I am looking for ideas that began as small and maybe naïve or weak in some obscure and not very known paper, school or book but at some point in history turned into big powerful tools in research opening new paths or suggesting new ways of thinking maybe somewhere else.

I would like to find examples (with early references of first appearances if possible or available) of really big and powerful ideas nowadays that began in some obscure or small paper maybe in a really innocent way. What I am pursuing with this question is to fix here some examples showing how Mathematics behave like an enormous resonance chamber of ideas where one really small idea in a maybe very far topic can end being a powerful engine after some iterations maybe in a field completely different. I think that this happens much more in mathematics than in other disciplines due to the highly coherent connectedness of our field in comparison with others and it is great that Mathematics in this way give a chance to almost every reasonable idea after maybe some initial time required to mature it in the minds, hands and papers of the correct mathematicians (who do not necessarily have to be the same that first found that idea).

Summarizing, I am looking for ideas, concepts, objects, results (theorems), definitions, proofs or *ways of thinking* in general that appeared earlier in history (it does not have to be very early but just before the *correct* way of using the idea came to us) as something very obscure and not looking very useful and that then, after some undetermined amount of time, became a really powerful and deep tool opening new borders and frontiers in some (maybe other) part of the vast landscape of mathematics.

Edit: I really do not understand the aim in closing this question as it is actually at research level. I am clearly asking for tools that developed into modern research topics. I recognize that some answers are not research level answers, but then you should downvote the answer, not the question. I am really surprised by this decision as one of the persons that vote to close suggested it for publication in a place where it is clear that some of the most valuable answers that this question has received would have never occur precisely because the site that this person suggested is not research oriented. I do not imagine people on HSM answering about species or pointfree topology sincerely as these topics are really current research and not history (and I am interested mainly in current research topics). I do not agree with the fact that a limitation in reading understanding of some people can be enough to close a legitimate question, a question that it is worth for us as mathematicians to do and to show to other people that think that mathematics is useful and powerful the day after being published ignoring thus the true way mathematics is done, with its turnabouts and surprises; a discipline where a simple idea has the power to change the field as $0$ did, as the positional systems did, as sheaves did, or as species did. I am really sad for this decision. It is a pity that so many mathematicians regret the actual way in which their field develops, reject to explain and expose this behavior and hide themselves from this kind of questions about the internal development of ideas in mathematics. I challenge all those who voted to close this question as off-topic to look in HSM for any mention about "locale theory" there.

resonateand grow inside themathematical boxuntil it forms a wide highway among the mathematical paths even when the first appearance of the idea looked innocent... $\endgroup$22more comments