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Death by Invention: 5 Inventors who Died by Their Own Work


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Franz Reichelt

In the late 1700s, a Frenchman known as Joseph Montgolfier began throwing himself off the roof of his house and out of gondolas attached to hot air balloons he had invented. Of course, he didn't take these leaps unencumbered; attached to him were various parachute prototypes that helped break his fall. Around the same time, another Frenchman named Louis-Sebastian Lenormand jumped from the top of the Montpelier Observatory in Paris, also demonstrating the success of a parachute-like device. And in 1804, a third Frenchman named Bourget successfully demonstrated the use of a collapsible parachute in a jump in Germany.

Nearly 100 years later, after the parachute's design had been more refined, another Frenchman became fascinated with them. His name was Franz Reichelt and he was a tailor by trade who had a bit of inventor in him -- unfortunately.

In 1912, Reichelt climbed to the top of the Eiffel Tower to -- as he told authorities -- throw off a dummy strapped to a "flying suit." But it appears Reichelt's plan all along was to use himself in the experiment. It proved a lethal mistake for the "Flying Tailor," as the suit did absolutely nothing to break his 190-foot (57.9-meter) fall from what was at the time the world's tallest structure.

It turns out that Reichelt was a better tailor than inventor, as he seemed to take no inspiration from the various parachute designs that had come before his "flying suit." In fact, just one year before his death, an American named Grant Morton gained the distinction of being the first man to jump out of an airplane wearing a parachute that did, in fact, work.


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