It’s a story as old as Icarus, who flew too close to the sun using wings of his own making. Lifted up by his own dreams and powered with glue and feathers, for just a brief moment he tasted the magic of human flight…and then plummeted to the ground when those same wings burned up. Inventors often put themselves in harm’s way for the sake of their creations…and sometimes, it all ends up going horribly wrong. All of these inventors flew too close to the sun, so to speak, and ended up being killed by the projects they loved the most.
Their stories do end in tragedy and their inventions were essentially death traps, but all of these ill-fated inventors have one thing in common: briefly, they got to fly close to the sun — so to speak. A few even survived to see their inventions actually working, while others learned they had made a fatal flaw just a few moments too late. But all of them found out that in the end, their own great ideas eventually failed them.
Flying close to the sun is pretty glorious, but it’s also downright dangerous. These guys found that out the hard way.
20. Jim Fixx – Ran Himself To Death
After Jim Fixx wrote “The Complete Book of Running” in 1977, he started a craze that still hasn’t faded away. While he didn’t invent running itself, Fixx is credited with starting the fitness revolution in America, and he’s known for making recreational running popular. He often extolled the virtues of jogging regularly, and always led by example. Fixx famously enjoyed a daily run to stay in shape, only it didn’t work out so well. At the age of 52, in the year 1984, Fixx died of a heart attack right after his daily run in Hardwick, Vermont. So maybe he ended up changing his mind on the whole running thing, after all.
19. Fred Duesenberg – Died In A Car Crash
Fred Duesenberg invented, of course, the Duesenberg automobile. He showed an early flair for mechanics at a young age, and left high school to pursue his talents. He began building and designing his own bicycles at the end of the 19th century. He began racing cars in 1905, and became the chief engineer of the Mason Motor Car Company later the same year. He later invented the Model J, which became known as the Duesenberg. Known as “the Dusey” during the Great Depression, the car became a popular choice among Hollywood movie stars. It was also a favorite of the inventor, who died in 1932 after being in a crash in Pennsylvania while driving his Duesenberg.
18. Henry Smolinski – Died In A Plane Crash
Henry Smolinski died in 1973 while testing the AVE Mizar. It was based on the Ford Pinto, and it was a flying car. The AVE Mizar was the one and only product created by the company founded by Smolinski. The car was built with detachable wings, which would give it the ability to fly for short distances. After flying to the airport, the wings could simply be detached and the car driven away. The wings came off the car mid-flight during the test run, which wasn’t how it was supposed to work. There was never an attempt to create a new model of the AVE Mizar.
17. William Bullock – Crushed By A Printing Press
William Bullock revolutionized the mass-produced written word with his rotary printing press, and enjoyed the benefits of his success in his own lifetime. He lived for years after his invention became a hit, but seemingly remained a little too hands-on in the printing business. He continued to work on his rotary printing presses, and even helped to install them inside buildings when needed. Bullock died shortly after his foot was crushed while installing a new rotary press in Philadelphia. The foot became gangrenous, and Bullock did not survive the amputation that followed. He died in 1867 at the age of 54.
16. Horace Lawson Hunley- Drowned In A Submarine
Horace Lawson Hunley was only 40 when he developed the world’s first combat submarine. It was fittingly named Hunley, and it went into service for the Confederacy during the American Civil War. Sadly, the sub did not survive the war. Hunley (the man) was in command of the vessel when the Hunley (the sub) was flooded. He and 7 other men drowned. Later, the navy salvaged what was left of the Hunley — the ship, not the man — and re-used it. The Hunley was put back into use, but sank again pretty shortly thereafter. It was finally re-discovered in 2000 and raised up from the ocean depths.
15. Thomas Midgley, Jr. – Strangled By His Invention
Thomas Midgley, Jr. worked with deadly chemicals all the time. He’s most famous for inventing the tetraethyl lead that’s added to gasoline, as well as chlorofluorocarbons, used in aerosols and refrigerants. But Midgley didn’t die as he lived. It wasn’t his chemicals that killed him. At age 51, Midgley contracted polio and became very ill with the disease. Ever the inventor, Midgley created a complicated system of levers, pulleys and ropes to help him get in and out of bed as the disease impaired his movement. While using the device, Midgley got himself tangled up and died of strangulation in his own bed at age 55.
14. Marie Curie – Died Of Radiation Exposure
Marie Curie famously discovered radium and polonium. She also invented the word “radioactivity,” and paved the way for the invention of X-rays. She was the first female to win a Nobel Prize, and to this day is the only woman to receive the Nobel Prize twice. Curie won for both physics and chemistry, and to date is the only person to win a Nobel Prize in two sciences.
Her pioneering work has made Curie a famous name, but it also killed her. Curie died of radiation exposure in 1934, having contracted leukemia due to the nature of her work. At the time, the dangerous nature of the chemicals she studied was not yet known.
13. Thomas Andrews – Sunk With The Titanic
Thomas Andrews was justifiably proud of the mighty ship he’d designed. It was a beauty of a ship, built to cross oceans, and it launched for its maiden voyage one day in April, 1912. You can guess the name of the ship. Andrews was aboard the R.M.S. Titanic when it struck an iceberg and began to sink into the Arctic Ocean. According to reports, Andrews spent the last hours of his life helping passengers get into life jackets and board the 20 lifeboats available. He was last seen in the first-class smoking room. His body was not recovered from the wreckage.
12. Louis Slotin – Died Of Radiation Exposure
Louis Slotin was integral in the Manhattan Project. An esteemed nuclear physicist, he continued to run experiments with plutonium even after the project and WWII ended. When he accidentally set off a fission reaction while working on experiments in his lab, Slotin died a hero by moving in front of the equipment. The rest of his team ran for safety while he did his best to absorb the dangerous radiation. Slotin was working on a complex procedure by which the exposed core of a nuclear weapon is brought to a near-critical point. When his screwdriver slipped, he stepped in harm’s way and used his own hands to yank the two pieces of beryllium-coated spheres apart. Two weeks later, Slotin died from the exposure.
11. William Nelson – Died In A Bike Accident
William Nelson was 24 in 1903, and a promising young man. An employee of General Electric and full of interesting ideas, he invented a motorized bicycle, a forerunner of the motorcycle. Sadly, Nelson wasn’t around long enough to see his dreams of motorized biking come true. While test-driving the bike he invented and built, he fell off a hill and died immediately from the fall damage. According to news reports, it was considered a great loss because Nelson showed so much promise as an inventor and entrepreneur — which he might have been, had he lived long enough to become one.
10. Henry Wistanley – Killed In The Great Storm Of Great Britain
Henry Wistanley was sick of bringing his ship near the terrifying Eddystone Reef, a dangerous spot off the Cornwall coast. Wistanley took it upon himself to design the first lighthouse at Eddystone. Eventually, the lighthouse became an 80-foot beacon outfitted with a luxury stateroom at the top. In a boast to the media, Wistanley said he wanted to be inside the lighthouse during the “greatest storm that ever was.” In November 1698, the lighthouse went into operation.
But the lighthouse wasn’t as indestructible as Wistanley hoped. He reinforced it several times over the next few years, adding stone and rings of iron to the walls. Ignoring a severe weather warning, Wistanley went out to repair the lighthouse during what became known as the “Great Storm” of Great Britain. When the storm was over, nothing much of the Eddystone lighthouse or of Henry Wistanley remained.
9. Wan Hu – The First Astronaut
According to legend, Wan Hu invented the first rocket ship — well, after a fashion. This high-ranking Chinese official used a chair and 47 rockets to build his own type of rocket ship in the 16th century. His intention was to rocket himself right on up to the moon. The way the story goes, after the rockets exploded the chair and the inventor were never, ever seen again. So maybe he did make it into space…but he definitely didn’t last long up there if all he had was a chair and some burned-up rockets. He is known in legend as the first astronaut, and his name was used for the Wan-Hoo crater on the far side of the moon. Perhaps he is the one who put it there?
8. The Diver – Suffocated While Diving
Sieur Freminet, diver, invented the world’s first self-contained air device. It was a rebreather that recycled exhaled air that was trapped in a barrel. The trouble was, the invention didn’t really work. Freminent died just 20 minutes into using his own device, due to lack of oxygen. Freminet was a pioneer in the field, creating his invention in 1772. During the 16th century, diving consisted of using barrels upside-down as diving bells. In 1771, a British engineer invented an air pump to connect to the barrels. Freminet envisioned an entire rebreathing device. And even though it didn’t work, he inspired many inventors who came later and ran with Freminet’s pioneering concept.
7. Perillos of Athens – Cooked Alive
The dangers of inventing have been re-told in stories that ring through the ages. Ancient legend tells the tale of Perillos of Athens, who was a noted bronze worker in Greece. He even invented his own torturing device used to execute convicted criminals. The Brazen Bull, as it was known, slow-roasted prisoners alive in a most painful manner. They were suspended inside the device while a hot fire blazed just beneath them. When Perillos showed the invention to Phalaris, known as the tyrant of Akragas, he ended up inside of it. Phalaris ordered Perillos to be put inside his own invention, and he was. According to some re-tellings of the story, Perillos was not completely killed. But in other versions, he was cooked alive.
6. Francis Edgar Stanley – Killed In A Car Crash
Along with twin brother Freelan O. Stanley, Francis Edgar Stanley founded the Stanley Motor Company and built the famous Stanley Steamers. The popular steam-powered cars kept coming out of the factory and rolling around the streets until the 1920s, and the twins often competing in racing events in their cars. A steam car they built by the duo in 1906 set a world’s record for the fastest mile. Francis was killed in 1918 while behind the wheel of one of his own Stanley Steamers. The car crashed into a woodpile when Francis swerved to avoid farm wagons in the road.
5. Otto Lilienthal – Lethal Glider Accident
Otto Lilienthal took an interest in flight in 1861 and never looked back. He even had a hill built in 1894 near Berlin so he could take off from any direction and practice flight with his own inventions, gliders. He started designing them in 1891 and experimented with his own flights in them, earning much acclaim and recognition for his engineering achievements and incredible soaring flights. Eventually, it all led to tragedy. After 2,000 successful and stunning flights, his glider collapsed in 1896 during a flight and he was severely injured. Lilienthal died in the hospital the very next day.
4. Franz Reichelt – Fell From The Eiffel Tower
Known as the flying tailor, Franz Reichelt did not enjoy flight for long. He invented a wearable parachute that he believed in so strongly, he decided to jump from the tallest building in the world. In February 1912, that building was the Eiffel Tower. Reichelt obtained permission from the police to test his invention. Until then, it had only been tested on dummies. With a huge crowd watching, he jumped from the Tower. The parachute did not work, and the inventor plummeted to the bottom. Horrifyingly, the entire event was captured on film. Reichelt’s body was virtually reduced to mush.
3. Sabin Arnold von Sochocky – Died Of Radium Exposure
It sounds bizarre now, but radium was a hugely popular material in the early 20th century. It was used in all sorts of things, so it was perfectly normal when inventor Sabin Arnold von Sochocky invented radium-based paint. It was luminescent, and that was totally cool, so the paint was a popular choice. Large ads ran in magazines promoting the glowing paint, which was used on clock faces, electric switches, door knobs and all sorts of other items that would be nicer if they were lit up at night. Predictably, Sochocky died from exposure to the radioactive material in 1928.
2. Karel Soucek – Died Going Over Niagara Falls
Karel Soucek was a famed stuntman who was best-known for going over the Niagara Falls. He did it by inventing a special barrel designed to absorb shock. He pulled his stunt in 1984 to rise to fame, but he didn’t stop there. In 1985 he set up another feat of daring. While inside his barrel, Soucek was dropped from 180 feet above the Houston Astrodome before a crowd of screaming fans. The barrel and Soucek were meant to land in a large water tank below, but the barrel clipped the rim of the tank on its way down. Because the landing was off, Soucek absorbed too much shock from inside the barrel and died just hours later.
1. Alexander Bogdanov – Died After Blood Transfusion
Alexander Bogdanov was a bit of a Renaissance man. A philosopher, physician and science fiction writer, he was an early experimenter in blood transfusions. He thought transfusions could even lead to eternal youth, and often used himself as a guinea pig. In 1928, he received blood from a student who had tuberculosis and malaria. It is also believed that the student’s blood was the wrong type of match with Bogdanov, but this aspect of blood transfusions was completely unknown at the time. Bogdanov died as a result, though the student made a full recovery from his own illnesses.
Inventing can be pretty dangerous business, but it can also spark new ideas and innovation that eventually helps to change the world.
- Ad Free Browsing
- Over 10,000 Videos!
- All in 1 Access
- Join For Free!