Inventors Killed By Their Inventions

Killed in the line of inventing duty

 Inventors are often feel very passionately about their inventions. It is no wonder that they are often on the "front lines" with their inventions, testing early prototypes, being the guinea pigs for their gadgets, and taking chances when nobody else will.

So it is not surprising that a few inventors have been injured and even killed while working on their inventions.

Hot Air Balloonist Dies Crossing English Channel

rozier balloon
The first untethered balloon flight, by Rozier and the Marquis d'Arlandes on 21 November 1783. Public Domain

 French chemistry teacher, Jean-Francois Pilatre de Rozier was an avid participant in the new aviation technology of the times, hot air balloons. In June of 1783, he attended the first public unmanned tethered flight of a hot air balloon invented by the Montgolfier brothers. Later that year he helped the Montgolfier brothers with an untethered flight (carrying several farm animals) from the Palace of Versailles' courtyard.

Rozier even convinced King Louis XVI that the first manned flight would have volunteers Rozier along with Marquis d'Arlandes, pilot the first free balloon flight on 21 November 1783. The King had originally chosen two condemned criminals to risk the flight.

Rozier loved the attention he received after the flight, however, he soon felt upstaged when another hot air balloon became the first to cross the English Channel in a manned flight, that almost ended in a disaster with the two pilots almost drowning.

Rozier decided to design his own hot air balloon and cross the English Channel in it.

As fate would have it, Rozier and his co-pilot Pierre Romain became the first fatalities of an air crash during their attempt to cross the English Channel.

Probably not the notoriety that Rozier was seeking.



marie curie
Marie Curie and her daughter Irene, 1925. MC: Polish-born French physicist and pioneer in radioactivity, 7 November 1867 – 4 July 1934. Culture Club/Getty Images

Polish physicist and chemist, Marie Curie (1867-1934) discovered the radioactive metals, radium and polonium, and invented methods of processing the two. Her work led to the development of x-ray machines. Unfortunately her research also exposed her to deadly radiation and Marie Curie passed away from leukemia in 1934.

Marie Curie was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize. More »

The Flying Tailor Whose Coat Parachute Failed Him

Franz Reichelt Died February 4th 1912. PD

French tailor (known as the flying tailor), Franz Reichelt was also an inventor interested in creating a new kind of parachute. In particular, Reichelt wanted to invent a convertible coat slash parachute.

Living in Paris, Reichelt asked the police department for permission to use the Eiffel Tower as a test site, however, Reichelt claimed he was going to test his prototype using a dummy.

On February 4, 1912, he had received permission to conduct his experiments, and only told his friends at the last minute that he was the dummy that would be testing the coat/parachute.

The experiment failed, the parachute did not open and Franz Reichelt was killed.

hunley submarine
circa 1864: The Confederate Navy submarine, 'Hunley'. In an attempt to break the Union blockade of Charleston it attacked and sank the USS Housatonic, becoming the first submarine to sink a ship in battle. Its fate afterwards remains a mystery, after signalling that it planned to return to harbour the submarine and its crew disappeared without trace. Getty Images

During the American Civil War, inventor Horace Lawson Hunley converted a steam boiler into a submarine to help the war effort for the south. Submarines were a relatively new technology, while the first submarine was built in 1620, submarines with engines were relatively new.

Hunley's submarine design was tested twice in the Charleston harbor in South Carolina. In the first trial the submarine sank and the crew was killed. In the second trial the submarine sank and the crew plus inventor Horace Lawson Hunley ran out of air and died on October 15, 1863.

After Hunley's death his submarine was raised from the water and put into war service. It became the first submarine to sink a ship, after which the Hunley sank again.

More »
Otto Lilienthal
Otto Lilienthal (1848 - 1896), German inventor and aeronautical engineer preparing a launch from a hill in Lichterfelde, Berlin. His first successful flight occurred in 1891. After making more than 2,000 flights, he was killed when his glider crashed in 1896. Hulton Archive/Getty Images

On August 10, 1894, Otto Lilienthal, German engineer and aviation pioneer, died from injuries suffered in a crash while testing his latest glider. Just before aviation inventors began designing motor-powered airplanes, human-powered gliders were part of man's first attempt at flight.

Otto Lilienthal died after over two thousand successful glider flights. His work heavily influenced other inventors including the Wright Brothers who went on to make the first successful motor-powered airplane. More »

Death by Barrel

 "There is no heaven or hell; there is no God. It's all a myth. You're born, you live, one day you die and that's it." - Karl Soucek

And that one day came to Canadian stuntman Karl Soucek perhaps sooner than he thought.

On July 2, 1984, Soucek went over the Niagara Falls in a custom built barrel, dropping 1000 feet into the Niagara River. Soucek survived the fall with a little bleeding on his part.

Seems Soucek performed the stunt without permission and was fined. However, the stunt brought him publicity and his next stunt was a barrel drop of 180 feet from the top of the Houston Astrodome into a tank of water.

On January 19, 1985, the drop occurred, however, the barrel was released prematurely and had an odd spin to it. It did not land in the tank of water, it hit the rim killing Karl Soucek.


Thanks to wikipedia for providing a list of inventors killed by their inventions, as a source of inspiration for this article.
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Bellis, Mary. "Inventors Killed By Their Inventions." ThoughtCo, Aug. 4, 2016, Bellis, Mary. (2016, August 4). Inventors Killed By Their Inventions. Retrieved from Bellis, Mary. "Inventors Killed By Their Inventions." ThoughtCo. (accessed December 15, 2017).