WHICH INVENTORS WERE KILLED BY THEIR OWN CREATIONS?
William Nelson (ca. 1879−1903), a General Electric employee, invented a new way to motorize bicycles. He then fell off his prototype bike during a test run.
Ismail ibn Hammad al-Jawhari (died ca. 1003–1010), a Muslim Kazakh Turkic scholar from Farab, attempted to fly using two wooden wings and a rope. He leapt from the roof of a mosque in Nishapur and fell to his death.
Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier was the first known fatality in an air crash when his Rozière balloon crashed on 15 June 1785 while he and Pierre Romain were attempting to cross the English Channel.
Otto Lilienthal (1848–1896) died the day after crashing one of his hang gliders.
Franz Reichelt (1879–1912), a tailor, fell to his death off the first deck of the Eiffel Tower while testing his invention, the coat parachute. It was his first ever attempt with the parachute and he had told the authorities in advance that he would test it first with a dummy.
Aurel Vlaicu (1882–1913) died when his self-constructed airplane, Vlaicu II, failed him during an attempt to cross the Carpathian Mountains by air.
Henry Smolinski (died 1973) was killed during a test flight of the AVE Mizar, a flying car based on the Ford Pinto and the sole product of the company he founded.
Michael Dacre (died 2009, age 53) died after testing his flying taxi device designed to accommodate fast and affordable travel among nearby cities.
William Bullock (1813–1867) invented the web rotary printing press. Several years after its invention, his foot was crushed while installing a new machine in Philadelphia. The crushed foot developed gangrene and Bullock died during the amputation.
Horace Lawson Hunley (died 1863, age 40), Confederate marine engineer and inventor of the first combat submarine, CSS Hunley, died during a trial of his vessel. During a routine exercise of the submarine, which had already sunk twice previously, Hunley took command. After failing to resurface, Hunley and the seven other crew members drowned.
Thomas Midgley, Jr. (1889–1944) was an American engineer and chemist who contracted polio at age 51, leaving him severely disabled. He devised an elaborate system of strings and pulleys to help others lift him from bed. This system was the eventual cause of his death when he was accidentally entangled in the ropes of this device and died of strangulation at the age of 55. However, he is more famous—and infamous—for developing not only the tetraethyl lead (TEL) additive to gasoline, but also chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs).
Marie Curie (1867–1934) invented the process to isolate radium after co-discovering the radioactive elements radium and polonium. She died of aplastic anemia as a result of prolonged exposure to ionizing radiation emanating from her research materials. The dangers of radiation were not well understood at the time.
Some physicists who worked on the invention of the atom bomb at Los Alamos died from radiation exposure, including Harry K. Daghlian, Jr. (1921–1945) and Louis Slotin (1910–1946), who both were exposed to lethal doses of radiation in separate criticality accidents involving the same sphere of plutonium.
Li Si (208 BC), Prime Minister during the Qin dynasty, was executed by the Five Pains method which he had devised.
James Douglas, 4th Earl of Morton (1581) was executed in Edinburgh on the Scottish Maiden which he had introduced to Scotland as Regent.
Valerian Abakovsky (1895–1921) constructed the Aerowagon, an experimental high-speed railcar fitted with an aircraft engine and propeller traction; it was intended to carry Soviet officials. On July 24, 1921, a group led by Fyodor Sergeyev took the Aerowagon from Moscow to the Tula collieries to test it, with Abakovsky also on board. They successfully arrived in Tula, but on the return route to Moscow the Aerowagon derailed at high speed, killing everyone on board, including Abakovsky (at the age of 25).
Max Valier (1895–1930) invented liquid-fuelled rocket engines as a member of the 1920s German rocketeering society Verein für Raumschiffahrt. On May 17, 1930, an alcohol-fuelled engine exploded on his test bench in Berlin, killing him instantly.
Popular myths and related stories
Perillos being pushed into his brazen bull
Jim Fixx (1932–1984) was the author of the 1977 best-selling book, The Complete Book of Running. He is credited with helping start America's fitness revolution, popularizing the sport of running and demonstrating the health benefits of regular jogging. On 20 July 1984, Fixx died at the age of 52 of a fulminant heart attack, after his daily run, on Vermont Route 15 in Hardwick.
Joseph-Ignace Guillotin (1738–1814) While he did not invent the guillotine, his name became an eponym for it. Rumors circulated that he died by the machine, but historical references show that he died of natural causes.
Perillos of Athens (circa 550 BC), according to legend, was the first to be roasted in the brazen bull he made for Phalaris of Sicily for executing criminals.
James Heselden (1948–2010), having recently purchased the Segway production company, died in a single-vehicle Segway accident. (Dean Kamen invented the Segway.)
Wan Hu, a sixteenth-century Chinese official, is said to have attempted to launch himself into outer space in a chair to which 47 rockets were attached. The rockets exploded and, it is said, neither he nor the chair was ever seen again.