When we try out something new there is always a risk lurking around the corner. Sometimes these risks can prove to be fatal as was the case for some inventors. The creation of these inventors proved to be their ultimate downfall. But they will always be remembered in history as they contributed to the progress of all mankind before losing their lives. Here is our list of ten inventors killed by their own inventions.
1. Sylvester H. Roper
Roper invented the eponymous steam-powered bicycle and died in a crash during one of its early speed trials.
American inventor, Sylvester Howard Roper, was a pioneering builder of early automobiles and motorcycles. He also invented the shotgun choke and a revolver repeating shotgun. Among his other inventions are the hand stitch sewing machine and a hot air engine. In 2002 he was inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame. This honor was bestowed upon him for inventing the Roper steam velocipede.
Unfortunately, the velocipede became the cause of his death. On June 1, 1896, Roper rode one of his later velocipede models. He rode on the Charles River bicycle track, near Harvard Bridge in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He made several laps and left behind many bicyclists including the professional rider Tom Butler. Roper was clocked at two minutes 1.4 seconds for the flying mile, with a top speed forty miles-per-hour (sixty-four kilometers-per-hour). But suddenly he wobbled and then fell on the track suffering a head wound and was found dead. After an autopsy, the cause of death was found to be heart failure. It is unknown if the crash was the cause of the stress on his heart, or if his heart failed prior to the crash.(source)
2. Franz Reichelt
Reichelt invented the coat parachute and died while attempting to fly with the parachute.
Franz Reichelt, sometimes referred to as the “Flying Tailor”, was a French tailor, inventor, and parachuting pioneer. He wanted to develop a suit for aviators that would convert into a parachute. This would help the aviators to land safely in case they were forced to jump out of their plane. So, he created an outfit which contained a parachute of his own design attached to it. Initially, Reichelt experimented with dummies dropped from the fifth floor of his apartment building. These experiments all proved to be successful. But none of his subsequent designs could repeat the same success. Reichelt believed that the lack of a suitably high test platform was partial to blame for his failures.
So, he started petitioning the police for permission to conduct a test on Eiffel Tower. Finally, he was granted permission in early 1912. On 4 February 1912, he arrived at the tower intending to jump himself instead of using a dummy for the test. Despite attempts by his friends and spectators to convince him to reconsider, he went on the first platform of the Eiffel Tower. There he donned the parachute suit and jumped. Unfortunately, the parachute failed to deploy. He crashed into the icy ground at the foot of the tower and was killed instantaneously. (source)
3. Karel Soucek
Karel Soucek developed a shock-absorbent barrel. He died following a demonstration involving the barrel being dropped from the roof of the Houston Astrodome.
Karel Soucek was a Canadian professional stuntman. He is known for his daredevil stunt in 1984 when he went over Niagara Falls in a barrel. To perform this stunt he created a custom-made barrel which was nine feet long and five feet in diameter. It was bright red and bore the words, “Last of the Niagara Daredevils – 1984”. On July 2, 1984, Soucek went inside the barrel and then it was rolled into Niagra River 1000 feet above the cataract of Niagra Falls. Soucek survived the fall but when he came out he was bleeding. The stunt made him quite popular and he decided to build a museum displaying his stunting paraphernalia.
To finance the project he decided to perform a barrel drop of 180 feet from the top of the Houston Astrodome into a tank of water. On January 19, 1985, Soucek enclosed himself in the barrel 180 feet above the floor of the Astrodome. The barrel was released prematurely and began spinning as it fell toward the floor. Due to the rough start, the barrel hit the rim instead of landing in the center of the tank of water. The mishap gravely injured Soucek. His chest and abdomen were crushed and his skull was fractured. He died in the hospital while the stunt show was still going on. (source)
4. Horace Lawson Hunley
Hunley invented the first combat submarine. He died during a trial of his vessel.
Horace Lawson Hunley was a Confederate marine engineer during the American Civil War. He developed early, hand-powered submarines. He was successful in developing a submarine after two unsuccessful attempts. One of his most famous submarines was posthumously named after him, H. L. Hunley.
On October 15, 1863, Hunley decided to take command of the submarine during a routine exercise. The vessel sank and all eight crew members were killed including Hunley himself. He was buried with full military honors at Magnolia Cemetery in Charleston, South Carolina, on November 8, 1863.(source)
5. Marie Curie
Curie invented a method which led to the discovery of the radioactive elements radium and polonium. She died of a plastic anemia due to prolonged exposure to radiation emanating from her research materials.
Marie Skłodowska Curie was a physicist and chemist, well known for being the first woman to win a Nobel prize. She is also the only woman to win it twice, and the only person to win a Nobel Prize in two different sciences. Her achievements included the development of the theory of radioactivity and techniques for isolating radioactive isotopes. She also discovered two elements, polonium, and radium.
During the course of her research, she carried test tubes of radium in her pockets and was thus exposed to radiation. Due to the radiation, she developed a plastic anemia and died in 1934 at the age of sixty-six. Even today her papers from the 1890’s and even her cookbook are considered too dangerous to handle. This is because of their levels of radioactive contamination. These papers are currently kept in lead-lined boxes. Those who wish to consult them are required to wear protective clothing before handling them.(source)
6. Henry Smolinski
Smolinski invented a hybrid car-aircraft, the AVE Mirzar. He died during the test flight of his aircraft.
AVE Mizar, a hybrid car-aircraft, was built by Advanced Vehicle Engineers (AVE) between 1971 and 1973. The project was headed by the owner of the company, Henry Smolinski. Smolinski was a graduate of Northrop Institute of Technology’s aeronautical engineering school. On September 11, 1973, Mizar creator Smolinski took the aircraft for a test flight at Camarillo. While in the air, the right wing strut detached from the Pinto. It resulted in a fiery crash causing the death of Smolinski and a passenger, the Vice President of AVE, Harold Blake.(source)
7. Sabin Arnold von Sochocky
This man invented the first radium-based luminescent paint and died of a plastic anemia due to exposure to the radioactive material.
Dr. Sabin Arnold von Sochocky was the inventor of radium-based paint. His company, Radium Luminous Material Corporation, marketed it as “Undark”. Initially, it became quite popular. But soon, workers, especially women started suffering from serious radioactive contamination. These workers used to paint the dials of watches and gauge faces with the luminescent paint. It was delicate work. The girls were instructed to maintain the fine tip of the paintbrushes by licking them. By doing this they ingested a lot of radioactive material unknowingly and started suffering from various ailments. The company was subject to several lawsuits in the wake of severe illnesses and deaths of workers. Dr. Sabin Arnold von Sochocky too was not safe from the radiation exposure. He died in November 1928 due to a plastic anemia resulting from the exposure to radioactive material.(source)
8. Aurel Vlaicu
Vlaicu built three powered planes, A. Vlaicu Nr. I, II and III. He was killed while flying A. Vlaicu Nr. II across the Carpathian Mountains.
Born on November 19, 1882, Aurel Vlaicu was a Romanian engineer, inventor, airplane constructor, and early pilot. He began constructing his first powered airplane, the A. Vlaicu Nr. I, on November 1, 1909. He completed its construction within seven months and flew it for the first time on June 17, 1910. Soon he constructed another airplane, the A. Vlaicu Nr. II. He was also constructing a third airplane, the A. Vlaicu Nr. III and it was partially finished at the time of his death.
Aurel Vlaicu died on September 13, 1913, while trying to set a record in A. Vlaicu Nr. II. He was attempting to be the first to fly across the Carpathian Mountains, but unfortunately, the plane crashed. The cause of Vlaicu’s crash remains unknown. According to his friends, the airplane stalled while landing with the engine off, and that was the cause of the crash. (source)
9. Valerian Abakovsky
Abakovsky constructed the “Aerowagon”, a high-speed railcar. He died when the Aerowagon derailed during a test ride.
The talented inventor, Valerian Ivanovich Abakovsky, is best remembered as the inventor of the Aerowagon. It was an experimental, high-speed railcar fitted with an airplane engine using propeller traction. It was originally intended for the transport of Soviet officials. Aerowagon was tested on 24 July 1921 when it was taken on a test run from Moscow to Tula. Valerian Ivanovich Abakovsky was onboard along with twenty-one other people. They arrived successfully in Tula but the Aerowagon derailed on its return journey to Moscow. The mishap killed six people. Its inventor, Valerian Ivanovich Abakovsky, was one of the people killed in the accident.(source)
10. Max Valier
Valier invented liquid-fuelled rocket engines and died when an alcohol-fuelled engine exploded on his test bench.
Austrian rocketry pioneer, Max Valier, was an inventor and scientist. He worked with the director of the Opel company, Fritz von Opel, between 1928 and 1929. During this time he worked on a number of rocket-powered cars and aircraft. By the late 1920s, he focused on developing liquid-filled rocket engines. Soon he developed the Valier-Heylandt Rak 7, a rocket car using liquid propulsion. Unfortunately, Max Valier was killed on May 17, 1930, when an alcohol-fuelled rocket engine exploded on his test bench in Berlin.(source)