Doomed Engineers

Last updated 3-Oct-2005

New entries marked with *

A subject of morbid but peculiar fascination. It's certainly unwholesome to relish the stories of those who are like us, and perhaps greater than us, but who come to spectacularly bad ends, yet such stories provide a certain satisfaction. As we make our way through our own careers in engineering, and deal with our own inevitable failures, there's some comfort in knowing that no matter how badly we screw up, we won't get killed for it. Unlike these guys.

So here's a list of the tragic and failed from newest to oldest. Most were brought down by their own characters, some by bad luck or malice. Biographies and pictures (when completed!) lie behind the links.

Name Lived Known For Demise
Eugene Armstrong d 2004 GCSC civil engineer Beheaded in Iraq

Satyendra Dubey

d 2003 Indian highway project manager Rubbed out by mafioso contractors after revealing corruption
Gary Howland d 2002 Internet cryptography Heroin overdose

Janis Jagars

d 2002 OpenPGP, Mixmaster Fall from Lobuche mountain, Nepal
Gene Kan 1977-2002 Gnutella portal, InfraSearch Suicide by gunshot

Phil Katz

1963-2000 PC compression utility PKzip Suicide by alcoholism
* Bohumil Sole 1934-1997 Co-inventor of Semtex Blew himself up with it while depressed
Yahya Ayyah 1966-1996 Palestinian bomb maker A booby-trapped cellular phone
Frederick Cuny 1944-1995 International relief expert Executed in Chechnya
Gerald Bull 1928-1990 Designer of Iraqi supergun Assassinated in Belgium
* Mickey Thompson 1928-1988 Dragsters and speed records Mob hit by vengeful business partner
Don Aronow 1927-1987 Designer of Cigarette and other high-speed boats Murdered by drug-smuggler associate
Benjamin Linder 1962-1987 Hydroelectric projects in Nicaragua Killed in Contra raid
* Dennis Barnhart ? - 1983 Founder of PC-clone maker Eagle Computer Ferrari through the guard rail after a celebratory lunch on the day of his IPO
Peter Goldmark 1906-1977 33 RPM records, 1st color TV Car accident
Henry Smolinski and Hal Blake d 1973 Winged automobiles A suddenly wingless automobile
Mitrofan Nedelin d 1960 Headed Soviet launches at Baikonour Excessive devotion to schedule
Edwin Armstrong 1890-1954 Invented most of radio Bankruptcy, suicide
Alan Turing 1912-1954 Undecidability, Enigma code-breaking, early computers Suicide by cyanide after medical treatment for homosexuality
John Whiteside Parsons 1914-1952 Early work on rocket fuels, Satanist follower of Aleister Crowley Killed in mysterious explosion in his house
James B. Lansing 1904-1949 Early work on loudspeakers (JBL/Altec) Suicide while depressed, aggravated by losing company
Thomas Midgley 1889-1944 Leaded gasoline, CFCs Paralyzed by polio, then strangled by a harness while getting out of bed
Walter Thiel ?-1941 Designed the V-2 rocket engine Direct hit on his Peenemunde bomb shelter
Wallace Carothers 1896-1937 Inventor of nylon Depression, suicide
Alberto Santos-Dumont 1873-1932 First European powered flight Suicide over military use of aircraft
Peter Palchinsky 1875-1929 Leading Russian mining engineer Executed by Stalin
Clara Haber 1870-1915 Contributor to Haber-Bosch nitrogen fixation Suicide when her husband invented poison gas
Rudolf Diesel 1858-1913 The eponymous engine Suicide after loss of control over technology
Thomas Andrews 1873-1912 Designer of the Titanic Drowned after collision with iceberg
Charles O'Connor 1843-1902 Western Australia water supply Suicide after constant criticism
Otto Lilienthal 1848-1896 Early man-carrying gliders Crashed in thermal
Sir Thomas Bouch 1822-1880 Victorian railway engineer Disgrace after death of 75 in collapse of his Tay Bridge
Horace L Hunley d 1863 Financier of the Confederate submarine, HL Hunley Drowned during sea trials in Charleston SC
Horace Wells 1815-1848 First use of nitrous oxide as pain reliever Disbelief, chloroform addiction, suicide
* Archimedes ~287-212 BCE Volume of the sphere, principles of buoyancy and leverage Dissed a Roman soldier
And let me mention one other figure, a particularly important one in my field. He wasn't doomed, and in fact had a spectacular career, but he did come to an untimely end:
Seymour Cray 1925-1996 Leading supercomputer designer Killed in an SUV rollover

Comments? Additions? Mail to: jlr@world.std.com

(c) John Redford

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