List of inventors killed by their own inventions

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Franz Reichelt (d. 1912) attempted to use this contraption as a parachute. Reichelt died after he jumped off the Eiffel Tower wearing his invention, which failed to operate as expected.

This is a list of inventors whose deaths were in some manner caused by or related to a product, process, procedure, or other innovation that they invented or designed.

Direct casualties





Hunley Submarine
  • 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 test of the submarine, which had already failed twice, Hunley took command. After failing to resurface, Hunley and the seven other crew members drowned.[11]
  • Thomas Andrews (shipbuilder) (7 February 1873 – 15 April 1912), an Irish businessman and shipbuilder, was managing director and head of the drafting department for the shipbuilding company Harland and Wolff in Belfast, Ireland. He was the naval architect in charge of the plans for the ocean liner RMS Titanic. He was on the Titanic during its maiden voyage when it hit an iceberg on 14 April 1912, and was one of the 1,507 people who perished.[12]


  • 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 ropes and pulleys to help others lift him from bed. He was accidentally entangled in the ropes of the device and died of strangulation at the age of 55. However, he is more famous—and infamous—for two of his other inventions: the tetraethyl lead (TEL) additive to gasoline, and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs).[13][14][15]
  • Alexander Bogdanov (22 August 1873 – 7 April 1928) was a Russian physician, philosopher, science fiction writer and revolutionary of Belarusian ethnicity who experimented with blood transfusion, attempting to achieve eternal youth or at least partial rejuvenation. He died after he took the blood of a student suffering from malaria and tuberculosis, who may have also been the wrong blood type.[16][17]


  • Marie Curie (1867–1934) invented the process to isolate radium after co-discovering the radioactive elements radium and polonium.[18] 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.[11][19]
  • 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.[20]
  • Sabin Arnold von Sochocky invented the first radium-based luminescent paint, but eventually died of aplastic anemia resulting from his exposure to the radioactive material, "a victim of his own invention."[21]

Publicity and entertainment

  • Karel Soucek (19 April 1947 – 20 January 1985) was a Canadian professional stuntman who developed a shock-absorbent barrel. He died following a demonstration involving the barrel being dropped from the roof of the Houston Astrodome. He was fatally wounded when his barrel hit the rim of the water tank meant to cushion his fall.[22]




  • Max Valier (1895–1930) invented liquid-fuelled rocket engines as a member of the 1920s German rocketeering society Verein für Raumschiffahrt. On 17 May 1930, an alcohol-fuelled engine exploded on his test bench in Berlin, killing him instantly.[28]

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.[29][30]
  • Joseph-Ignace Guillotin (1738–1814) While he did not invent the guillotine, his name became an eponym for it.[31] Rumors circulated that he died by the machine, but historical references show that he died of natural causes.[32]
  • Perillos of Athens (circa 550 BCE), according to legend, was the first to be roasted in the brazen bull he made for Phalaris of Sicily for executing criminals.[33][34]
  • James Heselden (1948–2010), having recently purchased the Segway production company, died in a single-vehicle Segway accident. (Dean Kamen invented the Segway.)[35]
  • 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 that neither he nor the chair were ever seen again.

See also


  1. ^ KILLED BY OWN INVENTION; While Trying Motor Bicycle He Had Made, Schenectady Man Meets Death — Article Preview — The New York Times
  2. ^ Piero Boitani, Winged words: flight in poetry and history. University of Chicago Press, 2007. p. 38
  3. ^ Biography of Otto Lilienthal Lilienthal Museum
  4. ^ 2003 Personal Accounts Darwin Awards
  5. ^ Great Britain Patent GB191026658
  6. ^ Aurel Vlaicu at
  7. ^ Morris, Neil (2010). From Fail to Win, Learning from Bad Ideas: Transportation. ISBN 1-4109-3911-1. 
  8. ^ British inventor dies in crash on test flight of his flying taxi
  9. ^ United States Patent 61996
  10. ^ United States Patent 100,367
  11. ^ a b c "Inventors killed by their own inventions". Discovery News. Retrieved 2010-10-30. 
  12. ^ "The building of the titanic". Retrieved 2012-11-19. 
  13. ^ Bryson, Bill. A Short History of Nearly Everything. (2003) Broadway Books, USA. ISBN 0-385-66004-9
  14. ^ Alan Bellows (2007-12-08). "The Ethyl-Poisoned Earth". Damn Interesting. 
  15. ^ "Milestones, Nov. 13, 1944" Time, November 13, 1944
  16. ^ Transfusion Medical Reviews. 2007. pp. 337–340. 
  17. ^ "Alexander Bogdanov: the forgotten pioneer of blood transfusion.". US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health ( Retrieved 2012-11-19. 
  18. ^ American Institute of Physics Biography of Marie Curie
  19. ^ American Institute of Physics Biography of Marie Curie
  20. ^ Criticality accidents
  21. ^ "RADIUM PAINT TAKES ITS INVENTOR'S LIFE; Dr. Sabin A. von Sochocky Ill a Long Time, Poisoned by Watch Dial Luminant. 13 BLOOD TRANSFUSIONS Death Due to Aplastic Anemia-- Women Workers Who Were Stricken Sued Company.", The New York Times, November 15, 1928.
  22. ^ Associated Press (21 January 1985). "35,000 Watch as Barrel Misses Water Tank : 180-Ft. Drop Ends in Stunt Man's Death". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 18 August 2012. 
  23. ^ Guisso, R. W. L., The first emperor of China, New York : Birch Lane Press, 1989. ISBN 1-55972-016-6. Cf. p.37
  24. ^ Fu, Zhengyuan, Autocratic tradition and Chinese politics, Cambridge University Press, 1993. Cf. p.126
  25. ^ "The Civilization of China, Chapter II: Law and Government". Retrieved 11 August 2011. 
  26. ^ "The Maiden". National Museums Scotland. Retrieved 6 August 2010. 
  27. ^ Alexey Abramov / Алексей Абрамов By the Kremlin Wall / У кремлёвской стены Moscow / М., Politizdat / Политиздат 1978 pp./стр. 399 (Russian)
  28. ^ American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics
  29. ^ Why sports people get heart attack
  30. ^ McDougall, Christopher (20 July 2009). "To live is to jog". BBC News Magazine (BBC). Retrieved 20 August 2011. 
  31. ^ Chambers, William; Chambers, Robert (January–June 1844). "Dr Guillotin". Chambers's Edinburgh Journal I: 218–221. Retrieved 2009-12-30. 
  32. ^ "Joseph Ignace Guillotin" Who Named It?
  33. ^ "Perillos of the Brazen Bull". Retrieved 25 July 2010. 
  34. ^ "The Brazen Bull". Retrieved 1 October 2011. 
  35. ^ "Segway company owner dies in apparent Segway accident". CNN. 27 September 2010. Retrieved 27 September 2010. 

Further reading

External links