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10 Inventors Killed by Their Own Inventions

There are millions of new inventions around the world yearly, but not many of them succeed in changing the world as all inventors hope. The greatest fear for most inventors is failing, when actually they should be more afraid of becoming victims of their own victory. New inventions bring both promise and threat in equal measure. While the creator is expected to be the person with the best cost control of the creation, these ten were not. Their remarkable breakthroughs expected to change the world turned into their death sentences.

Thomas Midgley Jr.

Thomas Midgley Jr

Thomas Midgley is mostly regarded as the worst inventor that ever lived because his inventions nearly brought the apocalypse. His invention of CFCs has wreaked the greatest havoc on the ozone layer exposing all of humanity to deadly UV rays. The world has spent billions in conservation efforts trying to reverse their effects, but scientists still say that this potent killer will stay in the atmosphere for up to 100 years. His second breakthrough was leaded petrol also regarded as the most toxic pollutant ever used in cars. At one point, it killed up to 5000 Americans every year before it was banned, the numbers are higher on a global scale.

Midgley himself was not spared. In a bid to prove that tetraethyl lead was safe, he washed his hands in it in front of the cameras and suffered lead poisoning. He also suffered polio in his later years. Being an inventor, he figured out a way of getting out of his bed in 1944. He created a hoist mechanism consisting of many ropes and pulleys to raise him from the bed, but one cord malfunctioned and strangled him to death. It is, however, important to note that Midgley also held more than 100 patents to other inventions that were very helpful to humanity.[1]

Franz Reichelt

Franz Reichelt

The 20th century came with the advance of the aviation industry and with it, the threat of plane crashes. Thomas Selfridge became the first man to die from a plane crash in 1908, and Franz Reichelt, an Austrian tailor, based in Paris thought he could help. Unlike the ugly bulky canopy parachutes at the time, Reichelt said he could create the Parachute Suit. It was a simplified parachute attached to one’s clothing with the ability to deploy mid-air with little effort. His idea was noble but also very dangerous. His first attempts with dummies were unsuccessful as the poor models crushed into the street one after another the roof of his dress shop where he tested them.

He was, however, determined and even broke his leg when he tested his parachute suit on himself in 1911. He, however, petitioned the city authorities to allow him to test his controversial suit by jumping from the Eiffel tower. On the chilly morning of February 4, 1912, Reichelt made the jump in front of many spectators against the legal agreement which stated that he would use a mannequin in the experiment. His suit tangled around him and the parachute failed to deploy causing a fatal crash which was caught on video. No one has ever tried to revive his invention since then.[2]

William Bullock

William Bullock

The rotary printing press was a significant breakthrough by William Bullock, and it did change the world. However, safe as the printer may seem as compared to other inventions, Bullock never lived to see the fruits of his invention. In 1860, Bullock had developed an advanced version of his invention with the ability to feed paper automatically and print up to 12,000 sheets of paper in 1 hour. This was a miraculous invention at the time. In 1867, while adjusting the printing press for Philadelphia public ledger Newspaper, his leg was caught in the machine and got crushed. Things became worse for Bullock as he contracted gangrene due to lack of proper infection treatment at the time. He died a few days later while undergoing an operation to amputate the foot.[3]

Marie Curie

Marie Curie

Marie Curie was born in 1867 in Poland and became interested in physics. She became famous for discovering many new elements on the periodic table becoming the first woman to win a Nobel Prize. She was actually the first scientist in the world to win two Nobel prizes, but her great breakthroughs were not always safe. She was fascinated by polonium and radium whose radioactive properties were new to the world and people didn’t understand the dangers of radioactive poisoning. She handled both elements without protection and contracted aplastic anemia resulting in her death. She is remembered as one of the greatest physicists that ever lived.[4]

Jean-Francoise Pilatre de Rozier

Jean-Francoise Pilatre de Rozier

Hot air balloon flights are a famous adventure today but they were not fun for this pioneer. He was a chemistry teacher until he fell in love with the idea of a flying machine pioneered by the Montgolfier brothers. He designed the first working hot air balloon which flew with the help of a heating chamber above the first chamber containing hydrogen gas. After testing the balloon several times with animals, he finally obtained a license from King Louise XVI to be the first man to fly.

His first flight with the Marquis d’ Arlandes in 1783 was a success setting the world records for speed, altitude and distance spent by a human being in the air. In 1785, Jean Francoise decided to cross the English Channel in his hot air balloon but this time he was not so lucky. While flying with Pierre Ange Roman from the French coast, “La Roziere” as the now famous balloon was called, malfunctioned and deflated instantly. They fell to their deaths just 500 meters after take-off.[5]

Thomas Andrews

Thomas Andrews

This was the designer of the RMS Titanic, then famed as the biggest ship ever built by a man, later becoming the most infamous shipwreck of all time. The Initial designer had a fallout with Lord Pierre over the number of lifeboats to be installed on the mighty ship, a decision that later determined the fate of so many lives. Thomas Andrew did a great job coordinating the workers to bring his dream to life with Pierre’s funding. Like any other inventor, Andrews trusted his design and became one of the passengers on the Titanic.

On April 14th, 1912, Thomas Andrews was among the organizers of the evacuation encouraging passengers to take vests as they left the sinking ship for the lifeboats. He, however, discarded his lifeboat and went to the smoking room of the first class chamber as the ship sank. He was never seen again after the ship sank, but he remains one of the heroes of that fateful day.[6]

Henry Smolinsky

Henry Smolinski

The idea of using flying cars as a solution to getting stuck in traffic has been the ambition of many inventors for years now, but this guy pulled it off in the 70s. Henry Smolinsky quit his job as an engineer at Rocketdyne in 1971 and formed his own company with his friend Hal Blake aspiring to create the first flying car. His idea was quite simple, fit a set of wings from a Cessna onto a Ford Pinto with an extra engine and a fuel tank on the rear and get flying.

The first tests of his only prototype “ Ave Mizar” were very successful. The prototype featured a set of removable wings that could fit into the trunk. In September 1973 just before the company could launch a commercial scale production, the right wing of the car carrying Smolinsky and Blake came off mid-air leading to a fatal crash that killed both of them.[7]

Horace Lawson Hunley

Horace Lawson was not an engineer before the civil war, just a lawyer in the Louisiana Legislature bench. When New Orleans was overrun in 1862, Lawson brought together a team and built the first submarine named pioneer with which they intended to avoid capture by sailing below ships. The first model sunk during a test run killing four crew members but Lawson was rescued. He built a second sub in Alabama but it also sunk.

Determined to build the ultimate sub, Lawson made another submarine which he funded himself in 1863 and named it H L Hunley. The sub was dedicated to the protection of Charleston harbor. Despite the high stakes, he decided to join the 7-man crew to test the submarine. Like the first two, this sub also sank killing all the eight people on board including Hunley. The sub was however raised and later used to sink the first ship in the war before sinking again.[8]

Alexander Bogdanov

Alexander Bogdanov

This was one of the leaders of the Soviet Socialist Party in the early 1900s. He was however isolated from the top leadership after the Russian revolution in 1917 after which he embarked on an impossible mission of inventing immortality. He believed that human beings could rejuvenate their bodies and maybe even achieve immortality through blood transfusion. He became a legendary scientist for the communist party when he declared that he had successfully suspended his balding and also improved his eyesight through blood transfusions.

Leonid Krasin wrote in a letter that Bogdanov had successfully taken ten years of his real age with his experiments. He started getting many volunteers who wanted to live forever including the sister of the then Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin. The communist party even tasked him with studying Lenin’s brain after his death in the hope that he could resurrect him. Bogdanov’s promising experiments, however, hit a dead end when he was given contaminated blood. Some people believe he was given incompatible blood.[9]

Max Valier

Inventors Killed by Their Own Inventions - Max Valier

This was the visionary scientist with the desire of applying rocket science in both cars and airplanes. Valier had a four-step implementation plan which involved perfecting rocket cars, moving to rocket airplanes and finally building a spaceship. He invented the first rocket-propelled car famed for its high speed of 145mph, the fastest on record at the time. He went ahead to build the first rocket-propelled sled in 1929 which set a record 250mph, also a record breaker. In 1930, after a successful second step of his master plan, Valier started testing liquid propellant rockets for airplane engines. His great ambition was however cut short when the fuel tanks on his rocket car exploded while he was driving leading to his death.[10]

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