Inventors killed by their own inventions

Wikipedia's list of Inventors Killed By Their Own Inventions. AKA: Further evidence that the biography of Thomas Midgley, Jr. would make a great opera. (Via Paul Kedrosky)


  1. “Wan Hu, a sixteenth-century Chinese official, is said to have attempted to launch himself into outer space in a chair to which 47 rockets were attached. The rockets exploded and, it is said, neither he nor the chair were ever seen again.”

    Wikipedia: proof that you can be secretly snarky.

  2. Glad to see Dr. Guillotin in the “Popular myths” section.  When I read the title, I was worried that he might be on the list, and I was pleasantly surprised to see he isn’t.  It is true that he didn’t invent the “blade falls down wooden shaft and slices your head off” device (the Greeks did), though he did invent the guillotine, which is an improved version of said device.  It’s amazing the amount of popular myths associated with the guillotine, though.

    1. Or, only invent a way of dieing (dying?) that you wouldn’t mind experiencing yourself. The good old “eating your own dog food” thing and all. (see: Monty Python’s “The Meaning of Life” where (quoted from Wikipedia) ” Arthur Charles Herbert Runcie MacAdam Jarrett (Chapman), a criminal convicted of making gratuitous sexist jokes in a film, killed in a manner of his choosing: He is chased off a cliff by topless women in brightly-coloured G-strings & crash helmets”)

  3. Of course, the only interesting ones are the eponymous inventors of the inventions that killed them. Which, contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t seem from that list as if there are any…

    “Colonel Shrapnel wasn’t blown up, M. Guillotin died with his head on, Colonel Gatling wasn’t shot. If it hadn’t been for Sir William Blunt-Instrument, the rumour would never have got started.”


  4. Midgley is indeed an example of history outdoing fiction.  He is the single most important man in the history of the biosphere, poisoning millions with tetraethyl lead that he knew was dangerous and nearly killing off the human world while trying to save a few lives from ammonia refrigerant leaks.  That he died in his own invention of straps and pulleys to get him out of bed and around his rooms is a kind of poetic justice.  He was a third generation inventor as well.

  5. My favorite “made up for cheesy A&E documentary” one is that Baron von Frankenstein tried to make the elixir of youth, died after drinking it and it was named prussic acid because it happened in Prussia and the color of his skin gave its name to Prussian Blue. As far as I can see, there’s not one single fact in the story.

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