8 Patents That Have Killed Their Inventors

Some inventions are fated to never get off the ground. The inventors have a great idea, but they discover that there isn’t a market for the technology or that it’s simply too cumbersome to implement.

Other inventors, and the inventions they create, become famous. Their names may be known all over the world, and some of them appear in history books. Some inventions even make their creators wealthy.

Despite this success, inventors aren’t always protected from disaster. In fact, many inventors throughout the centuries have actually been killed by the things they created.

Here is a look at a few of them.

Horace Lawson Hunley

Working for the Confederate States of America during the U.S. Civil War, Hunley was a marine engineer whose invention was a hand-powered submarine. Hunley’s main objective was to subvert the Union blockade of southern ports, and his early efforts looked like they would be successful. Hunley was in command of the H.L. Hunley during a routine exercise in 1863 during which the vessel sank, killing all eight men on board. Not to be deterred, the Confederate States of America raised the vessel in 1864 and used it to sink the enemy vessel, USS Housatonic.

Karel Soucek

Born in Czechoslovakia in 1947, Soucek was a professional stuntman who called Canada home. In 1984, he successfully went over Niagara Falls in a barrel. His daredevil stunt made him famous and earned him a great deal of money. In fact, Soucek determined that he would build a museum in Ontario at Niagara Falls in which his stunt-related equipment would be displayed. To raise money for the venture, Soucek convinced a large company to pay for him to perform a barrel drop from the Houston Astrodome into a water tank. The fall would total 180 feet. Unfortunately, the barrel drop was ill-fated. A premature release sent the tank spinning to such a degree that it missed the water tank, hitting the rim instead. Soucek died shortly after being cut out of the barrel.

Marie Curie

Perhaps best known as Madame Curie, the famous physicist discovered Polonium and Radium. She was twice awarded the Nobel Prize, but her experiments had a high price. After being exposed for years to radioactive materials without proper safety precautions, Madame Curie died in 1934 at the age of 66. Her cause of death is thought to have been bone marrow failure. Nonetheless, the medical research centers that she founded in Warsaw and Paris are still in existence today and continue to make scientific breakthroughs.

Francis Edgar Stanley

Francis, or F.E., Stanley and his twin brother Freeland Oscar, or F.O., Stanley were American businessmen who founded the Stanley Motor Carriage Company. Their greatest invention was the Stanley Steamer, a steam-operated automobile. The company was in business from 1902 until 1924 when it was sold and dissolved. Tragically, F.E. Stanley was killed when he accidentally crashed his car into a roadside woodpile while trying to avoid colliding with farm wagons that were traveling abreast of each other.

Max Valier

An Austrian pioneer in the field of rocketry, Valier was among the founders of the German Spaceflight Society that was one of the earliest organizations to bring together many of the innovators who would one day make space flight possible. In the 1920s, the society was working on building liquid-fuelled rockets, and by 1930, Valier was able to test drive a rocket car that was powered with liquid propulsion. Unfortunately, he was killed shortly afterward in an explosion of an alcohol-fuelled rocket in Berlin.

Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier

An 18th century Frenchman who was a noted instructor of physics and chemistry, de Rozier also was an aviation pioneer. Along with a colleague, he was part of the inaugural manned free balloon flight. The flight was completed in a Montgolfier balloon in 1783. It’s impossible to say what else de Rozier might have invented had he lived. He was killed in a subsequent balloon flight, in which he attempted to fly across the English Channel, in 1785 at the age of 31.

Henry Smolinski

Smolinkski was the victim of an untimely death in 1973 as he piloted an aircraft he made himself by attaching the wings of a Cessna 337 to a Ford Pinto. His craft was called the AVE Mizar, and it crashed on its first test flight with Smolinski at the controls. Theoretically, the Pinto with wings was capable of flying at speeds of 130 MPH and at about 12,000 feet above the ground’s surface. Smolinski had modified the dashboard with instruments like an altimeter and radio navigational equipment, all to no avail.

William Bullock

Bullock is considered a pioneer in the printing industry thanks to the improvements he made to the rotary printing press that was an invention of Richard March Hoe. Boasting far greater efficiency and speed, Bullock’s improvements helped publications like Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly become famous across the country. Bullock’s web rotary press made it possible to use continuous rolls of paper that were automatically fed through the press’s rollers, making hand feeding obsolete. Sadly, Bullock was working on one of his own presses in 1867 when his leg was crushed by the machine. After developing gangrene, doctors operated to amputate the limb, but Bullock died on the operating table.

Where Will Your Inventions Take You?

Most inventors are fortunate enough not to be killed by their own innovations. In fact, some of them even manage to obtain patent protection and actually earn a profit based on their work. If you have a great idea that you want to protect, then contact Williams IP Law today.

Author: Jeff Williams

Jeff Williams is an experienced mechanical engineer and lawyer that consults closely with clients in a strait forward and clear manner.  He brings a particular set of strengths and unique perspectives to the firm.    
 Jeff received a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Arizona State University in 2005.  He was an engineer for a number of years at a number of large corporations before pursuing his law degree.  He graduated from Texas A&M University School of Law (formerly Texas Wesleyan University School of Law) with a J.D. in 2010.  By combining his education and prior work experience into the field of intellectual property law, Jeff has developed key skills to fully assist clients.