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6 Scientists Killed by Their Inventions

Al-Jawhari and Franz Reichelt - The guys who wanted to be Icarus

Since our earliest days, humanity was obsessed with flying. There are countless legends of men and gods that somehow manage to take to the skies, spitting on all those fools who were still stuck on ground. Probably the most famous such myth is the ancient Greek story of Icarus, the boy who tried to fly with wings made by his father out of wood and wax. The sun melted said wax and he crashed into the sea and died. Needlessly to say, strapping a piece of wood to your back with wax won’t make you airborne, however this didn’t stop inventors from trying.

The first wise man who supposedly tried to fly by using home-made wings was the Islamic mathematician and philosopher al-Jawhari. According to ancient historians, who, in all honesty, are not always the most accurate sources, the Muslim mathematician decided to put the Icarus legend to a rigorous session of myth busting. Unfortunately for him, gravity was not asleep that day and he immediately crashed to the ground. We’re sure there is a more complicated story behind the whole event, a story that probably involved a lot of booze and some taunting.

The next person to try jumping of a tall structure in hopes that somehow they will float was Franz Reichelt, a French tailor who decided that jumping off the Eifel Tower sounded like a pretty good idea. In his defense he did have a home-made parachute and an awesome moustache, neither of which really helped in the long run.

Henry Winstanley - The Dedicated Architect

Henry was a pretty stubborn merchant; when his fifth ship in a row sunk on the jagged cliff of Eddystone, he declared he would take care of this menace. Despite the advice of several sailors that the rock was too dangerous and he should just take a wider berth, Henry started working on a lighthouse. The construction that was supposed to be made out of simple stone and wood ended up having more decorations, bells and whistles than the wig of an eighteenth century French king. You see, Henry didn’t just want to warn other ships about potential danger, he wanted to show the Eddystone who was boss.

The lighthouse barely withstood the harsh weather, but it did its job, warning ships of the dangerous coastline and Henry’s interest in bizarre architecture. In fact the tower did the job so well that Henry bragged nothing could harm the lighthouse. He went on to claim that he was confident enough to spend even the worst storm in the little wooden structure and proved he was a man of his word on the 27th of November 1703. While the regular lighthouse keepers ran away as fast as they could Henry stayed behind making repairs and calling the storm a little wussy. We’ll let you draw the conclusion on who won between the ocean and a rather shaky wooden tower perched precariously on a jagged rock. (Hint: the ocean is not included in this list of inventors that got killed because of their inventions.)

Valerian Abakovsky - The Aerowagon

Science is awesome: it gave us the internet, Twinkies and we guess medicine is kinda’ cool too, but damn it, sometimes an inventor simply goes too far. We’re not even talking about creating cute zombies, which is one of our biggest fears; we’re talking about that monstrosity in the image above. Never should science combine a train with an airplane and make it look like a banana boat - it’s just wrong.

Valerian Abkovsky, a Latvian engineer, figured that the Soviet leaders weren’t getting to their mass genocides fast enough. The solution was creating the aerowagon, a machine meant to literally fly on the train tracks and deliver a cart full of communists into your backyard before you even knew what was going on. The only problem with the whole deal was that strapping a rocket to a train means you have to give up any hope of controlling the beast and just hope that you don’t have to brake or take any turns. Willing to put his life on the line in the name of insane modes of transport, Abkovsky was one of the crew members aboard when the aerowagon went from Moscow to Tula for testing, crashed, and was utterly destroyed, killing everyone.

Li Si and James Douglas – Inventors of torture

It’s hard to call someone that comes up with a new horrible way to maim other people a researcher, but both Li Si and James Douglas were intelligent nobles and leaders who planned the life of a kingdom and contributed to military science. Unfortunately they both also enjoyed torture and executions more than necessary.

Li Si was the chancellor of the Chinese emperor Qin Shi Huang and he is often credited as the main reason Qin’s empire functioned so well. Li was also a scholar having studied Confucianism as well as calligraphy and art. To top it all he was an inventor of sorts, having come up with the Five Pains method of executing prisoners. The method involved chopping of various body parts and inflicting increasingly more painful cuts until the victim died cursing Lin Si to the bowels of hell. Eventually the years of bad karma did catch up with Li Si and the method was eventually used on him when Qin died and the empire experienced a brutal struggle for power.

The somewhat-more-fortunate James Douglas was the inventor of the Scottish Guillotine, also known as the Scottish Maiden. His motivation for introducing this device to his people was a cleaner and less painful death. While it’s hard to justify murdering people, at least James has some compassion for his fellow man and in return didn’t have to suffer through the Five Pains method when his political enemies managed to get the better of him. He just got to see down his own neck-hole for the split second his head was airborne and conscious.

Interesting enough, most people confuse James Douglas with Joseph-Ignace Guillotin, who was one of the first people to propose the usage of a mechanical decapitation systems, but never invented the Guillotine and did not die beheaded by it.

Michael Dacre - the flying taxi

Probably the most recent inventor who lost his life to his own creation is Michael Dacre, a French researcher who created a small plane that was meant to transport people between cities. The plane was tiny and would fly on low altitude, carrying about eight passengers. The whole plan sounded awesome, but Michael Dacre forgot about the dozen or so pioneers of aviation who lost their lives in self-constructed planes.

Authorities report that on the day of the test flight in August 2009, the small plane simply couldn’t get enough speed to lift off. Michael tried three times to become airborne, before finally leaving the ground sharply. Now, in case you remember the first entry in this list, you’ll probably already know that gravity is a harsh, harsh mistress, especially when it comes to small home-made devices. Despite the efforts of the emergency team who was ready to intervene, the flying taxi crashed in a fiery explosion.

Thomas Andrews, Jr – the man who made the Titanic

When you think of tragedy, the Titanic has to be among the first most tragic technical catastrophes in memory. It was the ship meant to sail forever, named after the Titans themselves, yet it sunk on its first voyage. Dubbed unsinkable, yet an easy to avoid collision sent it to the bottom of the ocean within hours. Just imagine the disappointment of the man who was in charge of designing the colossal ship upon realizing that his life work was quickly heading for the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.

Andrews who had also worked on the sister ship of the Titanic, the Olympic, was familiar with every detail of the ship, knowledge that made him realize within minutes of the collision how serious things were. To his credit, he didn’t race for the first life boat instead choosing to warn as many passengers as he could. In fact, witness reports say that he was last seen throwing chairs and life vests to the people swimming in the ocean. It was this behavior that eventually earned Andrews the memory of a true hero.

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