4 Stubborn Idiots Who Were So Wrong That They Died

4 Stubborn Idiots Who Were So Wrong That They Died

Stubbornness isn’t a particularly delightful trait to interact with. Dealing with a bullheaded friend or acquaintance is likely to end with a prominent forehead vein and a conversation that concludes in “okay, whatever, I don’t even care anymore.” In the greater scale of things, though, losing a couple extra points at bar trivia or ending up severely under-packed for a weekend trip is far from the worst outcome dangerously high levels of self-confidence can lead to.

Combine that same stubbornness with an incorrect belief that’s considerably higher stakes, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. Instead of being embarrassed by a Google search, you can end up six feet under with “We told him” engraved on your headstone. When you’re working with things like radiation, disease and engineering, the ability to implement at least a bare minimum of good-natured critique is something that could be central to your ongoing well-being.

Here are four people who died as a result of their stubbornness…

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Franz Reichelt

Public Domain

This is like entrusting your life to a pair of JNCOs.

Franz Reichelt was highly interested in the human power of flight, a hobby that, throughout history, has a pretty abysmal survival rate. Reichelt, however, lived at a time where airplanes already did exist and functioned — mostly. His interest took a slightly different slant, which was the development of a parachute suit that would allow pilots, or thrill-seekers, to jump from a great height and float down safely to the ground. To give you some idea of how this went, I can assure you that Reichelt is absolutely not the inventor of the parachute.

Reichelt also wasn’t helped by the fact that he wasn’t an engineer of any kind, but instead a tailor. So sure, he was well-versed in the fabric he was using for his parachute suit, but he lacked the critical knowledge on, you know, how that would work. He built plenty of prototypes, and to his credit, tested them on dummies that he threw from his apartment in Paris. Unfortunately, after every single dummy slammed into the ground with minimal alterations to velocity, he decided it just meant that he wasn’t throwing them from high enough. Test drives don’t do much good if your conclusion from them is, “No, it’s physics that’s wrong.” 

After what had to be an incredibly irritating back and forth with French police, Reichelt got permission to toss one of his dummies off the top of the Eiffel Tower. When he arrived at the top, though, he committed one of history’s most ill-advised and disastrous switcheroos, deciding he would wear the suit and jump himself. I assume he saw himself gently touching down at the bottom among a throng of awed onlookers. Instead, he just delivered high-speed mental trauma to anyone unlucky enough to be in the splash zone.

Herman Cain

Gage Skidmore

Got enough flags there, buddy?

When the COVID-19 pandemic first emerged, and quickly became an incredibly contagious and deadly disease, especially among high-risk groups, the hunt was on for readily available and relatively simple options to help stop the spread of the disease. One of the quickest realizations was the effectiveness of masks in public spaces, something that is simple enough science that it shouldn’t have needed an explanation. It’s not like “covering your mouth can stop disease” was a theory that was debuting for the first time. Yet for a large amount of people who cry when they see the United States flag, this was a direct political infringement on their amorphous and ever-changing definition of freedom.

No person became more of a grim figurehead of the health risks of being a huge asshole than ex-presidential candidate Herman Cain. Despite the fact that he was basically hitting bingo on the health-risk front, he steadfastly took up the mantle of the “I think 1984, a book I am aware of but confused me too much to finish, would have something to say about all these masks” thought leaders. When he contracted COVID-19 exactly one incubation period after attending a large indoor Trump rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, he suddenly was reaping the very viral loads he had sown. 

William J. Bailey

Sam LaRussa

Yes, they put “radioactive water” on the front and people thought, “Very cool!”

Throughout history, humans have come up with no shortage of wackadoo medical treatments and various snake oils. Now, with greater knowledge of how many substances are poisonous, we can shudder looking back on these. Knowing that, it can be a little hard to blame people who imbibed in plentiful quantities things that were at least suggested to be safe. Even so, there are certain times when you’d think just the direct effects of whatever miracle tonic you’re slamming on the regular should make you double-check that your product isn’t death juice.

In the 1920s, for example, radium was all the rage. Yes, the radioactive kind. Looking back, you can find it casually included in all sorts of consumer products like makeup or the glowing numerals on a watch face. Maybe the most straightforward, and incredibly stupid application was invented by a man named William J. Bailey, who created and sold Radithor, an “energy tonic” that was created from the simple recipe of water plus radium.

At first, sure, it wasn’t like anyone knew the danger, but Bailey continued to sell Radithor long after pretty convincing evidence that it wasn’t great for you. For example, a man named Eben Byers, his best customer, who drank three bottles of Radithor a day until, eventually, his jaw fell off. Not only that, but he had to be buried in a lead-lined coffin because his bones were highly radioactive. Assuming, I guess, that Byers had some sort of hereditary jaw-falling-off disease, Bailey still refused to reconsider his product, even after the FTC shut his company down. Bailey proclaimed that he’d drunk more of the stuff than anyone and he was fine, which lost a little of its oomph after he died of bladder cancer.

The Titanic

Public Domain

Iceberg ho!

It might not be a single person, but I don’t think we could really end this article without acknowledging one of the greatest acts of human overconfidence in history. In retrospect, the plight of the Titanic feels so obvious that they might as well have been debuting the world’s first wax airplane. When you’re about to launch an ocean liner, do not, by any means, get up in front of the public and say, “There is no danger that Titanic will sink. The boat is unsinkable…” You might as well kick off the voyage by saying “Fuck God, and fuck the ocean.” 

The boat’s designer, Thomas Andrews, went down with the ship, though to his credit, he had argued for more lifeboats. Having enough lifeboats for the actual number of passengers? Sure, but at what cost? The scenic view of the first-class passengers?

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