Know that feel when your own child kills you? Shit, that’s probably not the best line to open with, but it’s too late – the deed is done. And, of course you don’t know that feel – how could you? Unless you’re actually a dead person reading this. *shudders*

Anyway, the point I’m trying to make is, human history is filled with people whose deaths were caused by the things they created. Lo and behold, we’ve even compiled a list for you. 

1. Marie Curie – Died of aplastic anemia as a result of prolonged exposure to ionizing radiation

Marie Curie, who’s known as the co-discovering radium and polonium, also invented the process to isolate radium. She died of prolonged exposure to radiation emitted from her research materials.

2. Karel Soucek – Died from a stunt he had invented

After his successful stunt of being dropped from Niagara Falls in a barrel he designed himself, Karel Soucek decided to do it again from the Houston Astrodome and drop into a tank of water. However, his stunt did not go as planned and the barrel hit the rim of the tank. Soucek died in the hospital a couple hours later.

3. James Douglas – Died by execution using the ‘Scottish Maiden’, a beheading device he invented

James Douglas was the 4th Earl of Morton who lived in Scotland under the reign of King James VI. As fate would have it, he’s most remembered for being executed in Edinburgh by the Maiden, a Scottish guillotine that he himself had introduced to the country during his term as Regent of Scotland.

4. Max Valier – An Austrian rocketing pioneer who died when an alcohol-fuelled rocket exploded on his test bench

In 1920’s Germany, Max Valier was a member of a German Rocketeering society, and his main contribution during that phase was the invention of a liquid-filled rocket that could speed up automobiles. In May 1930, his own prototype rocket exploded on his test bench, killing him instantly.

5. Li Si – Died by the Five Pains Punishment method, something he had introduced to the province he governed

The Five Pains Punishment was a series of physical torture methods that was prominent in Ancient China. Li Si was a prime minister during the Qin dynasty, during which time he introduced the Five Pains method of punishment, which included tattooing someone’s face, cutting someone’s nose off or having the victim’s body cut into four separate pieces. In 208 BC, Si was executed on criminal charges by the very method that he had helped create.

6. Jim Fixx – The ‘Founding Father of American Fitness Revolution’, died while running

In 1977, Jim Fixx wrote one of the most influential books on running as an athletic sport. In fact, running as a sport gained more popularity in America because of Fixx. He also popularized regular jogging, as a way of staying fit. When he was 52 years old, he suffered a heart attack while out on a jog. It was fatal.

7. Thomas Midgley, Jr. – Died by strangulation by a support device he had created to fight the effects of Polio

At the age of 51, American chemist and engineer, Thomas Midgley, Jr., was diagnosed with polio. So he invented a device using a bunch of ropes and pulleys that made it easier for him to get up from his bed. One day, he had an accident on it where he ended up strangulating himself.

8. Thomas Andrews – Naval Architect who designed the Titanic, and one of the many people who went down with the ship

Irish businessman, Thomas Andrews was also a shipbuilder who was the naval architect for the ill-fated RMS Titanic. He was aware of the ship’s vulnerabilities on icy water and had even advised packing more lifeboats on the ship. The idea was dismissed due to cost-cutting measures. When the ship hit the iceberg, he helped usher many women and children onto the lifeboats. He was last seen weeping in one of the rooms on his deck. His body was never found.

9. Alexander Bogdanov – Pioneered blood transfusion, died when he used the blood of a malaria and TB victim on himself

Bogdanov was a Russian physician and philosopher who was one of the first people to experiment with blood transfusion. Although his motives for experimenting with blood transfusion were centered around achieving eternal youth and reversing the aging process, he is still credited with scientific advancements in the field. However, Bogdanov died after he took the blood of a student who had both malaria and tuberculosis.

10. Michael Dacre – Crashed the “Flying Taxi” he had invented

Michael Dacre invented the AVCEN Jetpod, which was nicknamed the “flying taxi” because of its capabilities of flying and landing within short distances in regional cities. In August 2009, Dacre died after testing a prototype of his device. He was the only occupant in the machine at the time.

11. Horace Lawson Hunley – Invented the first combat submarine; went down with his crew during a routine test

Hunley was a marine engineer and inventor of the first combat submarine, called the CSS Hunley. He died in 1863 during a routine test of the submarine, which failed to resurface and ended up drowning Hunley and seven other crew members.

12. William Bullock – Got his foot stuck in a printing press he invented; died from gangrene

Bullock is credited with inventing the web rotary printing press. Years after he invented it, his foot was crushed while he was helping install one in Philadelphia. The mutilated foot developed gangrene and Bullock ended up dying during an attempted amputation.

13. Sylvester H. Roper – Died from a heart attack after crashing the steam-powered bicycle he invented

Roper invented the steam-powered bicycle, which is one of the earliest forms of the automobile. He died in June 1896 when he suffered a heart attack after crashing his bicycle during a public speed trial.

14. Otto Lilienthal – Invented the hand glider; died when he crashed it

Otto Lilienthal died in 1896 when his invention, a glider, stalled mid-flight and he fell 50 ft. Known as the “Glider King”, Otto undoubtedly did not expect to die because of his injuries just 36 hours later.

15. François Reichelt – Jumped from the Eiffel Tower with a “parachute” he invented; it never opened

François Reichelt, the “Flying Tailor”, died after jumping off the Eiffel Tower in an attempt to test his invention: a wearable parachute. He died immediately upon impact after the 187 ft fall.

16. Francis Edgar Stanley – Co-founded the ‘Stanley Steamer’; died when he crashed it to avoid oncoming traffic

Francis Edgar Stanley, along with his twin brother, co-founded the Stanley Motor Carriage Company, which invented the ‘Stanley Steamer’ – a steamed operated automobile. During one of his many drives, he swerved to avoid oncoming traffic and fatally crashed into a woodpile. 

17. Jean-Francoise Pilatre de Rozier – Hot-Air Balloon pioneer who crashed and died while trying to cross the English Channel

Jean-Francoise Pilatre de Rozier was a French teacher who taught chemistry and physics. He was also a pioneer of aviation, having made the first manned free balloon flight in 1783. He died when his balloon crashed near Wimereux in the Pas-de-Calais during an attempt to fly across the English Channel. Along with his companion, Pierre Romain, thus became one of the first known fatalities in an air crash.

18. Louis Slotin – Died from exposure to plutonium radiation during an experiment he was trying to pioneer

Slotin was an American nuclear physicist who was involved in the Manhatten Project. After the war, Slotin continued to experiment with plutonium and accidently set off a fission reaction which released a hard burst of radiation. When he realized what he had done, Slotin heroically covered the material with his body while the others made a run for the hills. He died on May 30, 1946, two weeks after the exposure.

b’Manhattan Project Files’

19. Valerian Abakovsky – Invented an plane-train hybrid that derailed on its maiden return journey to Moscow

Valerian Abakovsky was a Russian inventor who died when his invention, the high-speed Aerowagon train engine, derailed on a test run, killing Abakovsky and five others. The Aerowagon had an airplane engine and propeller and was designed to carry Soviet officials to and from Moscow. Abakovsky’s invention worked fine on the outgoing leg of the test run but crashed during its return to the capital city. Abakovsky was just 26 years old.

20. Abu Nasr Ismail ibn Hammad al-Jawhari – Died after jumping off from a mosque, with wooden wings attached to his arms

Hammad al-Jawhari was a prominent scholar in early 11th century Iraq and he was also sort of an inventor, who was particularly obsessed with flight. He strapped on a pair of wooden wings with feathers stuck on them and tried to impress the local Imam. He jumped off from the roof of a mosque. You can imagine the rest.

21. Wan Hu – Chinese official from 2000 BC, who tried to fly to the moon using a chair propelled by fireworks

Okay, some accounts say he’s kind of fictional, but the story is so good, I had to save it for last. Wan Hu, a Chinese official who lived around 2000 BC, devised a plan to go to the moon. The plan was simple – just attach 47 rockets to a chair and you’re good to go. What could go wrong, right? Well, after the smoke cleared, neither Wan Hu, or the chair were to be found. As much as I’d like to believe that he reached his destination, I’m guessing he didn’t. This story is so legendary, they even named one of the actual craters on the far side of the moon after him. Was he the first spaceman? No one knows.

Don’t let this post discourage you. Keep tinkering. Keep inventing.