjet printers by a Canon engineer. After putting his hot soldering iron by accident on his pen, ink was ejected from the pen’s point a few moments later.
  • Vulcanization of rubber, by Charles Goodyear. He accidentally left a piece of rubber mixture with sulfur on a hot plate, and produced vulcanized rubber
  • Safety glass, by French scientist Edouard Benedictus. In 1903 he accidentally knocked a glass flask to the floor and observed that the broken pieces were held together by a liquid plastic that had evaporated and formed a thin film inside the flask.
  • Corn flakes and wheat flakes (Wheaties) were accidentally discovered by the Kelloggs brothers in 1898, when they left cooked wheat unattended for a day and tried to roll the mass, obtaining a flaky material instead of a sheet.
  • Pyroceramic (used to make Corningware, among other things) was invented by S. Donald Stookey, a chemist working for the Corning company, who noticed crystallization in an improperly cooled batch of tinted glass.
  • Chocolate chip cookies were invented by Ruth Wakefield when she attempted to make chocolate drop cookies. She did not have the required chocolate so she broke up a candy bar and placed the chunks into the cookie mix. These chunks later morphed into what is now known as chocolate chip cookies.


Some ideas and concepts that came to scientists through accidents or even dreams are also considered a kind of serendipity. Some examples (coincidentally all are regarded with suspicion by science historians) of serendipitous ideas :

  • Isaac Newton’s famed apple falling from a tree, leading to his musings about the nature of gravitation.
  • The German chemist Friedrich August Kekulé von Stradonitz dreamed about Ourobouros, a snake running around and forming a circle, leading to his solution of the closed chemical structure of cyclic compounds, such as benzene.
  • Archimedes’ prototypical cry of Eureka when he realised that his body displacing water in the bathtub allowed him to measure the weight:volume (ratio) of any irregular body, such as a gold crown etc.

Stories of accidental discovery in exploration abound, of course, because the aim of exploration is to find new things and places.
The principle of serendipity applies here, however, when the explorer had one aim in mind and found another unexpectedly. In addition, discoveries have been made by people simply attempting to reach a known destination but who departed from the customary or intended route for a variety of reasons.

Some classical cases were discoveries of the Americas by explorers with other aims :

  • The first European to see the coast of North America was reputedly Bjarni Herjólfsson, who was blown off course by a storm in 985 or 986 while trying to reach Greenland.
  • Christopher Columbus was looking for a new way to India in 1492 and wound up landing in The Americas. Native Americans were therefore called Indians.
  • Although the first European to see and step on South America was Christopher Columbus in Northeast Venezuela in 1498, Brazil was also discovered by accident, first by Spaniard Vicente Pinzon in 1499, who was only trying to explore the West Indies previously discovered by him and Columbus, and stumbled upon the Northeast of Brazil, in the region now known as Cabo de Santo Agostinho, in the state of Pernambuco. He also discovered the Amazon and Oiapoque rivers.
  • Pedro Álvares Cabral, a Portuguese admiral, who was sailing with his fleet to India via the South African route discovered by Vasco da Gama, headed southwest to avoid the calms off the coast of the Gulf of Guinea, and so encountered the coast of Brazil in 1500.

At last but not least...

Well, my favourite definition of serendipity comes from Julius H. Comroe, a biomedical researcher :

Serendipity is looking for a needle in a haystack
and finding the Farmer’s Daughter.

But dictionary compilers prefer the following definition :

Serendipity (noun) : a natural gift for making useful discoveries quite by accident.

Remember, that in 2000, serendipity was voted Britain’s favourite word...


  • Photo : Serendipity, 2001, Miramax Motion Picture.
    Jonathan Tragger (John Cusack) meets Sara Thomas (Kate Beckinsale) by chance in the Christmas eve, in Bloomingdale’s, both trying to buy the unique pair of black gloves available for sale. They decide to go to the cafeteria Serendipity and Jonathan asks for her name and phone. Sara decides to write it in a book, and his on a five dollars bill. She gives the bill to a newspaperman and she says that she would sell the book in a New York used books store. She states that if destiny wants them two together, Jonathan will get that book back. Or she will receive that bill again. From this day on, Jonathan will ’chase’ Sara’s book trying to reach his lost love. Destiny... With A Sense Of Humor.
  • Sources :
    — Wikipedia
    — (links & books)
    — « The view from Serendip », by Arthur C. Clarke, Random House, 1977.


[1] The Oxford English Dictionary (OED), published by the Oxford University Press, is a comprehensive dictionary of the English language.

[2] As given by W. S. Lewis, ed., Horace Walpole’s Correspondence, Yale edition, in the book by Theodore G. Remer, ed. : Serendipity and the Three Princes, from the Peregrinaggio of 1557, Edited, with an Introduction and Notes, by Theodore G. Remer, Preface by W.S. Lewis. University of Oklahoma Press, 1965. LCC 65-10112