From Parachutes To Homemade Rockets: 25+ People Who Passed Away From Their Own Inventions


| LAST UPDATE 09/04/2022

By Gregory Davidson

Some inventors have given everything to bring their vision to life, no matter the risk. From building rockets to parachuting off monumental buildings, check out some of the most famous inventors and their creations, which demanded more than just their effort and time.

Aurel Vlaicu: Airplane

Auren Vlaicu always had a curious mind, and he genuinely believed that he could someday learn to fly. In 1909 he and his brother built their first glider, which helped him fly, but he wanted something more powerful.

Aurel Vlaicu Killed by InventionAurel Vlaicu Killed by Invention
Wikipedia via Unknown Author

So, Vlaicu moved to Romania and began building a powered airplane. He succeeded but still wouldn't stop there; He continued improving his plane, but one day, mid-flight, Aurel's aircraft let him down, and he passed away.

Mike Hughes: Steam Rocket

When he wasn't working as a limousine driver, "Mad" Mike Hughes put all of his energy into building steam rockets and filming other incredible stunts, which certainly wowed his fans. He set a Guinness world record in 2002 for his 13-foot jump in a stretch limo, but that was only the beginning.

Mike Hughes Killed by InventionMike Hughes Killed by Invention
YouTube via CBS Evening News

In February of 2020, Hughes launched himself in one of his rockets, but the parachute supposedly deployed too early, and he crashed to the ground. The 64-year-old was being filmed for the Science Channel, as the world had high hopes for his future stunts. But he indeed lived a thrilling 64 years, doing what he absolutely loved.

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Sylvester H. Roper: Steam-Powered Bike

From sewing machines to steam carriages, Sylvestor H. Roper certainly had the inventor's bug, as he was always looking to make something from scratch. Once he developed and patented his various steam-powered bicycles, Sylvester was often spotted cruising around Boston.

Sylvester H. Roper Killed by InventionSylvester H. Roper Killed by Invention
Wikipedia via Smithsonian Institution

Talk about the ultimate father-son bonding experience; He built many of his projects with his boy. It seemed as if nobody could compete with Roper's speedy bike, and after racing around one afternoon, he lost control of the bike, fell off the track, and died of a head injury. But hey, at least he won first place in that race!

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Michael Dacre: Flying Taxi

Michael Dacre was the managing director of Avcen Ltd, a British-based company that created various aircrafts. Michael was never one to settle for the ordinary, so in 2009, he fearlessly took flight on the first-ever flying taxi. During the first few test runs, Dacre struggled to get the aircraft off the ground at all.

Michael Dacre Killed by InventionMichael Dacre Killed by Invention
Getty Images via AFP

He was hopeful that this new Jetpod would encourage short-distance air travel through urban areas. Eventually, Dacre soared up in the air, but he was literally on fire once he reached around 650 feet. Unfortunately, the aircraft crashed to the ground, and Michael passed away doing what he loved, risking it all.

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Louis Slotin: Plutonium Experiments

Louis Slotin, a Canadian physicist, preferred to do some of his riskiest work in secret; Hence, he showed his colleagues some crucial yet secret information about nuclear weapons in a hidden laboratory in New Mexico. He closely observed the core of the weapon, which turned out to be somewhat dangerous.

Louis Slotin Killed by InventionLouis Slotin Killed by Invention
Wikipedia via Unknown Author

But taking risks didn't hold Slotin back in the slightest; He was considered one of the world's experts on handling dangerous amounts of plutonium. It was later discovered that he'd been exposed to enough radiation to cause intense damage, and eventually, his body gave out on him.

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Horace Lawson Hunley: Submarine

While he was once on the path to becoming a successful lawyer and state legislature, Horace Lawson Hunley decided to dive deeper into life, literally. In 1861, he teamed up with engineers James R. McClintock and Baxter Watson to build his first submarine, called the Pioneer, during the Civil War.

Horace Lawson Hunley Killed by InventionHorace Lawson Hunley Killed by Invention
Wikipedia via Conrad Wise Chapman

Years later, Horace developed the Hunley, which was intended to be used as a combat submarine. It could certainly dive deep down in the sea, but could it make it back to the surface? Well, Hunley himself was willing to see if this vessel would sink or swim, and ultimately, it sank, and he didn't make it out of the water.

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Carl Scheele: Toxic Chemicals

Carl Scheele, nicknamed "hard-luck Scheele" by some, certainly didn't have the best luck as an inventor. He was filled with great ideas and made numerous chemical discoveries, but he wasn't always given the proper credit. Supposedly, he was the first to discover oxygen back in the 1700s but didn't publish his findings first.

Carl Scheele Killed by Invention Carl Scheele Killed by Invention
Getty Images via adoc-photos

A lot of the periodic table of elements would arguably be nothing without Scheele, even though he was never given that credit. However, it was later discovered that many of the elements he'd worked with were toxic; It's too bad he didn't know this before he actually tasted the substances, which ultimately killed him.

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Marie Curie: Radioactivity Research

Marie Curie made history on many occasions, as she was the first woman to receive a Nobel Prize, the first female professor at the University of Paris, and more. For most of her life, Curie proved to be a scientific superstar and devoted everything to her studies, although she knew the risks.

Marie Curie Killed by InventionMarie Curie Killed by Invention
Wikipedia via Unknown Author

The chemist researched radioactivity, but it practically consumed her because she was so dedicated to the cause. However, when she started feeling sick after years of hard work, she carried on as usual. Curie passed away at age 66, after suffering aplastic anemia, which likely resulted from her overexposure to radiation.

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Karel Soucek: Shock-Absorbent Barrel

If you're searching for the epitome of a daredevil, then look no further because Karel Soucek indeed fits the description. It takes a particular type of person to climb inside a barrel and plummet straight into a water tank. But after pulling off a similar stunt in Niagra Falls, Soucek was ready for the challenge.

Karel Soucek Killed by InventionKarel Soucek Killed by Invention
Wikipedia via nflibrary

He indeed went out with a bang, but the "overgrown whiskey barrel," as Karel described it, hit the edge of the tank and shattered, leaving the daredevil with life-threatening battle wounds. Viewers thought this was part of the show, but truthfully, his traumatic injuries were too severe to recover from.

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Otto Lilienthal: Hang Glider

Plenty of people tried to fly; Many failed, and some succeeded, but only one brave soul earned the name as the "flying man." Otto Lilienthal made numerous successful flights on his gliders, and as long as he could soar through the sky, the risk-factor meant nothing to this guy.

Otto Lilienthal Hang GliderOtto Lilienthal Hang Glider
Wikipedia via Neuhauss/Fülleborn

Otto studied the flight paths and strategies of birds, hoping to build his monoplanes to mimic the same technique. But ultimately, his glider failed him in 1896, when the contraption stalled, and he wasn't able to regain control. He fell from the sky, suffered a neck injury, and sadly, never flew again.

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Franz Reichelt: Fabric Parachute

Have you ever gone skydiving, or even thought about the idea of it? Well, for some people, it sounds like a dream, but many just imagine the worst-case scenario, aka the parachute, not opening. Franz Reichelt was a French tailor and inventor who had his mind set on flying from the Eiffel Tower.

Franz Reichelt Killed by InventionFranz Reichelt Killed by Invention
Wikipedia via Unknown Author

He made an original parachute out of fabric, hoping he could later develop a suit for aviators to survive a fall from a plane. The test runs were a success, and Franz was confident that he could safely jump from the Paris landmark. But the parachute didn't work as expected, and this flying tailor flew straight to the ground.

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Valerian Abakovsky: Aerowagon

With so many different vehicles on the road and in the air in the 1900s, Valerian Abakovsky decided to combine various elements and create a new transportation method. So, he built a high-speed railcar with an airplane engine and propeller propulsion, hoping to kick the typical speed up a notch.

Valerian Abakovsky AerowagonValerian Abakovsky Aerowagon
Wikipedia via Автор фото неизвестен

And for a while, Valerian's creation was a success; He rode the aerowagon from Moscow to Tula at the speed he'd imagined. But on the trip back to Moscow, the car derailed, and Abakovsky and some other men on board didn't make it. On the plus side, though, all of the aerowagon's movements were at record speed!

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Max Valier: Liquid-Fueled Rocket Engine

Max Valier was thrilled about the opportunity to study physics at the University of Innsbruck, as he'd dreamed of creating his own inventions, but the First World War put all of this on hold. He later became a science writer, which inspired him to develop rocket-powered cars and aircrafts.

Max Valier Killed by InventionMax Valier Killed by Invention
Wikipedia via Daderot

He eventually created the very-first liquid-fueled rocket car, and the initial test drive went smoothly. Valier evidently knew how to build a car, but a month later, it turned out that the fuel wasn't exactly safe. An alcohol-fueled rocket exploded, and Max died from the accident. However, safety improvements were made after that.

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Elizabeth Fleischman: X-Ray

If you've ever needed to get an x-ray taken to detect a broken bone, well, you can thank the late Elizabeth Fleischman for that tool. This may look like just a photo of an x-ray, but it was actually taken by Elizabeth herself, who turned into a skeleton after losing her life to the x-ray technology's effects.

Elizabeth Fleischman Killed by InventionElizabeth Fleischman Killed by Invention
Wikipedia via Elizabeth Fleischman

She became intrigued by the ability to see beyond a person's skin and eventually established her very own x-ray laboratory. This led to her work as a radiographer for the US army, but sadly, the amount of radiation she withheld damaged her body beyond repair, and Elizabeth passed away.

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Harry K. Daghlian Jr: Plutonium Experiments

Similar to Louis Slotin, who did some top-secret work with nuclear weapons, Harry K. Daghlin was also exposed to quite a bit of radiation during his career. He knew what he'd gotten himself into, working with fissile materials, but he lived for these experiments and was willing to pay the ultimate price for science.

Harry K. Daghlian Jr. and Louis Slotin Killed by InventionHarry K. Daghlian Jr. and Louis Slotin Killed by Invention
Wikimedia Commons via The Alamos Archive

Daghlian was a significant contributor to The Manhattan Project, so his primary mission was designing atomic bombs for World War II. Unfortunately, he made a tragic mistake when he mixed a substance with the "demon core" that irradiated his body, proving to be a demon after all.

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Francis Edgar Stanley: Stanley Steamer

Before the carpet cleaning company, Stanley Steemer, mesmerized us with their catchy jingle, there was another product called Stanley Steamer, with a very different mission. Twin brothers Francis Edgar and Freelan Oscar Stanley become fascinated by automotive development, so they began dabbling in cars.

Francis Edgar Stanley Killed by InventionFrancis Edgar Stanley Killed by Invention
Getty Images via PhotoQuest

So, they started manufacturing steam-powered cars that attracted more customers than they'd imagined. Eventually, the brothers made headlines for their invention, but unfortunately, one of them would later make for a tragic headline. Francis's car drove off the road, and he passed away.

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Jean Francois Pilatre de Rozier: Hot Air Balloon

Picture this; A beautiful, sunny afternoon spent soaring through the clouds in a hot air balloon. A French science teacher also had that dream once, but things didn't go as planned once he took off. Back in 1783, Jean Francois Pilatre de Rozier took flight on the first free-flying balloon, but it wasn't all smooth sailing.

Jean Francois Pilatre de Rozier Killed by InventionJean Francois Pilatre de Rozier Killed by Invention
Wikimedia Commons via Saperaud

His absolute worst nightmare became a reality when the balloon crashed while flying over the English Channel. He and his flight partner, François Laurent d'Arlandes, unfortunately, didn't survive the accident, but they did indeed make history as the first known fatalities from an air crash.

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Henry Smolinski: Flying Pinto

Henry Smolinski had quite the imagination, as he was sure that he could merge a Ford Pinto car with a Cessna Skymaster plane and successfully soar through the air in it. With the help of another inventor, Harold Blake, the men built a prototype and hired a pilot to give it a test run.

Henry Smolinski Killed by InventionHenry Smolinski Killed by Invention
Wikipedia via Doug Duncan

However, for the second test, the pilot had to cancel, but Smolinski refused to postpone. He knew how to drive, so how difficult could it be to maneuver a car through the sky, right? Wrong. Smolinski left the ground, but when he tried to turn, the aircraft shot to the ground. Apparently, cars are meant to stay on the road.

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Henry Albert Fleuss: Rebreather

Henry Albert Fleuss found himself unsatisfied with the short time divers could survive underwater, so he worked to find a solution using his knowledge of physiology and chemistry. He was sure that divers could remain below the surface longer with some extra compressed oxygen and chemically absorbing carbon dioxide.

Henry Albert Fleuss Killed by InventionHenry Albert Fleuss Killed by Invention
Wikipedia via Unknown Author

So, after playing around with the materials, Fleuss built what he called the rebreather and was ready to put it to the test. But here's the catch; He had no prior diving experience, making this an even more risky mission. After using his invention, Henry passed away due to the pure oxygen, as it was found to be toxic for humans.

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Henry Winstanley: Eddystone Lighthouse

Although lighthouses might make for a perfect first-date spot, they were created to protect the ships at sea. After a few of his ships were destroyed by the rocks near the shore, Henry Winstanley couldn't understand why nothing had been done to protect these massive vessels, so he made it his mission to create a solution.

Henry Winstanley Killed by InventionHenry Winstanley Killed by Invention
Getty Images via UniversalImagesGroup

So, he began building the Eddystone Lighthouse to protect other boats from the Eddystone rocks in Plymouth, England. The tower succeeded, and Winstanley made repairs when needed. He'd always wished to be in the lighthouse during "the greatest storm there ever was," and he indeed was, but sadly, the storm took his life.

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Thomas Andrews: Titanic

It seems like just about everyone's familiar with the Titanic's tragic story, considering it was made into a Hollywood movie, but have you heard of Thomas Andrews? Well, Andrews was the vessel's prominent architect and was confident that the Titanic would be the largest and safest ship at sea. 

Thomas Andrews Killed by InventionThomas Andrews Killed by Invention
Getty Images via Roger Viollet

He knew the boat like the back of his hand, so when it struck an iceberg in 1912, Andrews was called on to assess and hopefully repair the damage. He declared a "mathematical certainty" the ship would sink, so he accepted his fate and legitimately died for the Titanic, as he didn't make it back to land. 

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Thomas Midgley Jr: Polio Aid

No matter the circumstances, Thomas Midgley Jr. wouldn't stop bringing his visions to life, as he acquired over 100 patents during his lifetime. Many of his inventions were eventually banned because they were made with harmful chemicals, but ultimately, a product that didn't contain dangerous substances did the most damage.

Thomas Midgley Jr. Killed by InventionThomas Midgley Jr. Killed by Invention
Getty Images via Historical

When he was diagnosed with polio in 1940, Midgley was determined to find a way to continue working every day, despite his lack of mobility. So, he constructed a system of pulleys and ropes to help pull him out of bed. However, one day, Thomas got tangled in the ropes, and sadly, the contraption strangled him to death.

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William Bullock: Rotary Printing Press

While William Bullock wasn't the first to invent the rotary printing press, he decided to improve Richard March Hoe's creation, which is pictured below. He was determined to make the machine faster and more efficient, but this also made for a more dangerous contraption.

William BolluckWilliam Bolluck
Getty Images via Universal History Archive

While making adjustments to the machine one day, Bullock's leg got caught in the belt, and it simply wouldn't let go. He managed to escape with his leg still attached, but it was severely damaged and needed to be amputated. Sadly, he didn't survive the surgery, but the incredibly efficient printer lived on in his legacy.

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Luis Jimenez: Blue Mustang

As an artist, Luis Jimenez went above and beyond to bring his creative visions to life, and sometimes, these projects were rather enormous. In 2006, he put all of his efforts into building the infamous Colorado statue, the Blue Mustang, which reached 32 feet in height.

Luis Jimenez Killed by Invention Luis Jimenez Killed by Invention
Getty Images via George Rose

This sculpture was becoming larger than life, so when a piece of it fell on Jimenez's leg, the rock-solid horse pinned him down, almost as if it was a real-life horse. The part severed an artery in his leg, and unfortunately, he passed away, but the Blue Mustang will live on to honor this incredible sculptor's final battle.

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Fred Duesenberg: 8 Cylinder Engine

Fred Duesenberg took American cars to a whole new level, developing the eight-cylinder engine, known as the Duesenberg Straight-8 engine. He also held a patent for a four-wheel hydraulic brake, a cooling system, and numerous other advancements. Fred and his brother eventually founded the Duesenberg Automobile and Motor Company.

Fred Duesenberg Killed by InventionFred Duesenberg Killed by Invention
Wikipedia via Unknown Author

This allowed them to kick things up a notch, as they built their first mass-produced vehicle, and from that point on, Fred dedicated his life to making luxurious passenger cars. And by dedicated his life, we mean his life literally, as he tragically passed away after complications from a car accident in 1932.

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Robert Williams: Industrial Robot Arm

While Robert Williams wasn't exactly the mastermind behind robotic arms and other advancements, he worked at the Ford Motor Company plant, so he spent most of his time witnessing these contraptions come together. Working in the factory meant he was surrounded by dangerous machinery, but it was also fascinating.

Robert Williams Killed by InventionRobert Williams Killed by Invention
Getty Images via Hulton Deutsch

One day, Williams was instructed to climb up to a relatively high shelf to retrieve some factory parts, so he just hoped he wouldn't fall off. Suddenly, he was struck by a robotic arm from one of the moving carts and was killed instantly in 1979. Robert was the first known human to lose his life to a robot.

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Hans Steininger: Dangerously Long Beard

Unlike many other brave souls on our list, Hans Steininger didn't lose his life to a daring stunt or heavy machinery. He was the Mayor of an Austrian town during the 1500s and was known to have an incredibly long beard. And by long, we mean longer than you've probably ever seen before.

Hans Steininger Killed by InventionHans Steininger Killed by Invention
Wikipedia via Benutzer

It was said to be around four to six feet long and frequently got in the way of just about everything, so he kept it rolled up in his pocket. Eventually, though, Steininger supposedly tripped over his beard and tumbled down the stairs, breaking his neck, and he tragically passed away.

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