5 Inventors Who Were Killed By Their Own Inventions

A little imposter syndrome could have gone a long way here
5 Inventors Who Were Killed By Their Own Inventions

Pretty much by definition, inventing something that changes the world requires you to question what we assume to be some natural rules. If you’re just trying to come up with some new type of clock to sell on Instagram that inexplicably costs $300, that’s a fairly low-stress testing process. If you’re the Wright Brothers, or someone similar, who is actively trying to prove nature wrong, there’s a little more danger involved.

Sometimes, like in the Wright Brothers’ case, you’re rewarded with a majestic success, one that has onlookers’ jaws squarely on the sandy dunes and possibly considering witchcraft. All inventors aren’t so lucky, however. Occasionally, when an inventor brings some awe-inspiring new technology into the world, the world steps up to reinforce some basic boundaries.

To that very sad end, here are five inventors who were killed by their own inventions…

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Sylvester Roper

Public Domain

Motorcycle accidents definitely get less news coverage nowadays.

Even modern motorcycles are among the most dangerous things you can climb onto outside of maybe a massive hunk of uranium-235. Most doctors would rather you pick up chainsmoking over regular motorcycle riding. There’s a reason they’ve picked up the etymologically charming but horrifying nickname of “donorcycles” in the medical profession — their efficient production of braindead ex-riders for harvest.

So it is the absolute opposite of surprising that the man who invented the motorcycle died zooming along on his glorious creation. In perhaps an act of pity, the cause of death was found to be a heart attack, instead of from just becoming a human paint daub on a highway surface. Honestly, it’s more badass than anything that he was able to regularly ride a homemade motorcycle at 40 miles per hour without having a heart attack every single day of his life.

Alexander Bogdanov

Public Domain

His blood transfusions weren't the only thing with drip.

Despite living around the turn of the 20th century, Soviet scientist Alexander Bogdanov had a collection of interests that would place him right among today’s tech billionaires, besides their love of capitalism. He wrote science fiction and did work in cybernetics, but one particular interest would be the thing that brought him to an untimely end: blood transfusions. He was a pioneer in the procedure, establishing the Institute for Hematology and Blood Transfusions in 1926.

Today, blood transfusions are considered a routine medical procedure and are commonly used for a variety of purposes. Bogdanov, however, was more interested in blood transfusions as more of a “fountain of youth” sort of scenario, and performed them regularly, believing they were counteracting the aging process, something that today’s biggest weirdos are still very into. Bogdanov’s problem was that blood-type compatibility, something that everyone who’s ever watched a medical TV procedural knows the importance of, wasn’t quite as well understood, and he died of a hemolytic transfusion reaction.

Horace Lawson Hunley

Public Domain

Historians are still trying to figure out if he had ears.

The death of Horace Lawson Hunley is going to sound familiar to anyone who’s been keeping up with recent news. Hunley is best-known for his work in the field of submarine technology, with a submarine bearing his name, the H.L. Hunley, being the first submarine to successfully sink an enemy ship (cool) for the Confederate Army in the Civil War (not so cool). It would have been a rousing success on every front, except for the Hunley’s propensity to kill everybody on board, extremely frequently.

As you might be able to guess, that included its inventor, found dead on board after one dive ended with the submarine lodged snoot-down in the sea floor. Even the Hunley’s triumph in sinking the Union’s Housatonic ship came at the price of everyone on board. A shockwave from the submarine’s spar torpedo (which is a very generous name for what is pretty much a bomb on a long stick) killed every sailor inside thanks to something known (now) as blast lung.

William Bullock

Public Domain

The ghost who appears to warn you every time you try to fix machinery by whacking it.

Compared to everyone else on this list, William Bullock was in what would seem to be the much safer business of newspaper printing. Specifically, he invented the web press, a rotary printing press that utilized rolls of paper instead of sheets, and is, and was, an absolute slam dunk when it comes to printing newspapers and the like at high speed. 

How was he rewarded for this revolutionary creation? Well, while adjusting one of his own presses, purchased for the purpose of printing the Philadelphia Public Ledger, a drive belt was being particularly stubborn. Bullock employed one of the world’s most beloved forms of impromptu repair: a brisk kick. The blunt force method worked out worse for Bullock than it ever did for the Fonz, and his leg was pulled into the machine and crushed. A bit of gangrene and an attempted amputation later, Bullock was dead, his obituary likely printed by his own greatest creation.

Franz Reichelt

Public Domain

No notes.

I hesitate to include Franz Reichelt on this list, and it’s not because he survived. Reichelt, in fact, is probably the deadest person on this list by a long shot. The other entries at least had some time to try to save themselves, or at least sniffed a hospital on their way out, while Reichelt left this mortal coil with all the grace of a dropped ice cream cone. The reason he feels a little out of place is that his “invention” barely deserves that name. Generally, I’m not sure that things that never worked and never would really qualify. 

Reichelt is the man famous for attempting to develop a parachute suit (read as: a bunch of loose fabric and a dream) and testing it by jumping off the Eiffel Tower. He’d tested the suit a ton of times with dummies, and it had never once worked. But he became convinced the problem was he wasn’t high enough. Finally, in a time of what must have been highly lax public safety concerns, police gave him permission to test it by throwing a dummy off the Eiffel Tower. When his invention and operator splattered on the ground after the first attempt, the police quickly realized that unless Reichelt had also invented a dummy filled with blood and organs, he’d decided to test it himself

No further revisions were attempted, and definitely not by the puddle previously known as Franz Reichelt.

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