10. Ismail ibn Hammad al-Jawhari: Flying Machine
This early Muslim scholar was famous for writing a well-known Arabic dictionary – he should have left well enough alone! But no, he had to try try to fly. Legend has it that he was inspired by an earlier flight attempt, but thinking that he could go one better, in 1010 he leaped off a roof with a flying machine of his own design, that used two wooden wings and a rope. His jump from the roof of a mosque in Nijabur and did apparently givee him a short glide, before falling to his death. Talk about a fall from grace.
9. William Bullock: Rotary Printing Press
William Bullock was an American inventor whose 1863 invention of the rotary printing press helped revolutionize the printing industry due to its great speed and efficiency. Bullock died while trying to repair one of his printing presses, by getting his foot crushed under one of the machines while trying to kick a pulley into place. His foot later became gangrenous, and Bullock died during an operation to amputate his foot. He no longer had a leg up on his competition.
8. Otto Lilienthal: Human Wings
Lilienthal (1849-1896), known in his day as the Glider King, was a German scientist who believed that the route to successful flight was via ornithopters – machines based on the flapping motions used by birds. He was the first true heavier-than-air pilot, and made over 2000 glider flights, launched from an artificial hill he built near Berlin. He was eventually killed in August 1896 when his glider stalled and he fell 50 feet to the ground. His final words were, �Small sacrifices must be made!�
7. William Nelson: Electric Bicycle
William Nelson was an inventor who’s career was made working for General Electric. His greatest invention was a motorized bicycle, which, unfortunately was the last invention he test drove. While testing his new cycle he fell off which resulted in his death.
6. Franz Reichelt: Parachute Coat
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 railor 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.
5. Aurel Vlaicu: Flying Glider Car
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.
4. Valerian Abakovsky: Aerowagon
Intended to carry Soviet officials, Abakovsky’s aerowagon was an experimental high-speed rail-car 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.
3. Thomas Midgley Jr: Pulley Bed
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. In a bizarre and ironic twist of fate he, while using the system he was accidentally entangled in the ropes of this device and died of strangulation at the age of 55.
2. Henry Smolinski: Flying Car
Henry Smolinski founded the company Advanced Vehicle Engineers in 1971. He wanted to develop the first flying car so he bolted the wings of a Cessna onto the roof of a Ford Pinto (it had to be a Pinto!). This car would transport people to airports where they could detach the wings and drive away. After two years of development, the inventors took the car on a test flight where the wings came off and left the pilot and passenger plummeting to the ground, killing them.
1. Li Si (208 BC): The Five Pains
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.
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