Tragic Genius: 20 Inventors Killed by Their Own Creations

1Franz Reichelt

Franz Reichelt

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 attempt with the parachute, and he had told the authorities he would first test it with a dummy.

2Karel Soucek

Karel Soucek

Karel Soucek (1947-1985) 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.

3Max Valier

Max Valier

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.

4Sylvester H. Roper

Sylvester H. Roper

Sylvester H. Roper, the inventor of the eponymous steam-powered bicycle, died of a heart attack or subsequent crash during a public speed trial in 1896. It is unknown whether the crash caused the heart attack or vice versa.

5Valerian Abakovsky

Valerian Abakovsky

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 24 July 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).

6Ismail ibn Hammad al-Jawhari

Ismail ibn Hammad al-Jawhari

Ismail ibn Hammad al-Jawhari (died in 1010) was a Muslim Kazakh Turkic scholar from Farab who attempted to fly using two wooden wings and a rope. He leaped from the roof of a mosque in Nishapur and fell to his death.

7Marie Curie

Marie Curie

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.

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8George Jackson Churchward

George Jackson Churchward

George Jackson Churchward CBE (1857–1933), the former Chief Mechanical Engineer of the Great Western Railway (GWR), was struck and killed by a Paddington to Fishguard express, pulled by No. 4085 'Berkeley Castle'. The locomotive was of the GWR Castle class, a successful design by Charles Collett and greatly influenced by Churchward.

9Li Si

Li Si

Li Si (208 B.C.E.), the Prime Minister during the Qin dynasty, was executed by the Five Pains method which he had devised.

10Fred Duesenberg

Fred Duesenberg

Fred Duesenberg, the German automobile designer (1876–1932) was killed in high-speed road accident in a Duesenberg automobile.

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