9 Inventors Killed by Their Own Inventions

Jimi Heselden didn't invent the Segway, but he was the company's owner Sunday when he tumbled off a cliff while riding an all-terrain version of the self-balancing vehicle. Maybe he would have invented something like the Segway, though, if Dean Kamen hadn't gotten to it first.

A former coal miner who lost his job following the 1984-85 miners' strike that affected much of the British coal industry, Heselden took his redundancy, or layoff, money and invented Hesco bastion, a collapsible wire mesh and fabric container that is used for military fortification and flood control.

The product has done so well over the past couple of decades, that Heselden was able to purchase Segway in late 2009 and also to donate millions of his personal fortune to charity. When he died this past weekend, Heselden was worth more than $250 million.

The Segway's future is uncertain in the wake of this public relations nightmare, but Heselden was hardly the first to go because of a product he loved. Here, nine other inventors who were killed by their own inventions:


A mechanical engineer-turned-chemist, Midgley held over one hundred patents when he died in 1944. It was his last invention, though, that did him in even as he fought polio. Severly disabled by the polio he contracted at the age of 51, Midgley built an elaborate system of pulleys and strings that others could use to lift him out of the bed with ease. But the system failed. Four years after he had contracted polio, it wasn't the disease, but the ropes, that killed him. Accidentally entangled in the device, Midgley strangled to death.


Intended to carry Soviet officials, Abakovsky's aerowagon was an experimental high-speed railcar powered by an aircraft engine. After making its first one-way test run successfully, the aerowagon derailed on the return trip to Moscow and killed everyone on board including Abakowsky, then just 25 years old. The aerowagon is considered the precursor to other experimental vehicles that were powered by an aircraft engine, including the M-497 Black Beetle and the turbojet train (pictured).


"KILLED BY OWN INVENTION" a New York Times article screamed in 1903 when William Nelson, then just 24, died while testing his own invention: a motorized bicycle. An employee of General Electric at the time, Nelson was regarded, according to the Times, "as an inventor of much promise."


Known as the Glider King, Otto Lilienthal was a German aviation pioneer who was the first to make several well-documented gliding flights. Taking off from an artificial hill he built near Berlin, Lilienthal made more than 2,000 flights between 1891 and his death five years later. Lilienthal died the day after snapping his spine when his glider lost its lift and he fell from about 50 feet. He was credited as a major inspiration by the Wright brothers who were aware of the research he had done on heavier-than-air flight.


Bullock's rotary printing press helped to revolutionize the printing industry in the 1860s with its speed and efficiency. A life-long inventor, Bullock had previously created a cotton and hay press, a lathe cutting machine, a grain drill and a seed planter, but it was the printing press that made him most famous. Unfortunately, he wasn't able to continue inventing as he was killed in an accident only a few years later. Making adjustments to a press that was being installed at the headquarters of the Philadelphia Public Ledger, Bullock's leg was crushed in the machine. He developed gangrene and died a few days later.


Labeled the Flying Tailor, Reichelt thought he could build a suit that would allow him to fly. By lying to authorities -- he told them that he would be strapping the suit to a test dummy -- Reichelt was able to climb the Eiffel Tower and throw himself off. But the suit, as you might have guessed, didn't work and Reichelt plunged to his death on the streets of Paris. The Austrian trailor had been hoping to develop a suit that could be worn by aviators and used in the case of emergency evacuations from aircraft. Initial experiments from the fifth floor of his apartment building had proved successful.

07) AUREL VLAICU (1882-1913): VLAICU II

A Romanian engineer and airplane constructor, Vlaicu built his first plane -- a glider -- after working for a couple of years in a car factory. With the two plane designs that followed, Vlaicu won several awards. He died in an old model Vlaicu II while trying to cross the Carpathian Mountains in 1913. On his way to Transylvania, Vlaicu's plane lost its wings. He left the Vlaicu III unfinished, but a pair of friends completed the design in honor of Vlaicu a year after his death. Today, an airport in Bucharest, Romania -- the second busiest in the country in terms of air traffic -- is named after him.


It wasn't a physical object that Li Si invented, but a method of execution. Serving under Qin Shi Huang, the First Emperor of China, Li Si was an influential Prime Minister and also a noted calligrapher. Seen by some as an early practitioner of totalitarianism, Si wrote many of the state's policies. After betraying his dead emperor, Si was charged with treason and executed by way of The Five Pains, which Si had written years earlier. Once sentenced to The Five Pains, an individual had his or her nose cut off, followed by a hand, then a foot. Still living, the sentenced was then castrated before finally being cut in half at the waist.

09) MICHAEL DACRE (1955/1956-2009): FLYING TAXI

A British aviation pioneer, Dacre died when the flying taxi that he invented crashed and burned on its first test flight. The eight-seater that Dacre hoped to release to the public the following year was supposed to be able to take off and land on very short runways so that small airports could be built closer to city centers. Dacre, managing director of the British-based Avcen Ltd. at the time of his death, died about 190 miles north of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in the town of Taiping. According to a witness, the taxi failed to take off on the first three attempts. On the fourth, it shot vertically into the air before veering to one side and faling to the ground.

Source: Theatlantic.