15 Inventors Killed By Their Own Inventions

We hope this stories would serve as lessons for those of us who dream big and strive for it.
Interesting Engineering
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Since the beginning of human apprehension, inventions happened and are still happening.

The level at which the world has reached today is the result of continuous contributions and inventions made by many intellectual inventors.

Right from the spark of an amazing idea to conceptually designing it, the efforts of the inventors are countless and as a result continuously pushing the boundaries of what’s possible.

Starting from caveman to Steve Jobs, humans shaped the inventions when there is a necessity. But not all inventions meet on the road to success. In the quest for greater wisdom, there is an added risk to one’s life. In many cases, the inventor tests their masterpiece himself/herself. Due to some technical flaws that arise during the test phase, unfortunately, the originators were killed by their own creation.

The people on this list choose the challenge over their own life – but not before making progress for the greater good. We've compiled some of the fifteen inventors who killed by their own inventions. We hope this stories would serve as lessons for those of us who dream big and strive for it.

Francis Edgar Stanley

Self-potrait of Francis Edgar Stanley located at Stanley Museum, Source: Wikimedia

Lifespan: June 1, 1849 – July 31, 1918
Invention: Stanley Steamer
Cause of death: Car crash

Francis E. Stanley invented the Steam Engine based car and manufactured it along with his twin brother Freelan O. Stanley in 1897. His designs were influenced by George Eli Whitney's steam engine. In 1898, the Stanleys were invited to Boston's first automobile show, where cars were tested for speed and hill climbing abilities. With a speed of 27 miles per hour, the Stanley Steamer set a top-speed record and was the only car to make it to the top of the test hill. They established Stanley Motor Carriage Company.

In 1906, they broke the world record for the fastest mile with a speed of 127 miles per hour (205 kph) in just 28.2 seconds. Later, on July 31st, 1918, Francis crashed into a woodpile while driving a Stanley Steamer and trying to maintain a distance from a farm wagon traveling alongside his car. By 1924 the company had to shut down due to the popularity of gas and electric engines. Earlier, he was into portrait painting. As cameras were lime lighted, F.E. grew into the Stanley Dry Plate Company. However, the brothers abandoned photography when they became interested in automobile development, and sold the dry plate business to George Eastman of Eastman-Kodak for $500,000.

Franz Reichelt

Lifespan: 1879 – February 4, 1912
Invention: vêtement-parachute
Cause of death: Freefall

A tailor by profession, this French inventor used to devote all his free time in designing and developing a parachute suit design, inspired by the idea of airplanes as they were just emerging on the horizon. After the considerable amount of successful tests with various mannequins, he was emboldened to try it himself. By seeking permission from French authorities, this Flying tailor jumped off the Eiffel Tower wearing his self-made parachute, while he was expected to use a counterfeit for the demo.

His friends tried to dissuade him, citing wind speed and other factors. “I want to try the experiment myself and without trickery, as I intend to prove the worth of my invention,” he told journalists. However, the destiny had already decided a bad fate for his very first flight. As he jumped off the Eiffel tower in the parachute suit from 187-foot fall, he died instantly as he hit the frozen land. Newspapers described the suit as “only a little more voluminous than ordinary clothing resembling a sort of cloak fitted with a vast hood of silk.

Popular Mechanics reported that "his body was a shapeless mass when the police picked it up.” By the time onlookers reached him, he was dead. Later an autopsy determined that he died of a heart attack during his fall.

Henry Smolinski

ave-mizar[AVE Mizar. Image Source: Wikimedia]

Lifespan: 1933 – 1973
Invention: The Flying Car
Cause of death: Plane crash

Henry Smolinski was a Northrop-trained engineer. As he wanted to start a company which focused on bringing a flying car to market, he left his job. This engineer along with his partner Hal Blake created a unique design by coupling a car and a plane. He took wings of the Cessna 337 aircraft and confederated it to the Ford Pinto. The car is known as AVE Mizar. In 1971 through his company Advanced Vehicle Engineers, a prototype of the flying cars was built. Adaptive controls make the car to drive it as either a car on the ground or a plane in the air.

In early 1973, the combination of imagination, determination, and pomposity was a hit, making the Mizar a new automotive sensation. Though they were engine failures during the first test drive, they managed to drive it. In late 1973 Smolinski and Blake discovered there was a problem with plane wings. As the pair were going on a routine test drive of Mizar, down the driveway, the Cessna wings detached from the car.

The two inventors were in the mid-air in a Pinto. His “Pinto Craft” struck the top of a tree and crashed into a pickup truck before bursting into flames, a witness watched. After this ghastly incident, the idea was discarded. The idea of pinto is both terrible and wonderful. Retrospection leaves us in a moment of silence not just for the two men, but for the odd idea that died with them.

Marie Curie

Lifespan: November 7, 1867 – July 4, 1934
Discovery: Radium
Cause of death: Leukemia

Popularly known as Madame Curie, this Polish-born physicist and chemist were one of the most famous scientists of her time. she was first of the four scientists who awarded the Nobel Prize twice.

Along with her husband Pierre, she was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1903 for Radioactivity, and in 1911 in Chemistry.  According to BBC, the Curie couple worked investigating radioactivity, building on the work of the German physicist Roentgen and the French physicist Becquerel. In July 1898, they discovered new chemical element called polonium. By the end of the year, they discovered the most popular element Radium.  After Pierre's death due to a road accident in 1906, Marie took over his teaching post, which made her the first woman to teach at the Sorbonne, Paris.

Her research acted as an essential element in the development of x-rays in surgery. As her extensive work involved an association with the highly powerful radioactive materials, her health started deprecating by late 1920s. She was affected with leukemia and died on 4th July 1934.

Otto Lilienthal

lilienthal[Lilienthal's Sturmfugel, 1894. Image Source: Century of Flight]

Lifespan: May 23, 1848 –August 10, 1896
Invention: Glider
Cause of death: Nosedive

Opfer müssen gebracht werden!” meaning “Sacrifices must be made!” These were the final words of the Otto Lilienthal. Referred as a Glider king, he pioneered the human aviation. The German-based engineer was considered the first man to launch himself into the air, fly, and land safely through his gliders.

He was also one among the inspirations for the Wright brothers, who later designed the airplane. Though he had unsuccessful attempts in his childhood, he was committed to the idea of human flight.

After experimenting with ornithopters, in 1889 he published a book “Der Vogelflug as Grundlage der Fliegekunst” (Bird Flight as the Basis of Aviation) which described the flight of birds with its type and structure, his theories and the application of gathered data, which became one of the classics of aviation.

His first glider was all set to set to fly in 1891. Before his death in 1896, he had built 18 models of which 15 were monoplanes and the rest 3 were biplanes.  He had also taken more than 2000 glider flights.

Many countries newspapers and magazines published photographs of Lilienthal gliding, positively impressing the public. Thereby the scientific opinion on flying machines gradually started arousing in the era where flying is considered unscientific.

However, Lilienthal's gliders had one major fault. Other than continuous motions, of the pilot, they had no means of control to the flight. The pilot needs to bend and exercise considerable strength to affect the direction and stability of the glider. By shifting his weight, he was able to balance the craft.

While flying on 9th of August 1896, Lilienthal fell 17 meters, breaking his spine. Sadly, he died the next day. Although he was dead and had flaws in the design, Lilienthal influenced the aviation industry.

On February 19, 2016, Johannes Hogebrink published on Youtube a unique animation of all the original photographs of Lilienthal between 1893 and 1896, with a courtesy from Lilienthal Museum. Watch the video here:

Thomas Midgley Jr

thomas_midgley_jr[Image Source: Wikimedia]

Lifespan: May 18, 1889 – November 2, 1944
Invention: Bed pulley System
Cause of death: Choke

The death of this inventor is a very surprising one. Thomas Midgley was an American chemist well known for his two most popular inventions -  Tetraethyl Lead and Dichlorodifluoromethane (a type of fluorocarbon commercialized under the trade name Freon-12).

In 1930, Midgley discovered odor-free, nontoxic, and nonflammable refrigerant gas that could be used in residential refrigerators and air conditioners called dichlorodifluoromethane, which was soon commercially produced as Freon-12 by Kinetic Chemicals, Inc. Though applauded during his time, later he was castigated for the same inventions.

He is known as the person who had unfavorably impacted the atmosphere than any other single organism in the Earth history and also the one human who is responsible for more deaths than any other in history.

He was eventually affected by polio and lead poisoning and was left confined to the bed. He was need of extensive assistance even to raise from the bed. This encouraged him to formulate an elaborate system of pulleys and ropes. At the age of 55, he succumbed to death after being strangled by one of his pulleys. Both of his inventions ravaged him.

Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier

pilatre_de_rozier[Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier. Image Source: Wikimedia]

Lifespan: March 30, 1754 – July 15, 1785
Invention: Hot air balloon
Cause of death: Fire (Maybe)

Europe-based Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier was the first man to ascend in a hot air balloon along with the Marquis d’Arlandes.

Though studying pharmacy in Paris, he was drawn towards chemistry and experimental physics. He’s the man behind a breathing apparatus similar to scuba gear, which helps workers working in a hazardous environment.

He was well known for using extremely theatrical, and even more dangerous methods of practically displaying his lectures, to grab public attention. It is this habit of being the center of attraction got him into tragedy.

He volunteered to ascend the balloon along with Marquis. Pilâtre de Rozier was envious of the stardom Jean-Pierre Blanchard, the first man to cross the English Channel along with Dr. John Sheldon on 26th July 1784.

Pilâtre de Rozier designed a new type of double balloon with a hot air balloon underneath a hydrogen balloon. 

On 15th June 1785, Pilâtre de Rozier died as he fell to the earth. Although the reasons are unknown, it is expected that a spark from the heat source might have ignited the hydrogen causing a fire.

[Hot air balloon. Source: The Ultimate History Project]

William Bullock

[Image Source: Wikimedia]

Lifespan: 1813 – April 12, 1867
Invention: Rotary Printing press
Cause of death: Leg crashed

America based William Bullock improvised Richard March Hoe's rotary printing press in 1863. Due the increased speed and efficiency, this revolutionized the printing industry due to its great speed and efficiency. He also has designed and invented various devices such as a cotton and hay press, a seed planter, a lathe cutting the machine, and a grain drill. Bullock's press allowed for automatic continuous large rolls of paper, eliminating the back-breaking hand-feeding system of earlier presses.

The press could print up to 12,000 sheets an hour, which later improved to 30,000 sheets an hour. All went well until a deadly mishap. On April 2nd, 1867 while adjusting new presses that was being installed for the Philadelphia Public Ledger newspaper, his right leg was crushed accidentally in the machine when trying to kick onto a pulley.

After a few days, he developed gangrene. On April 12th, 1867, Bullock died during an operation to amputate his leg.

Alexander Bogdanov

Alexander[Vladimir Lenin plays chess (crying checkmate) with Alexander Bogdanov during a visit. Image Source: Wikimedia]

Lifespan: August 1873 – April 7, 1928
Invention: Blood Transfusion
Cause of death: Heart Failure

Alexander Bogdanov enthusiastically attempted to change the world. A risk-taker by profession, he possessed many of the traits of a genius, but many proved fatal. He was into multiple disciplines: medicine, economics, politics, philosophy, and writing. It's estimated that he published close to two hundred volumes of work, including the science fiction novel "Red Star" and its sequel "Engineer Menni." Sadly, he also believed in some of his fictions, leading to his death.

During 1912 he introduced a methodology called Tektology, which was a study of science itself. But under Stalin's regime, it was largely ignored. He began experimenting with blood transfusions in the 1920s to achieve eternal youth. He even persuaded Stalin to create the Institute of Blood Transfusion. Following 11 blood transfusions, Bogdanov said he has an improved eyesight and suspended balding. But unfortunately, at the age of 54, he exchanged a liter of blood with a physics student with traces of tuberculosis and malaria.

But after the transfusion, his body began failing fast and on April 7, 1928, Bogdanov's heart failed and he was dead.

Thomas Andrews

Lifespan: February 7, 1873 – April 15, 1912
Designed: Titanic
Cause of death: Drowning

Thomas Andrews was an Irish businessman and shipbuilder. As the head of the drafting department, one of his first jobs that Thomas Andrews was to work on three massive superliners - The Titanic was one among them. Taking every step towards attention to detail while designing, Thomas Andrews first suggested that the new superliners have at least 46 lifeboats, watertight bulkheads, and a double body frame to protect the ship from collisions.

Though his suggestions were the best, most of them were ignored by upper management. Andrews and a group of Harland and Wolff workers also known as the guarantee group were onboard the biggest ship in the world, Titanic, set on her maiden voyage. The guarantee group was responsible for the safe working of the Titanic through consistent administration and recommending the required specifications.

On 14th April 1912, at 11:40 pm, when Titanic struck the iceberg, Andrews observed the slight vibration. After a series of discussions followed by inspection, he conveyed Captain Smith that Titanic only had an hour to an hour and a half to live before it submerges into the ocean floor.  Being aware of the number of lifeboats and people it can fit in, he did his best to evacuate as many as possible. Some survivors testified seeing Andrews on the boat deck finding life jackets, encouraging people to get into the lifeboats and guiding the officers The body of Thomas Andrews was never recovered. For his efforts, Thomas Andrews was considered a hero, who sacrificed his life for others.

Max Valier

valier[Image Source: New Mexico Museum of Space History]

Lifespan: February 9, 1895 – May 17, 1930
Invention: Rocket Car
Cause of death: Explosion

Austrian based Max Valier was a rocketry pioneer, who helped found the German Verein für Raumschiffahrt (VfR - Spaceflight Society) on July 5, 1927, which was the world's largest beginner level rocketry society.

Devoted his life to the research of rocket science, Max Valier continued to spread the spaceflight popularity within Germany throughout his life.  Determined to advance rocketry on the Earth as well as in space, Valier set up a systematic program with four stages of development. The first stage would be static engine experiments, which would be used in ground-based rocket-powered vehicles in the second stage, followed by production of rocket-assisted aircraft for the third stage and finally, the development of complete rocket-propelled spaceship.

After considerable and successful first stage engine tests, on March 15, 1928, Valier moved on to the second stage in which he built the world's first rocket car with a speed of 145 miles per hour along with Fritz von Opel and F.W. Sanders. This was later developed into a rocket sled by 1929 with a speed of 250 miles per hour. This encouraged Valier to begin the third stage of his research by experimenting with liquid propellant rockets for aircraft. On May 17, 1930, while testing, one of his liquid oxygen-gasoline fueled rocket motors exploded in Berlin.

Valerian Abakovsky

Valerian[Image Source: Wikipedia]

Lifespan: October 5, 1895 –July 24, 1921
Invention: Aerowagon
Cause of death: Derailing

Best remembered as the inventor of the Aerowagon, Valerian Abakovsky is one among the inventors who died because of their own invention. Aerowagon was popularly known as a propeller-driven rail car which was intended to transport officials quickly across the Soviet Union. This experimental high-speed railcar comes attached with an aircraft engine and propeller traction.

On 24 July 1921, with Abakovsky, Fyodor Sergeyev, and his group took the Aerowagon from Moscow to the Tula collieries to test it. They successfully arrived in Tula. However, unfortunately, en route to Moscow due to high speed, the Aerowagon derailed killing everyone on board, including Abakovsky. He was just 26 years old when he met with this fatal accident.

Horace Lawson Hunley

hunley[1902 illustration of Horace Lawson Hunley standing next to his submarine. Image Source: The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable]

Lifespan: June 20, 1823 – October 15, 1863
Invention: Submarine
Cause of death: Drowning

Lawyer and merchant by profession, Horace Lawson Hunley was a Confederate marine engineer during the American Civil War. He always had a thing for submarines and thus helped to build them. He developed early hand-powered submarines, the most famous H. L. Hunley (named after him). He helped in designing and building three different models and was ultimately killed by his third design. His first submarine was built in New Orleans which was intentionally sunk in 1862 when the city fell to the Union.

Although his second submarine also sunk in Mobile Bay in Alabama, he didn’t give up. Hunley funded his third submarine himself and thus carried his name. On October 15, 1863, though he was not part of the crew, Hunley decided to take command during a routine test. The vessel again sank. Hunley, along with seven crew members, died when in the waters off Charleston, S.C. When the Confederacy recovered the sunken sub, few of the crew members were alive but unfortunately, Hunley died. The raised vessel was later used again in the first successful sinking of an enemy vessel by a submarine in naval history, but the submarine soon sank too.

Henry Winstanley

henry_winstanley[Potrait of Henry Winstanley. Image Source: Wikimedia]

Lifespan: March 31, 1644 – November 27, 1703
Designed: Lighthouse
Cause of death: Storm

Henry Winstanley designed the first Eddystone lighthouse after his ships faced a deadly threat from the hazardous Eddystone Reef, fourteen miles off the Cornwall coast. When his earlier designs were flawed during a storm, he completely redesigned the lighthouse which rose eighty feet above an improved twenty-four-foot-diameter foundation. In addition, he equipped the lighthouse with a fine luxurious stateroom, and proudly told the world that he wished he could "be in the lighthouse during the greatest storm that ever was."

On 14 November 1698, the first lighthouse became operational. Henry Winstanley climbed up into its lantern and lit 50 tallow candles. Though Winstanley was considered a hero, especially by fishermen, he was unable to enjoy the celebrations for five weeks. During 1703 just before Christmas, the weather was so bad that he and his crew were stuck in the lighthouse, by which time they had run out of food and candles.

After subsequent terrible winter storms and the age lighthouse being another factor, the lighthouse started demolishing. Winstanley reinforced the walls with stone and rings of iron. In addition, he added another 12 meters to the already existing 20-meter-high tower.

Despite a severe gale warning, he insisted on going out to make repairs. This turned out to be his last night. All that is left on the seashore is a few twisted pieces of metal. The “Great Storm” of Great Britain washed him away and his lighthouse. Later lighthouses were built with wood and then followed by concrete.

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