Humanity likes to go overboard—that’s hardly news at this point. I’ve researched humanity’s scientific prowess many times, and every time I was baffled by what we dare to do in the name of science and evolution. From animal experiments—or on our own kind—ranging from acceptable to completely horrifying, to scientists in general thinking they have brilliant ideas that turn out to cause the biggest backfire ever… we have done it all. And knowing our record, we’ll continue to do it in times to come.
Now, if there’s anything we can be sure about is that an adventure is guaranteed when it comes to people and inventions. Many good things have come from inventions—you’re all thinking about the Internet, I know it and you know it, too—, but like everything science they’ve also caused many disasters.
Maybe you can already imagine the route this article is going to take, but I’m sure you all know the stereotypical mad inventor who ends up getting killed by their own invention, right? Well, stereotypes do have some truth in them, and inventors dying due to their own inventions have been an actual thing throughout history.
With no further ado, here are the tragic tales of five inventors and their demise—chronologically.
5. The outcome of our first story is almost so predictable that you’d think no one would actually go and try it—except in a Hollywood movie, maybe. The dream of flying has always captivated us, and Ismail ibn Hammad al-Jawhari, a Muslim Kazakh Turkic scholar was no exception. And so, around 1003-1010, he tried to make the dream come true. With two wooden wings and a rope, he jumped from the roof of a mosque… and evidently fell to his death.
4. The next stop is sixteenth-century China. Spaceflight, another one of those things humanity has dreamed of and… well, we achieved it in the end. However, it was not before Wan Hu, Chinese official tried to launch himself into outer space in a chair to which he attached 47 rockets. The rockets exploded, and apparently, neither he nor the chair were ever seen again.
3. It’s 1922, and we’re still obsessed with flying. I don’t know if French tailor Franz Reichelt knew of al-Jawhari’s demise, but if he did, it surely didn’t dissuade him from trying to fly himself. He designed a wingsuit that, when extended, resembled a cloak with a hood of silk and climbed to the top of the Eiffel Tower, telling French authorities he’d test the suit on dummies. Truth was, though, that he was going to jump off the Eiffel Tower himself, and on top of that, without safety rope or any other precaution. His friends couldn’t dissuade him from the idea, and it goes without saying that his experiment failed. Reichelt’s wingsuit folded around him immediately after he jumped, his impact on the ground leaving a crater that was almost 15 cm deep, his body a shapeless mass.
2. What comes right after flying in humanity’s greatest dreams? Exactly, eternal youth. Exactly the thing Alexander Bogdanov was researching around 1928. He was a Russian physician, philosopher, science fiction writer and revolutionary (doesn’t that sound exactly like how you’d expect someone who’s researching eternal youth to be like?), and he attempted to achieve eternal youth or at least rejuvenation through experiments with blood transfusion. All was safe until he took the blood of someone suffering from malaria and tuberculosis… and who was probably the wrong blood type. Obviously, this could only result in death for Bogdanov.
1. And last but not least, we have Karel Soucek, a Canadian professional stuntman who developed a shock-absorbent barrel in 1984. He used it to go over the Niagara Falls and survived, so he decided to tempt his luck once again. He would drop the barrel with himself inside from the roof of the Houston Astrodome into a tank of water to cushion the fall. Unfortunately, when the barrel was dropped, it spun dangerously and ended up hitting the rim of the water tank—with a fatal outcome for Soucek, who died at the hospital with a crushed chest and abdomen plus a fractured skull.
However, not all failed stunts and inventions result in a tragic and painful death. I understand this might have left you with a bad taste in your mouth, so consider the following: You know all these amateur videos where someone tries to do something really amazing but it goes amazingly wrong and then the videos go viral on the Internet? Well, that’s what Science of Stupid is about—plus you get the explanation why it went wrong. Interested? Then tune in to Science of Stupid, premiering in February on NatGeo!