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List of inventors killed by their own inventions

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Franz Reichelt (d. 1912) attempted to use this contraption as a parachute. Reichelt died after he jumped off the Eiffel Tower wearing his invention, which failed to operate as he had expected.

This is a list 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.

Direct casualties




  • Andrei Zheleznyakov, a Soviet scientist, was developing chemical weapons in 1987 when a hood malfunction exposed him to traces of the nerve agent Novichok 5. He spent weeks in a coma, months unable to walk, and years suffering failing health before dying from its effects in 1992/3.[12]



Hunley Submarine
  • Henry Winstanley (1644–1703) built the first lighthouse on the Eddystone Rocks in Devon, England between 1696 and 1698. During the Great Storm of 1703 the lighthouse was completely destroyed with Winstanley and five other men inside. No trace of them was found.[16]
  • Horace Lawson Hunley (died 1863, age 40), Confederate marine engineer and inventor of the first combat submarine, Hunley, died during a trial of his vessel. During a routine test of the submarine, which had already suffered one accident, Hunley took command. After failing to resurface, Hunley and the seven other crew members drowned.[15] The navy salvaged the submarine and put it back into use.
  • Thomas Andrews, Jr. (1873 – 1912) was an Irish born British businessman and shipbuilder. He was managing director and head of the drafting department of the shipbuilding company Harland and Wolff in Belfast, Ireland. As the naval architect in charge of the plans for the ocean liner RMS Titanic, he was travelling on board that vessel during her maiden voyage when the ship hit an iceberg on 14 April 1912. He perished along with more than 1,500 others. His body was never recovered.


  • Alexander Bogdanov (22 August 1873 – 7 April 1928) was a Russian physician, philosopher, science fiction writer and revolutionary of Belarusian ethnicity who experimented with blood transfusion, attempting to achieve eternal youth or at least partial rejuvenation. He died after he took the blood of a student suffering from malaria and tuberculosis, who may have also been the wrong blood type.[17][18]
  • Thomas Midgley, Jr. (1889–1944) was an American engineer and chemist who contracted polio at age 51, leaving him severely disabled. He devised an elaborate system of ropes and pulleys to help others lift him from bed. He became accidentally entangled in the ropes and died of strangulation at the age of 55. However, he is better known for two of his other inventions: the tetraethyl lead (TEL) additive to gasoline, and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs).[19][20][21]


Publicity and entertainment

  • 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.[25]


  • 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 6 of the 22 on board, including Abakovsky (at the age of 25).[27]


  • Max Valier (1895–1930) invented liquid-fuelled rocket engines as a member of the 1920s German rocket society Verein für Raumschiffahrt. On 17 May 1930, an alcohol-fuelled engine exploded on his test bench in Berlin, killing him instantly.[28]

Popular myths and related stories

Perillos being pushed into his brazen bull
  • Perillos of Athens (circa 550 BCE), according to legend, was the first to be roasted in the brazen bull he made for Phalaris of Sicily for executing criminals.[29][30]
  • Li Si (208 BCE), Prime Minister during the Qin dynasty, was executed by the Five Pains method which some sources claim he had devised.[31][32][33][not in citation given] However the history of the Five Pains is traced further back in time than Li Si.
  • Wan Hu, a possibly-apocryphal[34] 16th-century Chinese official, is said to have attempted to launch himself into outer space in a chair to which 47 rockets were attached. The rockets exploded, and it is said that neither he nor the chair were ever seen again.
  • William Brodie, "Deacon Brodie" of 18th century Edinburgh is reputed to have been the first victim of a new type of gallows that he was also the designer and builder of, but this is doubtful[35].

See also


  1. ^ "Died in the Saddle", Boston Daily Globe, p. 1, 2 June 1896
  2. ^ "Killed By Own Invention – While Trying Motor Bicycle He Had Made, Schenectady Man Meets Death — Article Preview". New York Times. 4 October 1903. Retrieved 22 November 2014.
  3. ^ Doris A. Isaacson, ed. (1970). Maine: A Guide "Down East" (second ed.). Rockland, Maine: Courier-Gazette, Inc. Maine League of Historical Societies and Museums. p. 386. (First edition).
  4. ^ "F. S. Duesenberg Dies of Auto Injury". New York Times. 27 July 1932. p. 17.
  5. ^ Boitani, Piero; Boitani, Professor of Comparative Literature Piero (2007-05-15). Piero Boitani, Winged words: flight in poetry and history. University of Chicago Press, 2007. p. 38. ISBN 9780226065618. Retrieved 22 November 2014.
  6. ^ Biography of Otto Lilienthal Lilienthal Museum
  7. ^ 2003 Personal Accounts Darwin Awards
  8. ^ Great Britain Patent GB191026658
  9. ^ Ralph S. Cooper, D.V.M. "Aurel Vlaicu at". Retrieved 22 November 2014.
  10. ^ Morris, Neil (2010). From Fail to Win, Learning from Bad Ideas: Transportation. ISBN 978-1-4109-3911-1.
  11. ^ "British inventor dies in crash on test flight of his flying taxi". The Evening Standard. Archived from the original on 20 August 2009. Retrieved 22 November 2014.
  12. ^ "'It's got me': the lonely death of the Soviet scientist poisoned by novichok". The Guardian. Retrieved 27 March 2018.
  13. ^ "United States Patent 61996". Retrieved 22 November 2014.
  14. ^ "United States Patent 100,367". Retrieved 22 November 2014.
  15. ^ a b c "Inventors killed by their own inventions". Discovery News. Retrieved 2010-10-30.
  16. ^ "Eddystone Lighthouse History". Eddystone Tatler Ltd. Archived from the original on 2 May 2006. Retrieved 7 September 2006.
  17. ^ "Transfusion Medical Reviews". 2007: 337–340.
  18. ^ Huestis DW (2007). "Alexander Bogdanov: the forgotten pioneer of blood transfusion". Transfus Med Rev. 21 (4): 337–40. doi:10.1016/j.tmrv.2007.05.008. PMID 17900494.
  19. ^ Bryson, Bill. A Short History of Nearly Everything. (2003) Broadway Books, USA. ISBN 0-385-66004-9
  20. ^ Alan Bellows (2007-12-08). "The Ethyl-Poisoned Earth". Damn Interesting.
  21. ^ "Milestones, Nov. 13, 1944" Time, November 13, 1944
  22. ^ "Radium paint takes its inventor's life; Dr. Sabin A. von Sochocky Ill a Long Time, Poisoned by Watch Dial Luminant. 13 Blood Transfusions. Death Due to Aplastic Anemia-- Women Workers Who Were Stricken Sued Company". The New York Times. 15 November 1928.
  23. ^ "American Institute of Physics Biography of Marie Curie". Retrieved 22 November 2014.
  24. ^ American Institute of Physics Biography of Marie Curie
  25. ^ Associated Press (21 January 1985). "35,000 Watch as Barrel Misses Water Tank : 180-Ft. Drop Ends in Stunt Man's Death". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 18 August 2012.
  26. ^ Belcher, David A. (June 15, 2006). "Luis Jimenez, Sculptor, Dies in an Accident at 65". New York Times. Retrieved June 18, 2018.
  27. ^ Alexey Abramov / Алексей Абрамов By the Kremlin Wall / У кремлёвской стены Moscow / М., Politizdat / Политиздат 1978 pp./стр. 399 ‹See Tfd›(in Russian)
  28. ^ "American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics". Archived from the original on 26 December 2011. Retrieved 22 November 2014.
  29. ^ "Perillos of the Brazen Bull". Archived from the original on 16 December 2012. Retrieved 25 July 2010.
  30. ^ "The Brazen Bull". Retrieved 1 October 2011.
  31. ^ Guisso, R. W. L., The first emperor of China, New York : Birch Lane Press, 1989. ISBN 1-55972-016-6. Cf. p.37
  32. ^ Fu, Zhengyuan, Autocratic tradition and Chinese politics, Cambridge University Press, 1993. Cf. p.126
  33. ^ "The Civilization of China, Chapter II: Law and Government". Archived from the original on 11 August 2015. Retrieved 11 August 2011.
  34. ^ Williamson, Mark (2006). Spacecraft Technology: The Early Years. IET. ISBN 9780863415531.
  35. ^ Roughhead, W., Classic Crimes: A Selection from the Works of William Roughead, London : Cassell,1951. ISBN 0394716485.

Further reading

External links