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<   No. 2350   2009-07-03   >

Comic #2350

1 {scene: Giuseppe's pizzeria}
1 Ishmael: What are you doing, Giuseppe?
1 Giuseppe: {working on a circuit box on the wall} Rewiring the pizzeria.
1 Ishmael: Are you a licensed electrician?
2 Giuseppe: I'm a direct descendant of Alessandro Volta! My family invented electricity!
3 Ishmael: You know, the guy who designed the Titanic died on board when it sank.
3 Giuseppe: Was he Italian?
4 Ishmael: Irish.
4 Giuseppe: Bah!
4 [SFX]: Zap! {spark zaps Giuseppe}
4 Giuseppe: Ow!

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There is a Wikipedia page with a List of inventors killed by their own inventions. I was hoping to find someone really famous on there. Marie Curie is the most famous name on the list, but since she didn't really invent radiation as such, I felt that was kind of cheating. I settled for the Titanic engineer, Thomas Andrews, since even if people don't know his name, he's easy to describe.

I was really hoping for something along the lines of Alexander Graham Bell having died during a tragic phone booth stuffing incident or something. The cosmic irony inventory on causes of death of famous inventors is critically low.

2022-08-13 Rerun commentary: I missed Thomas Midgley Junior, who is perhaps the unluckiest inventor of all time. A chemical engineer, he's gone down in history as the inventor of two of the absolute worst inventions ever.

In 1921 he came up with the idea of adding lead to automotive fuel to prevent engine knocking, thus inventing leaded petrol. At the time, this was a great technological improvement. It was only after Midgley's death (which we'll get to in a minute) that leaded fuel was phased out and banned due to the harmful effects of lead that millions of vehicles had pumped into the atmosphere. Midgley himself suffered from lead poisoning after working with leaded fuel additives without safety gear and insisting they were safe.

Then in 1928 Midgley led a team that developed freon, a chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) gas used widely as a refrigerant. It was initially thought to be a much safer improvement over previous combustible, explosive, and poisonous refrigerant gases. Freon was none of these. However... in the late 1970s it was discovered that freon and other CFC gases were responsible for damaging the Earth's ozone layer, leading to increased ultraviolet radiation from the sun reaching the Earth's surface, causing cancers and other harmful effects to humans, wildlife, and plants.

Midgley's two greatest inventions turned out to be disasters affecting the entire planet.

But Midgley had another invention up his sleeve. In 1940 he contracted polio and was left severely disabled. He invented a system of ropes and pulleys to help him lift himself out of bed. In 1944 he became entangled in this invention, and it strangled him to death.

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