Ever since humans began inventing new things and putting them into common use by the world at large, there have been many instances of the whole experiment going awry and resulting in the death of the inventor. Significant inventions which have changed the course of world history have always involved thinking out-of-the-box to solve complex matters and invent something for the common good of humankind. These attempts have incurred the heavy price of the inventors’ lives being lost more than not. The following is a list of 5 inventors who ended up being killed by their own inventions which they had toiled so hard to make:
- HENRY WINSTANLEY
Henry Winstanley was an English engineer and inventor in the 17th century. He made a museum of mechanical wonders and also operated a ‘water theater’ which contained fireworks along with other things. Winstanley used the money he earned from these inventions to purchase five ships of which two were wrecked on the Eddystone rocks near Plymouth in England.
Winstanley didn’t wait for the government to take steps to protect ships from the rocks. In 1696, he designed a massive lighthouse to help guide ships to keep away from danger. Over the next few years, he built the structure of granite, wood, and iron on a rock near the coast. The lighthouse when it was completed, stood 115 feet tall from the base and had 60 burning candles in the lantern room to help guide passing ships.
The lighthouse functioned well until the night of 26 November 1703. On that day, one of the biggest storms in Britain’s history struck the coast of the English Channel. The storm, which caused waves and winds with the force of a Gale swept away Winstanley’s lighthouse and Winstanley who was himself in it at the time. Neither Winstanley nor his Lighthouse survived or was seen ever again.
- THOMAS MIDGLEY, JR.
Thomas Midgley, Jr. was an American inventor some of whose discoveries came into mass usage in the 20th century. Midgley discovered that the compound tetraethyl lead could be added to gasoline to prevent the knocking of engines in automobiles. He also concluded that a specific chlorofluorocarbon was a very good refrigerant. Although Midgley’s inventions went on to have a very bad impact on the environment, he received many awards and medals for his ingenuity as a chemical company executive and scientist.
But Midgley didn’t die from either of these inventions. t the age of 51, he contracted polio and lost the use of both of his legs. Midgley invented a pulley system over his bed so that he could lift himself to sit up. However, Midgley got up in the system’s ropes on November 2, 1944, and was strangled to death.
- THOMAS ANDREWS
Thomas Andrews was the managing director of Harland & Wolff shipyard in Belfast in Northern Ireland. He was also a naval architect who designed the most luxurious and famous ship of its time, the RMS Titanic.
Andrews sailed on the Titanic’s maiden voyage in April 1912 to oversee its performance at sea. Though the first three days of the voyage passed without event, the ship hit an iceberg on the night of April 14, 1912, and started to take on water. Andrews was said to have observed the damage long with Captain Edward Smith and estimated that the vessel would sink within two hours.
Since both the men died in the ship’s sinking, there is no way of verifying these accounts. It is possible that along with actual facts, a lot of fictional narratives may have been added to Andrews’ story. However, it is well-known that Andrews searched the ship’s staterooms and urged many passengers who were skeptical that the ship would ever sink, to get into lifeboats although he knew that there weren’t enough seats in them. In the end, he went down with the Titanic, and his body was never found.
- JEAN FRANÇOIS PILÂTRE DE ROZIER
Jean Francois Pilatre de Rozier was a French chemist. He made the first human-operated balloon flight in 1783. The balloon was designed by the famous Montgolfier brothers. It was powered by a fire that heated the air in the balloon forcing it to rise.
The problem in the Montgolfiers’ design of the balloon was a large amount of flammable substances like hay, that had to be taken aboard as it was to be used as the fuel. However, the hay wouldn’t be enough to achieve Rozier’s goal of flying across the English Channel. Rozier redesigned the balloon filled with hydrogen which was a gas lighter than air. He thought that the extra buoyancy could help him fly across the Channel.
The shortcoming to the Montgolfiers’ design was a large amount of ignitable fuel, such as hay, that had to be taken aboard. But hay couldn’t provide enough power to fly across the English Channel which was Rozier’s ultimate goal. He worked on the hot-air design and prepared a second balloon filled with hydrogen, that’s lighter than air. Rozier held that the extra flexibility could take him across the Channel.
However, Rozier despite being a chemist probably didn’t think about the fact that hydrogen was a highly inflammable gas. As he began his flight over France on June 15, 1785, the balloon caught fire and fell to the ground killing Rozier and his companion, who would become the first casualties of a flying accident.
- OTTO LILIENTHAL
Otto Lilienthal was a pioneer of aviation who started studying aerodynamics after observing the movement of birds. He invented many gliders and flying machines at his workshop near Berlin, Germany. One of the gliders known as the ‘normal glider’, had a wingspan of 23 feet. The pilot of the glider had to hold supports beneath the wings in a sitting position. To market his inventions, Lilienthal authorized photos of the gliders flying. However, the normal glider was difficult to handle. This fact was not shown in the photos.
During a test flight on August 9, 1896, Lilienthal’s glider suddenly stalled and started falling directly towards the ground. Lilienthal couldn’t regain control of the glider and crash-landed from a height of 50 feet, breaking his neck in the process. Though he died the next day, his research on flight mechanics inspired the Wright brothers to make the first aircraft.