Throughout history, the quest for advancement and adventure (or misadventure) has continually yielded incredible new technologies, means of transport or world-changing medical breakthroughs. However, for some pioneers, those creations came at the ultimate cost.
Sylvester H. Roper - Inventor of the steam-powered bicycle
When Sly Roper added a steam engine to a bicycle in 1867, he effectively invented the motorcycle. In 1896 he was riding a later version of the Roper Steam Velocipide when he was seen to shut off the steam engine, wobble and fall off.
It is unknown whether the heart attack that killed him caused the crash or whether the crash caused the heart attack.
Alexander Bognadov - Inventor of the blood transfusion
The Bolshevik medical pioneer (and science fiction writer) was an early pioneer of blood transfusions - an invention that has saved millions of lives, but sadly robbed him of his own. Upon discovering blood transfusions, Bognadov believed he had stumbled upon an elixir of life that could keep him forever young. He had reported better eyesight after several treatments, but his experiments came to an end when he gave himself TB and malaria in 1928.
Henry Smolinski and Hal Blake - Inventors of a flying car
The first flying car was based on a Ford Pinto. Smolinski and Blake strapped a 210 Continental jet engine and a tail and wing section from a Cessnar Skymaster to a model of the 1970s sub-compact in order to create the AVE Miznar craft.
Both died when the wings fell off in a test flight in 1973.
Karel Soucek - Inventor of the shock-absorbent barrel
You’d think if you could go over Niagara Falls in a custom-made barrel like Karel Soucek did in 1984, everything else in life would be a breeze? Six months later, the Czech-Canadian stuntman aimed to trump his own feat – and raise money to fund a museum to his own exploits - by dropping 180 feet from the roof of the Houston Astrodome into a water tank. Unfortunately the barrel clipped the rim of the tank rather than landing in the centre and Soucek later died from his wounds in hospital.
Thomas Andrews - Chief naval architect, RMS Titanic
The shipbuilder who requested 46 lifeboats instead of the 20 eventually fitted spent his final hours in 1912 heroically shepherding as many people to safety as possible. He was last seen admiring a painting in the first class smoking room. His body was never recovered.
Otto Lilienthal - Inventor of the glider
The German aviation pioneer dubbed ‘The Glider King’ brought flight out of the realms of impossibility. He had made over 2,000 safe flights until his final airborne mission in 1896.
He lost control, nose-dived 50ft to the ground and fractured his spine. His last words are said to be "Opfer müssen gebracht werden!" which means “sacrifices must be made!”
The above photo shows Hans Richter taking off with Lilienthal’s original glider in Berlin in 1926.
Marie Curie - Inventor of radiation therapy
Her name is synonymous with cancer care, but Marie Curie’s pioneering work with radiation, which earned her two Nobel prizes and would one day enable radiotherapy for sufferers, came at the ultimate cost.
Curie invented the means of isolating radium, but died of aplastic anemia in 1934 due to her prolonged exposure to her research materials.
Thomas Midgely Jnr - Creator of a medical winch
A sadder story you may ne’er read, Midgely contracted polio aged 51 and invented an intricate pulley contraption that allowed others to help him out of bed. He died of strangulation in 1944 after becoming entangled in the ropes.
Prolific inventor Midgely Jnr didn’t have much luck with his other creations. In 1921 he discovered that adding lead to petrol reduced the amount of knocking in car engines, but by 1923 he was found to be suffering from severe lead poisoning.
He later developed non-toxic, non-flammable liquids for use in refrigeration systems, unwittingly creating the CFC gases that caused so much damage to the Earth’s atmosphere in the second half of the 20th century.