Over the years there have been plenty of crazy inventors that have literally put their life on the line in the name of science. Some emerged as illustrious scientists, while others paid the ultimate price for their dedication to their obsession. We take a look at some of the craziest inventors of the past, and the lengths they went to, to prove a point.
Known as the Flying Tailor, Reichelt was a French tailor-turned-paratrooper-turned inventor. Born in Austria, the famous inventor used his experience with the paratroopers to design an aviator outfit that could convert into a parachute. At first, the Frenchman used dummies to test out his new invention. Not satisfied with the results, he donned the suit himself and climbed to the top of the Eiffel Tower. Throwing himself off the Tower, Reichelt quickly realised that his suit was as effective as he initially thought, but by then it was too late. Much like Marvel’s comic book character Daredevil who has been immortalised in everything from pokies to movies, Reichelt felt no fear, or so it seemed!
If you have been involved in a serious car accident and walked away, you probably have Lawrence Patrick to thank. Lawrence was involved in the safety and testing of motor vehicles. While using dummies was certainly an option, back in the 1940’s there was little to no information on exactly how much damage the human body could withstand. As any decent scientist or inventor would do, Patrick dedicated his life to human impact survival research.
What this means is that he put his own body at risk for the sake of the science. This involved strapping himself to a rocket sled over 400 times, bashing in his knee with a metal bar and taking a 50-pound pendulum to the chest. Patrick ended up with multiple broken fingers, cracked ribs, bruises and plenty of data that is still used today.
Jonas Salk – and his Whole Family
In the mid 1900’s Polio was responsible for the death of thousands of people every year. Scientists were desperate to invent a vaccine, but could not find one that worked on human subjects. Previous attempts at a human vaccine killed a number of children and left the rest crippled. Then came along Jonas Salk. Having complete faith in his “killed” version of the Polio virus vaccine, Salk was desperate to test it out on human subjects. Understandably he was met with strong opposition.
Undeterred, Salk decided to test the vaccine out on himself. In fact, he took it one step further. To demonstrate how much faith he had in the vaccine, and to prove that it worked across all genders and ages, Salk injected his entire family with the possibly deadly vaccine. The good news is that everyone came out just fine and the results pretty much eradicated Polio within 50 years.
Most inventors are understandably proud of their work and confident in their designs. Such was the case with English painter and inventor/engineer Henry Winstanley. While his achievements were many, he was best remembered for building the first Lighthouse of Eddystone. Winstanley was so confident of the strength and design of the lighthouse that he wanted to stay inside the building whenever there was a particularly strong storm.
In 1703, he jumped at the chance to bunk down when a massive storm headed towards the coast. Unfortunately the lighthouse was no match for the storm, which destroyed the entire building, killing Winstanley and five other people inside.
William Bullock was a famous American inventor who revolutionised the printing industry. His engineering work with the rotary printing press made the machines faster and more efficient. It was not fault of his own though that he was accidently killed by one of his own machines. While making a few adjustments to one of the large machines, Bullock accidently activated a driving belt in the main pulley. This caused the belt to be swallowed up by the machine along with Bullock’s leg. The leg ended up getting gangrene and had to be amputated. Bullock died during the amputation procedure.
Lou-Sebastien Lenormand was a French inventor who had his own ideas on defying gravity. Determined to find a better way to fall with grace, Lenormand decided to strap two umbrellas together and jump out a tree. Happy with the results, he then made his way to the top of the Montpellier Observatory in France where he jumped off in front of a waiting crowd. Not only did his invention work, he also inspired two brothers in the crowd to develop a manned hot air balloon.
Lenormand had developed the double umbrella device for people to escape from a fire. Unfortunately, a ladder worked just as well and his invention was never picked up. He then retreated to a monastery where he dedicated the rest of his live to theoretical studies!