Inventors who were destroyed by their own inventions!


1. Thomas Midgley Jr.

Thomas Midgley Jr.

Thomas Midgley Jr. was a chemist who solved a lot of tough issues with early autos while working for General Motors, like "engine knocking." He basically came up with the idea of putting additives in gasoline, and he's the reason your engine doesn't sound like a constant barrage of fastballs pelting the inside of your hood. He also introduced leaded gasoline and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) into the world, which have the potential to destroy the atmosphere and therefore life on Earth — but hey, you have to take the bad with the good.

In his later years he was hobbled by polio, and he devised a harness with a series of pulleys to help him get out of bed. It helpfully strangled him one day while he was trying to get into his wheelchair. He meant well, but his inventions apparently just wanted people dead.

2. Sabin Arnold von Sochocky

Sabin Arnold von Sochocky

The awesomely named Sabin Arnold von Sochocky invented glow-in-the-dark paint, which he cleverly called Undark. He imagined entire houses bathed in Undark's glow and had a successful factory producing thousands of glowing watch dials daily. That is, until his workers started dropping dead, because his product was freaking radioactive and, like, super deadly.

Despite a lawsuit being settled in the surviving workers' favor in 1928, these watch dials and many more insane radioactive products continued to be produced right up through the end of World War II. At that point, the dangers of radioactivity began to be a bit more properly understood. Decontamination studies at the site of Sochocky's plant started in 1983, and the site wasn't fully decontaminated until 2016. Sochocky himself succumbed to radiation poisoning in 1928. His time of death was probably noted on one of his stupid killer watches.

3. Henry Winstanley

Henry Winstanley

Henry Winstanley created a structure that has saved countless lives — the offshore lighthouse, the first of which came into operation in 1698 and used 50 candles hand-lit by Winstanley himself. Mariners throughout old-timey England celebrated by drinking just all of the pints, knowing they were finally safe from the dreaded Eddystone Rocks, which is not a Harry Potter reference but sure sounds like one.

How can a non-sentient lighthouse kill its inventor, we hear you asking indignantly? Winstanley chose the night of an event later known as The Great Storm to make repairs to the thing, and it chose that very time to collapse right the hell on top of him.

4. Fred Duesenberg

Fred Duesenberg

The German reputation for engineering badass cars begins with the Duesenberg brothers, Fred and August. They built their first auto in 1904, and established their Duesenberg Motor company in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1913. By the early 1920s, Duesenberg vehicles were creaming all competitors in the Indy 500 on a regular basis, and by the 1930s their awesome luxury autos were extremely popular. (Many people incorrectly claim that calling something a "real doozy" started with the popularity of these cars, but the term was around long before the car was.)

Fred Duesenberg's demise was rather predictable—driving one of his vehicles at high speeds on a slick mountain road, he flipped it and injured his spine. Although he was initially expected to recover, complications developed and he died of pneumonia. Somebody should have told him to watch that curve, because apparently it was a doozy.

5. Perillos of Athens

Perillos of Athens

Perillos of Athens was an ancient Greek dude who was absolutely not soft on crime. He thought that a really excruciating, messed-up method of execution would dissuade citizens from running afoul of the law, so he invented one: the Brazen Bull, a bronze sculpture that you'd stuff full of criminal, set ablaze from underneath, and listen as his screams of being roasted alive emanate from the bull's nostrils.

He pitched this idea to Sicilian nobleman Phalaris, who said something along the lines of, "Dude, that's messed up. Hey, why don't you get inside and show me how those screams will sound?" Perillos did, and then demonstrated some very authentic screaming, as Phalaris' henchmen lit the fire. We may not use such gruesome methods of execution today, but one thing has not changed since those times: Sicilians are HARD. CORE.

6. William Nelson

William Nelson

In October 1903, 24-year-old William Nelson, an engineer for General Electric, set out to demonstrate his invention for the first time. It was a motor attachment for a standard bicycle, promising to one day let riders travel with ease. Despite his high hopes, the day would soon turn gloomy. The young inventor gained too much speed going down a hill, fell off the bike, and fatally broke himself.

Call him an angel flying too close to the ground, but his deadly experiment would pave the way for many midnight riders in the decades to come. As for the unfortunate William Nelson, this ride was his last. He would never be on the road again.

7. Michael Dacre

Michael Dacre

In 2004, inventor Michael Dacre unveiled his concept for a twin-jet engine, eight-seater flying taxi that he hoped would revolutionize travel. Designed to require very little takeoff and landing space, these vehicles would soon be zipping around our skies like the Jetsons. But safety was key and, after careful development, the first prototype launch finally happened in 2009 — at which time, the whole dream came crashing quite literally to the ground.

With Dacre aboard, the prototype struggled to achieve lift before finally rising majestically to about 650 feet. It then promptly lost control and plummeted un-majestically to the ground. Say what you will about reckless big city cab drivers, but with conventional taxi journeys being 99.9 percent less likely to end in flaming wreckage, the whole flying taxi idea was quietly shelved.

8. Henry Smolinski

Amazingly, a prototype flying car was developed as far back as 1917. But in the 1970s, things got funky. One hilarious attempt at that time involved simply slapping wings and a giant Cessna propeller onto a Ford Pinto, which is widely considered one of the most dangerous commercial vehicles ever produced, prone as it was to just straight-up exploding.

Inventor Henry Smolinski and partner Hal Blake actually accomplished multiple successful test flights in this monstrosity, but they failed to account for a design flaw. The wings were designed to detach while on the ground, but during a routine 1973 test flight, they did so while in the air. The hapless inventors found themselves hurtling through the blue in a perfectly standard Pinto, and you can probably guess how that turned out.

9. Valerian Abakovsky

Valerian Abakovsky

Strapping plane engines to things with wheels has a surprisingly long history. Valerian Abakovsky, a chauffeur for Vladimir Lenin's state security organization, had some pretty sweet connections among high-ranking Russian officials. He used them to advance his ultra-bonkers idea for the Aerowagon — a propeller-powered train car, which sounds like about six different disasters just waiting to happen.

Somehow, Abakovsky talked half a dozen top-ranking officials into boarding his insane murder wagon for its initial test run. Shaking, rattling, and terrifying everyone aboard, it managed to complete a 121-mile trip from Moscow to the city of Tula — but on the return trip, physics prevailed, and the poorly designed catastrophe fulfilled its destiny by derailing at an obscene rate of speed. The inventor and several other people were killed, but Abakovsky was reincarnated as Michael Bay (probably).

10. Louis Slotin

Louis Slotin

Louis Slotin helped build the first atomic bomb, and was considered to be the foremost expert on handling dangerous quantities of plutonium. You may see where we're going with this. In May 1946, he arranged a demonstration of a procedure he called "tickling the dragon's tail" — bringing the core of a nuclear bomb just to the brink of going critical. He presumably did this while wearing shades and casually smoking a cigarette, but we can't be sure.

Witnesses to the experiment saw a blue flash of light — the visual signature of a whole butt-load of radiation being released. They were all immediately taken for medical evaluation, and it was quickly apparent that Slotin had gotten the brunt of it. His entire body had received four times the lethal dose of radiation, giving him internal "three-dimensional sunburns," and quickly causing his organs to shut down. He died nine days later, because that's what happens when the dragon's tail tickles you back.

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