Going from concept to finished product is a long, torturous journey for every inventor. An idea is just the beginning; you’ll have to figure out prototyping, finding your market, product testing etc. Yet there are serial inventors who’ll have it no other way; they’re willing to put themselves on the line to show that their product is viable.
While we agree that genius often borders on insanity, it can also involve quite a few broken bones too. Just look at the development of the modern parachute; da Vinci drew what was considered the first workable parachute in 1485. It was slowly redesigned over the next 300 years but no ideas were officially tested till 1783.
Frenchman Louis-Sébastien Lenormand dumped traditional ideas and went with the radical idea of jumping with what amounted to two umbrellas strung together. Jumping off the Montpelier observatory on Boxing Day 1783, Lenormand made it to the ground safely. Landing safely, he proved the viability of parachutes for use in rescuing occupants of burning buildings. The design had another 130 years of slow improvement, till the Flying Tailor had a go at it.
In 1912, tailor Franz Reichelt was fixated on making a suit for aviators that would also contain a parachute. Convinced that he had the perfect design, Reichelt donned his ‘coat parachute’ and jumped off the first platform of the Eiffel Tower. His parachute failed to deploy and he crashed to the ground.
The Parisian papers had a field day calling him a reckless inventor, but isn’t that the mark of a visionary? Aren’t all the greats supposed to be a little crazy? Can he really be accused of recklessness if he truly believed in his invention?
History is packed with many of these ‘reckless’ inventors and many of the products they risked life and limb to perfect, have become everyday staples. Here are ten products whose inventors put their money where their mouth was, even if the rest of us think they’re bat s%$t crazy.
10. Grant Mackintosh – Motorcycle “Draggin’ Jeans”
Motorcycle accidents are no laughing matter; even if the rider is wearing a helmet, flying across the hardtop will leave regular clothes and skin in absolute shreds. Understanding that not every rider enjoys suiting up in riding leathers, Mackintosh decided to invent a fabric that could protect while being fashionable.
Combining denim and Kevlar, he developed Draggin’ Jeans in the 90s. To prove the quality of his product, Mackintosh wore a pair of Draggin’ Jeans and allowed himself to be dragged behind a motorbike going 100km/h. He let go after a few hundred feet, and got up to show a film crew that the jeans were only slightly frayed. In 2014, the company partnered with Institute for Frontier Materials in 2014 to create an even more durable fabric.
9. Miguel Caballero – Bulletproof Clothing
Miguel Caballero started his business making bulletproof jackets for police officers in the 1990s. But as people became more security conscious, he started making civilian clothing that could still stop a bullet. Using a proprietary blend that he invented, Caballero’s range now includes raincoats, blazers, polo shirts, even backpacks for kids. No wonder he’s been dubbed “the Armani of armor”.
To show how well his products work, Caballero regularly tests them out on visitors to his Bogota shop. The man also shoots at potential employees during recruitment. As scary as it sounds, his products always hold up.
The quality of his clothes is evident in the calibre of customers he has; he has made outfits for Presidents Obama (USA), Nieto (Mexico) and Hernández (Honduras). He also supplies bulletproof clothing to the police, military, and private security sector.
8. Colonel John Paul Stapp – Human Crash Test Dummy
Throughout his military career, USAF Colonel Stapp put his life on the line, over and over again. His expertise lay in studying the effects of acceleration, deceleration and developing technology for keeping pilots alive in plane crashes. His work also involved designing rocket-propelled vehicles for the USAF. But the rudimentary crash dummies of the era didn’t always return the best results.
To get precise data, Stapp had to find an alternative. He volunteered himself and became his own human crash test dummy – in the 1940s… with minimal safety equipment! Here’s an account of one test they did in 1947; he built a rocket sled, strapped himself in, and was sent hurtling down a 2,000-foot-long railway track. During that test, he reached 200 mph before slamming to a stop that racked his body with 35 Gs of force. In 1952, Stapp went on to break the Land Speed Record for Railed Vehicles; his record hasn’t been beaten till date.
Despite suffering broken ribs, limbs, fractured wrists twice and detached retinas that left him temporarily blinded, Stapp remained undeterred by the risk of permanent damage. His work was priceless in developing the safety systems used in preventing car crashes and saving pilots’ lives today.
7. Dr. Pradeep Seth – HIV Test Subject
In 2003, a leading Professor of Virology Dr. Pradeep Seth was sure he had discovered a HIV vaccine that actually worked. Having constructed the vaccine from genetic sequences of HIV and confident in the data he had generated, Seth lacked a human subject to test it on.
At the time, his vaccine hadn’t been cleared for human testing and being familiar with the redtape of the Indian medical system, Seth took matters into his own hands. Determined to prove the efficacy of this vaccine, he injected himself with the prime and boost doses of the vaccine.
His actions were met with mixed reactions amongst his colleagues, ranging from derision to incredulity. In spite of that, he was able to prove his vaccine worked and it was fast-tracked for further testing.
6. Troy Hurtubise – Invulnerable Bear Suit
Hurtubise is often called the redneck Tony Stark. The nickname comes from his line of bear-proof suits he invented, named the Trojan and the Ursus Mark I – VI series.
His obsession began in 1984, when he was attacked by a grizzly bear while out hiking. The bear knocked him over, but didn’t attack. The near-death experience left him wanting to create a bear-proof suit. The next seven years were spent designing protective suits, but after watching Robocop, he got the idea for body armor over chain mail. His story was chronicled in the documentary Project Grizzly.
To prove the strength of his suits, Hurtubiste put himself through a series of brutal tests while wearing the suit. He was whacked and attacked by people with weapons; he was hit over and over by a pickup truck at different speeds; he was sent tumbling down hills; it’s crazy how much punishment he takes in the suit. Who knows, maybe he’ll give us a real-life Iron Man suit.
5. Taser International – Employees Testing Tasers
If you’ve ever wondered how Tasers are tested, maybe you should get a job there. Seriously, Taser International does A LOT of in-house testing… on employees. The Head of P.R. says around 70% of employees have opted to be tased to ‘see how it feels’.
In 2009, to show their employees stand by the product, the company released a video showing a new Taser in action. The Tri-Fire X3’s selling point was its multi-shot capability, allowing the user to fire three times without needing to reload.
Yup, it looks as painful as it sounds, but it seems to be the company culture, so more power to them. #ouch
4. Jeremiah Raber – Bulletproof Jockstrap
The “family jewels” are one of the most sensitive parts of a man’s anatomy. Whether in a fight or while playing a sport, getting whacked in the cojones is one sure way to end it. Raber noticed that the design of the jockstrap used to protect the groin hadn’t been improved for many years. In some cases, it was even contributing to athlete injury.
His company invented the Nutshellz jockstrap, and to show its wide protective range, Raber volunteered to test it. The test involved him getting SHOT in the groin, with a.22 long rifle. Protected by the jockstrap’s ballistic Kevlar, the the test went off without a hitch, but probably left many men wincing.
3. Steve Gass – Finger, Meet Saw
Woodworking is reportedly responsible for over 60,000 visits to the hospital every year. 64% of these are caused by the most used tool in the shop, the table saw. Between severed digits and deep gashes, there’s an estimated 10 digits chopped off every single day in a table saw accident.
Steve Gass invented a table saw that cannot cut off a digit. The saw is equipped with a sensor that can differentiate between wood and a finger. This allows the saw to stop dead in its tracks if a finger is placed in its path. Sounds far fetched, right?
Rejected by American power tool manufacturers, Gass took his invention on the woodworking trade show circuit. To demonstrate its efficacy, he moved from testing the braking power on hotdogs to actually sticking his own finger in!
He showed the saw’s braking power by repeatedly sticking his fingers in the path of a steel saw spinning at 5,000 rpms! His device, Sawstop, has saved him EVERY time.
2. Giles S. Brindley – The Cure For ED
Giles Brindley proved himself to be a man of many talents; physiologist, musicologist, instrument inventor, composer, pole vaulter, but he is (in)famous for one incident in 1983. Long before the development of Viagra, erectile dysfunction existed and had a lot of men worried.
Brindley had experimented on himself, taking up to 17 different drugs and measuring the effects. With relevant data collated, he felt he had discovered a cure for ED. The dilemma became how he would show his results to the world.
His chance came at the 1983 Las Vegas meeting of the American Urological Association. In his presentation, he explained how papaverine reversed the effects of ED, and kept it at bay for a long time. To prove his point, he had injected papaverine just before coming down for the presentation.
Brindley decided to “share” the results of his experiment with the audience. Literally. Stepping out from behind the podium, he dropped his pants to show the audience his work. Needless to say, women began to scream and the presentation was cut short.
1. R. Trent Kimball – AK-47 vs Bulletproof Glass
Unless you sell military vehicles, your claims of being bullet proof never really get tested, right? Not wanting to leave their customers with any shred of doubt, Texas Armoring Corporation decided to show how well their armored windshields fared against an AK-47. To up the stakes, they placed someone behind the glass; they picked TAC’s CEO, R. Trent Kimball. The brave man stepped behind the glass and allowed an employee let off a clip.
At point-blank range.
This was the second instance where Kimball had an employee shooting at him. The $7,000 windshield didn’t budge, but it takes some cojones to sit behind the wheel with an AK spitting bullets at you. Their obsession with extreme product testing seems to be paying off. TAC boasts clients ranging from the Pope to rappers to oil executives in Africa and the Middle East.