Occupations: innovators | The British Newspaper Archive Blog


Occupations: innovators and inventions

In thinking about using newspapers to discover more about the vast array of occupations that have existed over the centuries — some of which still exist while others have been lost to annals of time (bunters, decretists, and gummers, to name a few)  — it’s inevitable to end up thinking about the innovators and inventors who have made headlines over the years.

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Lasting power

Some inventions have lasting power and others, sadly for their inventors, do not.

Motorcycle of the skies

What in hindsight likely surprises no one, this one-man helicopter is no more. We don’t see our neighbours nipping to the shops via a modernised motorcycle of the skies nor do we see it in modern military transportation equipment. But we’ll always have this photograph printed in The Sphere to remember it by.

Motorcycle of the skies
Motorcycle of the skies | The Sphere | 1 March 1952


Thermos flask advert
Thermos flask advert | Graphic | 26 December 1914

James Dewar‘s invention, on the other hand, enjoyed phenomenal success — a success that is still in force today. The newspapers are full of adverts for his thermos flask. Unfortunately for Dewar, he did not patent his invention and, as such, did not benefit monetarily from his invention.

James Dewar obituary
James Dewar’s obituary | Dundee Courier | 28 March 1923

Inventors who died by their own inventions

Not all inventions are a success and, even those that are, can lead to tragedy. Some of history’s enterprising inventors and innovators have met their ends due to their own creations or experiments.

Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier

Balloon ascending
Montgolphier’s balloon ascending at Versailles 18 September 1783, carrying a sheep, a cock, and a duck | Britannia and Eve | 1 September 1936

Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier was the first known fatality in an air crash. He, along with Pierre Romain, were attempting to cross the English Channel in one of his Rozière balloons when it crashed on 15 June 1785. Both de Rozier and his companion died in the crash, which was from a height of around 450 m (1,500 ft).

Ballooning's success
Ballooning’s success | Britannia and Eve | 1 September 1936
De Rozier flight
De Rozier balloon flight | Britannia and Eve | 1 September 1936

Otto Lilienthal

Otto Lilienthal (1848–1896), an engineer occupied with the creation of a flying machine, died shortly after he crashed one of his hang gliders.

Fatal flying machine accident
Otto’s fatal flying machine accident | Grantham Journal | 15 August 1896

Find more on Otto and his fatal flight

Alexander Bogdanov

Alexander Bogdanov (1873 – 1928) was a Russian physician and founder of the Institute for Hematology and Blood Transfusions who, in an effort to produce eternal youth by rejuvenation, researched and experimented with blood transfusion. In his experiments, he gave himself a blood transfusion from a student who was suffering from tuberculosis and malaria. Bogdanov died from the effects of that blood transfusion (his death may have been a matter of blood type incompatibility).

Alexander Bogdanov
Notice of Alexander Bogdanov’s death | Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail | 9 April 1928

Marie Curie

Marie Curie (1867–1934), co-discoverer of radium and polonium and inventor of the process of isolating radium, died of aplastic anemia — a result of exposure to the radiation from her research material. During these early days of work on radioactive elements, the catastrophic and lethal dangers of radiation were not fully known or understood.

Notice of Marie Curie's death
Marie Curie’s death notice | Hull Daily Mail | 4July 1934


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