Series: Inventors Killed By Their Own Inventions (Part II)

6. Cowper Coles – Turret Ship
A famous Chinese stateman once said: “Weapons are an important factor in war, but not the decisive one; it is man and not materials that counts” I guess Cowper Coles should have really taken that thought into consideration before inventing the turret ship- an ironclad war vessel, with low sides, on which heavy guns are mounted on a low structure, which may be rotated. The ship was so overly loaded with armored structures that they shifted its centre of gravity and caused it to become unstable resulting in the vessel capsizing on 6th September 1870. Cowper Coles was one of the 500 that died when it sunk. Only 18 of its crew survived.

7. Henry Winstanley – Lighthouse

Necessity is the mother of invention. Sure enough, after losing not one but two of his ships on the treacherous Eddystone Reef, Winstanley, a famous English architect and engineer felt it necessary to construct a lighthouse for the protection of his own and other ships. In the early 1700’s he invented the first Eddystone Lighthouse and proudly told the world that he wished he could “be in the light-house during the greatest storm that ever was”. Little did he know his prayer would soon be answered on the night of November 26th, 1703, when one of the most destructive hurricanes Great Britain has ever experienced shook the reefs and did incalculable damage. In the morning, when the skies finally cleared, and ships reached Eddystone Rocks, Winstanley’s great lighthouse was gone. And he was gone with it.

8. John Godfrey Parry-Thomas

Welsh motor-racing driver and engineer J.G Parry Thomas, with a strong desire to regain his title as land speed record holder, a title snatched away from him by Malcom Campbell, decided to create a special type of vehicle to achieve his dream. His invention was a car he called Babs, which had many modifications, such as exposed chains to connect the engine to the drive wheels and the high engine cover requiring him to drive with his head tilted to only the right side. On trying to reclaim his record from Campbell, in the final race, the right-hand drive chain broke at a speed of 170 mph (270 km/h), flew into his neck, partially decapitating him and causing a head injury. He died instantly.

9. Marie Curie- Radioactive substances

Ever wondered where the word ‘Polonium’ came from? Well, it came from a Polish physicist and chemist and Nobel Prize winner Marie Curie who named her newly discovered chemical after her native country. Ever wondered what happened to this discoverer of Polonium, Radium and Theory of Radioactivity? She died on July 4, 1934, from aplastic anemia, as a result of exposure to radiation after working continuously in a small enclosed shed without any safety measures because radiation’s danger  were not well understood at that time. To add to the misery, following her female instincts, she had carried test tubes containing radioactive isotopes in her pocket being mesmerized by the ‘pretty blue-green light’ that the substances gave off in the dark.

10. Donald Campbell – Speed engine for motorboat

Speed thrills but kills. We all know it yet we all ignore it. It’s human nature to challenge well known facts of life. British car and motorboat racer Donald Campbell was no different. He broke eight world speed records in the 1950s and 60s and to quench his insatiable drive to conquer speed he decided to try for another water speed record in 1966. This time the target was 300 mph. He invented a lighter and more powerful engine for his boat Bluebird K7. Blame it on adrenaline rush or sheer stupidity but instead of refueling and waiting for the wash of his first run to subside, as is usual with speedboat races, Campbell decided to make a return run immediately. The craft’s stability began to falter as it travelled over the rough water and it somersaulted at a 45 degree angle plunging back into the lake and disintegrating at a speed of 320mph. Needless to say, the inventor was killed.

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