Sunday, December 18, 2011

Inventors Killed By Their Own Invention

This is a collection 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. A few of these are somewhat bizarre.....

1) Franz Reichelt
Reichelt announced to the press in early February 1912 that he had finally received permission to conduct an experiment from the Eiffel Tower to prove the value of his invention, the “parachute suit”. On Sunday, February 4, at 7 am, he arrived at the tower by car with two friends. The news footage of his jump shows him modelling his invention in its folded form. The suit did not restrict the wearer's movements when the parachute was packed, and Le Petit Parisien described the method of deploying the parachute as being as simple as extending the arms out to form a cross with the body. After adjusting his apparatus with the assistance of his friends and checking the wind direction by throwing a piece of paper taken from a small book, he placed one foot on the guardrail, hesitated for about forty seconds, then leapt outwards. His parachute, which had seemed to be only half-open, folded around him almost immediately and he plummeted for a few seconds before crashing to his death.

2) Marie Curie

Marie Curie’s achievements include the first person honored with two Nobel Prizes, the creation of a theory of radioactivity, techniques for isolating radioactive isotopes, and the discovery of two new elements, polonium and radium. Under her direction, the world's first studies were conducted into the treatment of neoplasms (cancers) using radioactive isotopes. Due to her line of work, she was regularly exposed to high amounts of radiation which contributed heavily to her death of aplastic anaemia in 1934. The damaging effects of ionizing radiation were not then known, and much of her work had been carried out in a shed, without taking any safety measures. She had carried test tubes containing radioactive isotopes in her pocket and stored them in her desk drawer, remarking on the pretty blue-green light that the substances gave off in the dark. Due to their levels of radioactivity, her papers from the 1890s are considered too dangerous to handle. They are kept in lead-lined boxes.

3) Otto Lilienthal

Otto Lilienthal was a German pioneer of human aviation who became known as the Glider King. He was the first person to make well-documented, repeated, successful gliding flights. He followed an experimental approach established earlier by Sir George Cayley. Newspapers and magazines published photographs of Lilienthal gliding, favorably influencing public and scientific opinion about the possibility of flying machines becoming practical. On 9 August, 1896, Lilienthal's glider lost its lift and he fell from a height of 17 m (56 ft) and died of a broken spine the following day in Berlin, saying, "Kleine Opfer müssen gebracht werden!" ("Small sacrifices must be made!"). He was buried at Lankwitz Cemetery in Berlin.

4) Aurel Vlaicu

Aurel Vlaicu was a Romanian engineer, inventor, airplane constructor and early pilot. After working at Opel car factory in his youth, he returned to his hometown and built a glider he flew in the summer of 1909. Later that year, he began construction of the Vlaicu I airplane; it flew for the first time on June 17, 1910. The next year he built and piloted the Vlaicu II, which won several prizes at the 1912 Aspern Air Show. Just a year later in 1913, his Vlaicu II plane failed whilst trying to navigate the Carpathian Mountains. He died upon impact.

5) Donald Campbell

Donald Campbell was a British car and motorboat racer who broke eight world speed records in the 1950s and 60s. He remains the only person to set both land and water speed records in the same year (1964). In 1966, Campbell decided to try for another water speed record. This time the target was 300 mph. His boat, the Bluebird K7 was fitted with a lighter and more powerful Bristol Orpheus engine. On 4 January 1967, Campbell was killed when his Bluebird K7 flipped and disintegrated at a speed of 320mph. Instead of refueling and waiting for the wash of his first run to subside, as had been pre-arranged, Campbell decided to make a return run immediately. The craft's stability had begun to break down as it travelled over the rough water, and took off at a 45-degree angle. It somersaulted and plunged back into the lake, nose first.

6) Thomas Midgley, Jr.

Thomas Midgley, Jr. was an American mechanical engineer turned chemist. He developed both the tetra-ethyl lead (TEL) additive to gasoline and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), and held over a hundred patents. While lauded at the time for his discoveries, today his legacy is seen as far more mixed considering the serious negative environmental impacts of these innovations. One historian remarked that Midgley "had more impact on the atmosphere than any other single organism in Earth's history." He contracted polio at age 51, leaving him severely disabled. He devised an elaborate system of strings and pulleys to help others lift him from bed. This system was the eventual cause of his death when he was accidentally entangled in the ropes of this device and died of strangulation at the age of 55.

7) William Bullock

William Bullock was an American inventor whose 1863 invention of the web rotary printing press helped revolutionize the printing industry due to its great speed and efficiency. His fascination with books led him to acquire much knowledge of mechanics. At the young age of 21, he was running his own machinery shop in Savannah, Georgia. In a bizarre accident, Bullock was killed by his own invention. On April 3, 1867, he was making adjustments to one of his new presses that was being installed for the Philadelphia Public Ledger newspaper. Bullock tried to kick a driving belt onto a pulley. His leg was crushed when it became caught in the machine. After a few days, he developed gangrene. On April 12, 1867, Bullock died during an operation to amputate the leg. He is buried in Union Dale Cemetery on Pittsburgh's North Side.

8) Valerian Abakovsky

Latvian born Valerian Abakovsky is best remembered as the inventor of the aerowagon. It was an experimental high-speed railcar fitted with an aero engine and propeller traction. It was originally intended to carry Soviet officials. On the July 24, 1921, a group of communists led by Fyodor Sergeyev took the aerowagon from Moscow to the Tula collieries to test it. Abakovsky was also on board. Although they successfully arrived in Tula, on the return route to Moscow the aerowagon derailed at high speed, killing everyone on board. Photo is of Fyodor Sergeyev, a a Russian revolutionary who was one of the victims of the accident.

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