The Inventor Of Pop Rocks Created These Popular Products

Old-school nostalgia comes in many forms, like goofy '90s sitcoms, flashy hammer pants, or cheesy boy bands. But whether you were team N*SYNC or team Backstreet Boys, chances are there's another category of nostalgia that sends you back in time like no other: childhood treats and sweets.

Pop Rocks are sure to be near the top of any grunge era child's list of favorites, right up there with Big League Chew and Wonderballs. Sure, they got a whole lot of flack for supposedly being a lethal enough weapon — when combined with a glass of Coca-Cola — to make your stomach explode. But were they delicious? Yes, yes they were.

We have food chemist William A. Mitchell to thank for the world's introduction to the crackling candy back in 1974. But in the years before and after, Mitchell's work as a scientist for General Foods led to some of the greatest inventions that have long withstood the test of time — that's more than we can say for McSalad Shakers.

Pop Rocks aren't Mitchell's only out-of-this-world invention

In the '60s, Mitchell's Pop Rocks started seeing some initial success. There was even a spin-off candy on the shelves called Space Dust, which was essentially just the powder version of the original (via Linda Hall Library). Around the same time, Mitchell was working on something new that actually would take over space — he just didn't know it yet!

In 1957, Mitchell debuted a long-researched product known as Tang. According to Discover Magazine, it was intended to be "a breakfast drink packed with vitamin C, vitamin A, calcium, and vitamin E available in a convenient easy to mix powder" — hence the bright orange, radioactive appearance in the average fridge's pitcher.

Tang wasn't an instant hit, but it steadily launched towards popularity after astronaut John Glenn drank a similar-looking beverage on a rocket ship in 1962, reports the magazine. The beverage mix became a Space Age success, riding on the coattails of a partnership with NASA. 

Many still wrongfully believe that the agency personally invented Tang for astronauts to drink in outer space, but the truth is, Mitchell was just a zany inventor with a knack for fun food. You can still find Tang on most shelves today, both in stores and online.

Mitchell invented the crucial components for last-minute holiday pies

The next holiday that you're running around looking for ingredients to whip up a last-minute dessert before you settle on a Cool Whip & instant Jell-O mix combo (did someone say lazy key lime pie?), remember this: Bill Mitchell just rescued your Fourth of July.

The very same Mitchell who graced millions of childhood memories with Pop Rocks — and who shipped off many a container of Tang into outer space — is also the man behind those two American pantry staples. While Mitchell himself didn't invent the original Jell-O mix, he saved those dealing with panicked holiday mornings thanks to the introduction of quick-set gelatin mix, which negates the need for boiling water and is ready in no time (via Smithsonian Magazine).

Mitchell whipped up another grocery list must-have in 1967, after introducing the world to Cool Whip — the first dairy-free whipped topping. Smithsonian explains that it has become one of Kraft Heinz's most universally successful products, even decades later. In fact, the company still sells over 200 million tubs of the delicious dessert addition each year.

So if you've ever eaten half-decent hospital food, attended a 1990s kid's birthday, or gotten your wisdom teeth out, you have to admit: Mitchell more than paved the way for some classic American sweets, and for that, we thank him.