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7 inventors killed by their inventions

Posting in Technology

No bull. This really works, thanks to an overheated Perillos.

Be careful what you ask for. Not only might you get it - it could kill you.

Thus was the fate of at least seven inventors throughout history, as pictorially summarized by the Mother Nature Network in a post earlier this year. I stumbled across it the other day and liked it so much I even stole the headline.

My favorite: Perillos of Athens. He whipped up a form of tortuous execution that slowly roasted its victim inside a replica of a bull (see picture; wince). A tyrannical ruler named Phalaris decided to kick the tires on this contraption by tossing in Perillos. Soon the world had the Brazen Bull at its grizzly disposal. It also had one less Athenian.

Not all of the unfortunate inventors met such a gruesome end, although let's face it, none of them had a good time of it.

Thomas Midgley Jr. for instance. A polio sufferer in later life, he suffocated after the rope and pulley system he created to help lift him from bed strangled him. Midgley was already familiar with the hazards of innovation: a decorated chemist responsible for advances in leaded gasoline and freon, he suffered from lead poisoning.

Horace Lawson Hunley took his last breath when a submarine he built sank off the coast of South Carolina in 1863. Tailor Franz Reichelt plunged nearly 200 feet to frozen ground below the Eiffel Tower when his flying parachute suit didn't do what it was supposed to in 1912. Valerian Abakovsky perished in a 1921 derailment of his high speed train powered by an airplane engine and propeller, on the way to Moscow.  Henry Smolinksi fatally crashed his flying car in 1973.

For some, the end wasn't so sudden. Marie Currie, who established the theory of radioactivity and discovered the elements polonium and radium, died in 1934 from aplastic anemia brought on by radiation exposure.

As an honorable mention, I'll add Jimi Heselden, the former owner of Segway Inc. who tragically died two years ago when he rode one of Segway's namesake two-wheelers over a 200-foot cliff in England. Heselden was not the inventor, but was a lifelong entrepreneur.

Long live the spirit of innovation.

Image: Wikimedia.

— By on September 27, 2012, 9:16 PM PST

Mark Halper

Contributing Editor

Mark Halper has written for TIME, Fortune, Financial Times, the UK's Independent on Sunday, Forbes, New York Times, Wired, Variety and The Guardian. He is based in Bristol, U.K. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure