While the Wright Brothers supposedly flew the first proper aircraft, the idea no doubt existed in some form since humans laid eyes on the birds and the butterflies. The desire to take to the skies must have simmered for millennia before inspiring more tangible possibilities in powerful thinkers like Leonardo Da Vinci, but perhaps what made Da Vinci a more successful thinker in the long run was to keep his ideas as just that; hypothetical notions. While the temptation must have been strong, there’s no evidence Da Vinci ever tested his “ornithopter” flying device. Had he, far fewer people might know his name today.
There's something to be said about acknowledging the real world precariousness of your own wild imagination. All the same, we can't help but be fascinated over people who apparently don’t. The mad inventor archetype lives a kind of functional insanity where only The Idea is master and his every waking moment is dedicated to the distant prospect of realizing it. That’s one kind of story on this list. There’s also the kind where new territories inadvertently invite self-sacrifice, or where fate simply decides to play a cruel, twisted joke.
Sometimes comic, sometimes unfortunate and sad, often both; here are ten stories of renaissance people who innovated their way directly into the annals of history.
9 Franz Reichert, The Flying Tailor
Skilled tailor Franz Reichert had a long feud with gravity. His initial battles were fought and won with crash test dummies, which fell softly from his fifth floor apartment using homemade parachute designs. But gravity soon got the better of this daring inventor. Reichert couldn’t understand why none of his later experiments succeeded like his first, so eventually he reasoned (or unreasoned) that his apartment was simply too close to the ground.
8 William Bullock
Bullock was a good man; an ambitious, hard-working mechanical type who liked to bury himself in books. His first invention, a shingle-cutting machine, got booted from the market place, but he went on to design a cotton press, a seed planter, a grain drill, and a pretty tight lathe for the mid-19th century.
7 Thomas Andrews
6 Wan Hu
5 Thomas Midgley, Jr.
4 Jim Fixx
3 Max Valier
2 Marie Curie
1 Valerian Abakovsky
In a perfect world we'd all ride the above contraption to work everyday. But ours is a dark, depressing totality where state-of-the-art railcars fitted with plane propellers only crash and burn. Young inventor Valerian Abakovsky believed the Aerowagon would bring class and speed to the travelling Soviet gentry; instead, in 1921, on its maiden return voyage to Moscow, it derailed and brought death to every communist on board, himself included.
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