It’s all fun and games… until something you invent ends up killing you. Inventing new products or processes is not easy. It’s challenging and risky and sometimes, just sometimes, lady luck decides to look the other way and in a cruel twist of fate with a tinge of irony, you end up losing your life to the hands of your own creation. Here’s a list of ten brave inventors who, in the process of trying to make the lives of others better, lost their own.
1. Thomas Midgley- Leaded Petrol and Mechanical Bed
Thomas Midgley, an American chemist who developed both leaded petrol and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), was notoriously known as ‘the one human responsible for more deaths than any other in history’. As if it was nature’s idea to get revenge on him he was left disabled in his bed due to lead poisoning and polio at the age of 51. Keeping his inventive juices flowing, he designed a complicated system of strings and pulleys on his bed so that he could lift himself up when needed. This invention was the cause of his death at the age of 55 when he was accidentally entangled in the ropes of his bed and died of strangulation. Talk about double irony.
2. Otto Lilienthal - Hang Glider
‘To invent an airplane is nothing. To build one is something. But to fly is everything’ – famous words uttered by Otto Lilienthal who was one of the pioneers of human aviation and invented the first few hang gliders. He made over 2500 successful flights using his own inventions for five straight years starting from 1891 until one fateful day, in the mid of 1896, his glider lost lift and he crashed from a height of 17m (56 feet). The impact broke his spine and a day later, he succumbed to his injuries. His last words are a source of inspiration for all those who face numerous obstacles in life while trying to achieve something big: ‘Small sacrifices must be made!’
3. Franz Reichelt- The Overcoat Parachute
Franz Reichelt an Austrian born tailor of the 1800’s was most famously known for inventing an overcoat which he claimed to act as a parachute and could bring its wearer gently to the ground or even to fly under the right conditions. This inventor, who was also called the ‘The Flying Taylor’, attempted to demonstrate his invention by jumping off the first deck of the Eiffel tower himself instead of using a dummy, in front of a large crowd of spectators and camera crew. The result? The parachute failed to deploy and he crashed into the hard concrete ground at the foot of the tower, the impact immediately killing him.
4. Alexander Bogdanov- Blood Transfusion
A renowned Russian physician, philosopher, economist, science fiction writer, and revolutionary, Alexander Bogdanov developed a sudden interest in the possibility of human rejuvenation through blood transfusions. In hopes of achieving eternal youth and bodily revitalization, he undertook 11 blood transfusions, ultimately reporting an improvement in eyesight and reduction of balding. Great invention, right? Wrong. Bogdanov died in 1928, after he did a transfusion on himself with blood from a student that had tuberculosis and malaria.
5. William Bullock- Rotary Printing press
In the history of bizarre accidents, William Bullock’s story is always cited as an example. Bullo ck was an American inventor whose 1863 invention of the rotary printing press helped revolutionize the printing industry due to its efficiency and ability to print 10,000 units per hour. In April 1867, while he was trying to install a new printer in one of his presses, in a frustrated attempt to make adjustments to the machine, he kicked a driving belt onto a pulley. What followed next tops scenes from even the most gruesome movies like Hostel and Saw. His foot got caught in the merciless contraption, was crushed beyond repair and developed a severe gangrene infection for four days. Bullock died during an operation to amputate his foot. Bizarre Indeed.
6. Cowper Coles – Turret Ship
A famous Chinese stateman once said: “Weapons are an important factor in war, but not the decisive one; it is man and not materials that counts” I guess Cowper Coles should have really taken that thought into consideration before inventing the turret ship- an ironclad war vessel, with low sides, on which heavy guns are mounted on a low structure, which may be rotated. The ship was so overly loaded with armored structures that they shifted its centre of gravity and caused it to become unstable resulting in the vessel capsizing on 6th September 1870. Cowper Coles was one of the 500 that died when it sunk. Only 18 of its crew survived.
7. Henry Winstanley – Lighthouse
Necessity is the mother of invention. Sure enough, after losing not one but two of his ships on the treacherous Eddystone Reef, Winstanley, a famous English architect and engineer felt it necessary to construct a lighthouse for the protection of his own and other ships. In the early 1700’s he invented the first Eddystone Lighthouse and proudly told the world that he wished he could “be in the light-house during the greatest storm that ever was”. Little did he know his prayer would soon be answered on the night of November 26th, 1703, when one of the most destructive hurricanes Great Britain has ever experienced shook the reefs and did incalculable damage. In the morning, when the skies finally cleared, and ships reached Eddystone Rocks, Winstanley’s great lighthouse was gone. And he was gone with it.
8. John Godfrey Parry-Thomas
Welsh motor-racing driver and engineer J.G Parry Thomas, with a strong desire to regain his title as land speed record holder, a title snatched away from him by Malcom Campbell, decided to create a special type of vehicle to achieve his dream. His invention was a car he called Babs, which had many modifications, such as exposed chains to connect the engine to the drive wheels and the high engine cover requiring him to drive with his head tilted to only the right side. On trying to reclaim his record from Campbell, in the final race, the right-hand drive chain broke at a speed of 170 mph (270 km/h), flew into his neck, partially decapitating him and causing a head injury. He died instantly.
9. Marie Curie- Radioactive substances
Ever wondered where the word ‘Polonium’ came from? Well, it came from a Polish physicist and chemist and Nobel Prize winner Marie Curie who named her newly discovered chemical after her native country. Ever wondered what happened to this discoverer of Polonium, Radium and Theory of Radioactivity? She died on July 4, 1934, from aplastic anemia, as a result of exposure to radiation after working continuously in a small enclosed shed without any safety measures because radiation’s danger were not well understood at that time.
10. Donald Campbell – Speed engine for motorboat
Speed thrills but kills. We all know it yet we all ignore it. It’s human nature to challenge well known facts of life. British car and motorboat racer Donald Campbell was no different. He broke eight world speed records in the 1950s and 60s and to quench his insatiable drive to conquer speed he decided to try for another water speed record in 1966. This time the target was 300 mph. He invented a lighter and more powerful engine for his boat Bluebird K7. Blame it on adrenaline rush or sheer stupidity but instead of refueling and waiting for the wash of his first run to subside, as is usual with speedboat races, Campbell decided to make a return run immediately. The craft’s stability began to falter as it travelled over the rough water and it somersaulted at a 45 degree angle plunging back into the lake and disintegrating at a speed of 320mph. Needless to say, the inventor was killed.