25 Inventors Whose Inventions Turned Out to Be Their Demise
25 Inventors Whose Inventions Turned Out to Be Their Demise. New inventions are created every day. Not all inventions hit the market or see much success, but the innovation that humans are capable of is amazing. The old phrase “build a better mousetrap” has inspired people to create crazy contraptions and life-changing products. Self-driving cars, solar panels, and touchscreens wouldn’t be around today if someone hadn’t been tinkering with parts in their garage or dreaming up ways to help others.
The inventions don’t have to be groundbreaking to be important or exciting. After all, have you ever bought a new appliance that changed your life because it worked so much better and faster than the previous model you owned? What about those nifty little pop-sockets for your phone, or a smart doorbell with a camera on it? Those aren’t scientific breakthroughs by any means, but they still have a place in our homes and we get excited when we have them.
Those creations aren’t always a good thing, though. Sometimes these new inventions have unintended consequences or end up being downright dangerous products. It’s never a good thing when a brand new product ends up having unintended consequences. Any inventors worst nightmare is having your own design backfire on you or your customers.
It happens more often than you think, causing more than a few inventors to meet their demise as a result of their invention failing. If you’re interested in learning about deadly inventions, keep reading to find out more about 25 inventors whose inventions turned out to be their demise.
Fred Duesenberg and his brothers founded Duesenberg Automobile & Motors Company in St. Paul to build high-performance engines and racecars. The new designs were tested out on the Indianapolis Speedway and quickly gained a large following. On July 2, 1932, Fred was driving his personal Duesenberg on a wet highway when he lost control and the car crashed. He died from health complications related to the accident on July 25.
Madam Marie Sklodowska Curie was a Polish/French physicist and chemist who helped further the research on radioactivity. She was the first woman to win a Nobel prize—and she won it twice! She developed the theory of radioactivity, coined the term, techniques for isolating radioactive isotopes, discovered polonium and radium, and created mobile X-ray machines to field hospitals during World War I. She developed aplastic anemia from long-term radiation exposure and died on July 4, 1934.
Sylvester H. Roper
Sylvester Howard Roper was an American inventor and builder, who built a steam carriage (one of the earliest automobiles). He also created the Roper steam velocipede, also known as the first motorcycle, along with the shotgun choke, and a revolver repeating shotgun. Roper died on June 1, 1896, when he crashed and split his head open while riding his velocipede.
Karl Wilhelm Otto Lilienthal was a German pioneer in the early days of aviation, earning himself the nickname "the flying man." He was the first person to successfully complete and document several flights with gliders. On August 9, 1896, Lilienthal took a regular trip to the Rhinow Hills to fly his own glider design, but lost control and crashed from almost 50 feet in the air.
Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier
Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier was a French chemistry and physics teacher and was also one of the early pioneers in aviation. He was one of the men on the first manned free balloon flight in a Montgolfier balloon. He created the Roziere balloon, a modified version of the Montgolfier, and attempted to cross the English channel. The balloon caught fire and crashed, killing the inventor in January of 1785.
Andrei Zheleznyakov was a Soviet scientist who was developing chemical weapons in 1987. He ended up becoming a whistleblower and helped expose the chemical weapons program that was continuing even after the 1990 U.S.-Soviet Chemical Weapons Accord was signed. Zheleznyakov was working with Novichok agent five, a nerve agent that slowly destroys the immune system, when the chemical hood malfunctioned and exposed him to the chemical. He died a painful death in 1993.
William Bullock was an American inventor who created a better rotary printing press and revolutionized the printing industry. He also created a shingle cutting machine, a hand-turned wooden printing press, and a number of other machines. In a freak accident, Bullock died while he was working on one of his rotary printing presses. His leg got caught in the machine and was crushed, leading to gangrene. He died during surgery while doctors were trying to amputate his leg in April of 1867.
Henry Winstanley was an English painter and engineer who made the first Eddystone lighthouse. He lost two ships at Eddystone, which inspired him to create the lighthouse. He died during a terrible storm when the tower was completely destroyed on November 27, 1703.
Horace Lawson Hunley was a marine engineer on the Confederate side during the American Civil War. He is credited with developing the first hand-powered submarines. After several failed designs, Hunley was testing his latest model, but it kept sinking. On the second test run, Hunley and seven other crew members died when the submarine sank in 1863.
Sabin Arnold von Sochocky
Dr. Sabin Arnold von Sochocky was a Ukraine-born American citizen who found a way to make glowing paint, which he cleverly called UnDark, by mixing radium with other materials. Radium releases a glow when it decays and interacts with some substances, and von Sochocky wanted to cash in on that feature. The paint was used in the U.S. military on watches, but the radioactive paint poisoned the factory workers and its creator, von Sochocky himself. He died from the radium poisoning in 1928.
Li Si was a Chinese politician, writer, and calligrapher from the Qin dynasty in 280 BC. He was the inventor of the Five Pains punishment, which was a series of physical tortures mandated by the legal system. They involved tattooing, cutting off the nose, amputating the feet, castration, and then death. Li Si was charged with treason after putting someone on the throne to advance his political status and endured the Five Pains before being put to death. After he was tortured, Li Si was executed with a traditional cutting method known as the waist chop.
Franz Reichelt was a tailor, inventor, and parachuting pioneer. He was obsessed with creating a suit for aviators that would turn into a parachute if they had to jump out of an aircraft. He died on impact after falling from more than 150 feet when he jumped off the Eiffel Tower to test his latest design in February of 1912.
Thomas Andrews, Jr.
Thomas Andrews, Jr. was a British businessman and shipbuilder who was in charge of the drafting department at the Harland and Wolff shipbuilding company. He was the managing director and biggest contributor to the designs of the Titanic, but many of his safety features were rejected and left off the final construction of the famous ocean vessel. Andrews was on board the Titanic when it sank in 1912, dying on a ship he didn't approve of.
Francis Edgar Stanley
Francis Edgar Stanley was the co-founder of the Stanley Motor Carriage Company, which created the Stanly Steemer line of steam engine vehicles. He died in 1918 after driving his car into a woodpile to go around farm wagons on the road.
Valerian Ivanovich Abakovsky was a Russian chauffeur and the inventor of the Aerowagon, which was a high-speed railcar with an aircraft engine and propeller that was meant to transport Soviet officials. Abakovsky and five others died during a test drive of the Aerowagon, which derailed at high speed on July 24, 1921.
Alexander Aleksandrovich Bogdanov was a Soviet doctor, writer, and revolutionary. He was also a co-founder of the Bolshevik faction of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. He used his medical training to develop the process of blood transfusion, which he believed could reverse the aging process. He died during a transfusion when he took blood that was infected with malaria and tuberculosis in 1928.
Thomas Midgley, Jr.
Thomas Midgley, Jr. was a mechanical and chemical engineer who helped develop leaded gasoline and Freon. He contracted polio when he was 51 and developed an elaborate system of ropes and pulleys that would help others lift him out of bed. In 1944, his pulley system betrayed him and he became entangled in the device, which strangled him.
Karel Soucek was a professional stuntman who went over Niagara Falls in a barrel in 1984 in an impressive display of bravery (or stupidity). On January 19, 1985, Soucek recreated the stunt with his barrel, planning to fall 180 feet into a tank of water at the Astrodome. The stunt was so dangerous, Evel Knievel tried to talk him out of it. Soucek went through with it but the barrel hit the rim of the water tank, fatally injuring the stuntman.
Luis A. Jimenez, Jr. was a Mexican-American sculptor who was an accomplished artist and teacher at the University of Arizona and, later, the University of Houston. He was known for his huge fiberglass sculptures that were controversial and immediately recognizable. He died in his studio on June 13, 2006, when a large section of his Blue Mustang sculpture fell on him and severed an artery in his leg.
Max Valier was an Austrian rocketry pioneer who helped found the German Spaceflight Society, which would be a key part in making the dream of spaceflight a reality in the 20th century. He worked on creating rocket-powered cars and aircraft. Valier focused his efforts on developing liquid-fueled rockets but was killed a month after the first successful test of his invention when an alcohol-fueled rocket exploded on his test bench in 1930.
Perillos of Athens
Perillos of Athens designed the Brazen Bull execution device for Phalaris, the tyrant-dictator of Akragas, Sicily. The bull was made out of bronze, was hollow, and had a door on the side. It was designed so that the victim's screams would come out of the bull's mouth sounding like the animal's screams as a fire was blazing underneath, roasting the person alive. Perillos was tricked into getting inside his creation, during which he endured the flames before being thrown off a cliff. Phalaris himself was killed in the Brazen Bull when he was overthrown by Telemachus.
Louis Alexander Slotin was a Canadian physicist and chemist who participated in the Manhattan Project and helped assemble the first atomic weapon. He was well-known for having a casual approach to safety when it came to nuclear projects, often neglecting it altogether. He was demonstrating his experiment on how to bring the exposed core of a nuclear weapon nearly to the point of criticality, which would be used in war tactics. He didn't follow safety procedures and dropped a beryllium hemisphere, which gave him intense neutron radiation poisoning. He died in the hospital on June 2, 1946.
Aurel Vlaicu was a Romanian engineer, inventor, airplane constructor, and a pilot. He earned his engineering degree in 1907 and went on to design one glider and three airplanes, which would ultimately be his downfall. He died in a crash on September 13, 1913, while trying to fly across the Carpathian Mountains in his self-constructed airplane.
Henry Smolinski was an aeronautical engineer and co-founded the Advanced Vehicle Engineers (AVE) of Van Nuys in Los Angeles, California. Smolinski created the AVE Mizar, a flying car that was made of a Cessna Skymaster airplane and a Ford Pinto car. The project was on its way to hitting the market—and would have sold for about $25,000—before a test flight went horribly wrong. Smolinski died in a crash on September 11, 1973, when the right wing folded and caused the plane-car hybrid to fall out of the sky.
Abu Nasr Ismail ibn Hammad a-Jawhari
Also known as Ismail ibn Hammad al-Jawhari, Abu was a lexicographer who lived in the late 900s. He died at Nishapur in 1002 while testing out his glider-like wooden wings that he believed would allow him to fly.