Science can be dangerous, and the best people to tell you about it would be this list of unlucky inventors. Too bad they can’t, because their genius couldn’t keep them from dying as a result of their very own creations. Here are 10 inventors killed by their own inventions.
Franz Reichelt – 1912
The scary part of the inventing process is sometimes you have to put your body on the line to prove that your invention works, even if it doesn’t. Austrian-born tailor Franz Reichelt believed that he was on to something with the “coat parachute,” a flight suit that would convert into a life-saving device in the event of an air crash. He petitioned Paris officials tirelessly until they let him do a test from atop the Eiffel Tower, but instead of using dummies (like he’d promised) he strapped himself into the thing and took the plunge. The chute didn’t open and he plummeted to the ground below, dying instantly.
Thomas Midgley Jr. – 1944
Thomas Midgley Jr. was one of the men responsible for developing leaded gasoline, and he loved to do stunts to demonstrate how safe it was, like huffing from a beaker full of it for 60 seconds straight at a press conference. So did he die of lead poisoning like you’d expect?
Nope. Midgley also suffered from polio, and he designed and built a complex system of ropes and pulleys to support his body in bed without pain. In 1944, he got tangled in this device and suffocated before anybody could set him free.
Horace Lawson Hunley – 1863
The invention of the submarine changed the face of modern warfare, with naval warfare now taking place both above and below the water’s surface. One of the men who was most instrumental in the development of the sub was Confederate engineer Horace L. Hunley, who created a number of revolutionary hand-powered submarines in the 1860s. His third vessel, named after himself, was going out on a routine test when Hunley decided to take captaincy himself. The primitive sub sank beneath the waves, killing everybody aboard. However, it was later dredged from the ocean floor and put back into service, becoming the first submarine to sink a ship in military conflict.
Otto Lilienthal – 1896
You don’t get a nickname like the Glider King by keeping your feet on the ground. German inventor Otto Lilienthal was one of the pioneers of unpowered flight, putting together a vast variety of gliders and taking them on daring excursions. Unfortunately, his designs weren’t quite as stable as he thought they were, and in August of 1896, Lilienthal launched his latest model from the Rhinow Hills. His first test flight went great, lifting him to a height of 1,150 feet. The second try wasn’t so lucky, as it hit an air pocket and stalled, dropping him more than 50 feet to his death.
William Bullock – 1867
The inventor of the web rotary printing press, William Bullock was a forward-thinking dude who made printed material affordable and fast to produce. There wasn’t a ton of danger involved in his invention, as it was just a refinement of existing ideas and didn’t incorporate any toxic materials. That didn’t stop it from taking his life though. When he was installing a press in Philadelphia, Bullock attempted to kick a slipped pulley back into place and the machine fell and crushed his foot. He contracted gangrene from the injury and died from the infection.
Henry Smolinski – 1973
Man has always dreamed of flying, but the development of aviation has taken a lot of lives. One of the most ridiculous was engineer Henry Smolinski. After leaving Northrop-Grumman, he started his own company devoted to bringing a flying car to the market. Unfortunately for Henry, he based his prototype on a Ford Pinto with a Cessna Skymaster tail and wings grafted on it. When Smolinski took his vehicle up on a test flight with pilot Harold Blake, he actually managed liftoff, but then the tail strut fell off the car, sending it plunging to the ground and killing both men.
Marie Curie – 1934
This is a tough one, because what killed legendary French physicist Marie Curie was invisible to the naked eye. Curie developed the process to isolate radium from component minerals and found a way to measure ambient radioactivity from “hot” elements. Unfortunately, she didn’t discover that exposure to radiation is extremely hazardous to the human body, and she was stricken with aplastic anemia as a direct result of exposure to her lab samples.
Henry Winstanley – 1703
Architects are inventors too, especially when their buildings have function as well as form. Henry Winstanley was a shipping magnate who started to get pissed off when several of his boats were wrecked on the Eddystone Rock in the Falkland Islands. His solution was to build a lighthouse, which he designed himself. He was so confident that it would survive anything that he often stated his desire to be inside it during “the greatest storm that ever was.” It’s not confirmed that the storm of November 27, 1703 was the greatest ever, but it was big enough to topple the tower with Winstanley inside, killing him.
Valerian Abakovsky – 1921
Inventing new means of transportation is one of the fastest ways to get yourself killed. When you strap an engine on something, all hell can break loose. Russian scientist Valerian Abakovsky’s pride and joy was the Aerowagon, a high-speed railcar equipped with an airplane engine. It was built to transport Soviet officials, but on its maiden voyage it derailed outside of Moscow, killing Abakovsky and everyone else on board.
Next: Sad News from Hot Women
Max Valier – 1930
The world of rocketry involves a ton of incredibly dangerous materials, so it’s not surprising that scientists die in the lab. One of the best examples is Max Valier, an Austrian engineer who was one of the founders of the German Spaceflight Society. Valier was hired by the Opel car company to design and build rocket-powered automobiles for use as publicity stunts, and in 1930, just a month after the first successful test drive of one of his cars, a rocket engine exploded on his workbench and killed him.