Fate is a fickle mistress and these great inventors have the dubious honour of dying by the very inventions and discoveries that brought them accolades. We list the untimely and unnecessary demise of these scientists.




Scheele was a Swedish-German pharmaceutical chemist who is credited with discovering a number of chemicals, such as oxygen, manganese, chlorine, and compounds like arsenic acids, hydrogen fluoride, etc. His untimely death was brought about by his long-standing habit of either sniffing out or taste testing his discoveries; he managed to stave off death when he tasted hydrogen cyanide, an extremely poisonous liquid, also one of his discoveries. Alas! His peculiar habit was his downfall and he died on 21 May 1786, of what doctors now confirm as mercury poisoning.


Bullock’s invention of the web rotary press revolutionised the printing industry. His invention allowed for a continuous feed of rolls of paper thereby increasing speed and efficiency. Whilst making adjustments on one of his machines, Bullock tried to kick a diving belt onto a pulley when his foot got caught in the machine and was crushed by the mechanism. His foot developed gangrene and on 12 April 1867, as he
was being operated upon to amputate the foot, he died.


De Rozier and his companion Pierre Romain were not only the first human passengers to fly a hot-air balloon, but also were the first known fatalities of an air crash. The world’s first untethered balloon flight, manned by them, took place on 21 November 1783 from the Chateau de Ia Muette in the Bois de Boulogne, flying a distance of 9kms over 25 minutes and landing on the outskirts of Paris. On their now final flight, they attempted to cross the English Channel on 15 June 1785, when the hot air balloon suddenly collapsed and crashed from a height of 1500ft, killing them both.

8MAX VALIER – Death by Fuel

Valier was a rocketry pioneer, who wanted to realize the reality of space flight in the 20th Century. He invented liquid-fueled rocket engines under the patronage of Fritz
von Opel. On 25 January 1930, he successfully tested a car that was powered by liquid rocket fuel and on 19 April that year, he executed the first test drive of a rocket car powered by liquid propulsion. He died not in a crash car, as one would expect, but sitting by his workbench, when the alcohol-fueled rocket engine he was devising exploded, killing him.


7FRANZ REICHELT – Death by Cloth

Reichelt was an Austrian-born French tailor, who invented a mix between the modern-day parachute and an overcoat, which he was confident would allow pilots to safely land when jumping from damaged planes. Flying high on the success of the tests he conducted using dummies, he decided to jump off the first deck of the Eiffel Tower to test the invention himself. The result: he fell 187ft (57m) to his death on the icy ground in front of a gathered crowd. If you aren’t the queasy kind, watch his jump here – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FBN3xfGrx_U (Death Jump-Franz Reichet).

6OTTO LILIENTHAL – Death by Flight

Lilienthal was a German aviation pioneer, who specialized in gliding flights, earning the moniker of the Glider King. His inventions without doubt are seen as important work in the field of manned aviation before the Wright Brothers. With over 2000 successful flights under his belt, he took his final flight on 9 August 1896, when his glider stalled mid flight and crashed, resulting in injuries that eventually led to his death.


The Earl of Morton was a Regent of King James Vl to Scotland. To punish crimes committed against the Crown, he introduced Maiden, an early form of the guillotine, which was an improvement from the primitive Hailfax Gibbet guillotine implemented in England. Accused by his peers of his part in the murder of Lord Darnley, the King Consort of Scotland, he was executed on 2 June 1581, by the very guillotine he introduced, having been”impressed by its clean work.”

4THOMAS MIDGLEY JR. – Death by Suffocation

Midgley, a mechanical engineer, and celebrated chemist is known for creating no-leaded gasoline (fuel), and the greenhouse gas Freon (CFC’s). But his death wasn’t caused by either of these products. After contacting polio and suffering from lead poisoning, he was confined to his bed. To help in ease of movements for his limbs, he invented a rope and pulley system attached to his bed. And on 2 November 1944, as is with the fate of all scientists in this article, he got entangled in the ropes and died
as a result of suffocation.

3MARIE CURIE – Death by Radiation

Two-time Nobel Prize winner Marie Curie is credited with the discovery of two highly radioactive elements; radium and polonium. Curie always carried around isotopes of the elements in test tubes in her pocket, and had them stored in her desk drawer, remarking on the faint light they gave off. After spending all her time studying the elements, without the safety procedures required today when exposed to radioactive
elements, Curie eventually succumbed to aplastic anemia, a condition caused due to exposure to radiation, on 4 July 1934. Because of the high levels of radioactivity, her papers from 1890s are kept in lead-lined boxes and individuals must wear protective gloves if they wish to consult them.


Hunley, a marine engineer helped and designed three hand-powered submarines for the Confederacy Government during America’s Civil War Though the safety record of his submarines was questionable, they played a large role in naval warfare. While his first and second submarine sank as part of collateral damage, the third submarine named H. L. Hunley, which has the distinction of being the first combat ship to sink an enemy warship, sank during a routine exercise commanded by Hunley, along with a crew of seven.



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