Top Ten Mistakenly Harmful Inventions

Invention is a foundation of the human experience. From the wheel to the air conditioner, we are always seeking to improve our way of life through the advancement of technology. We fail at least as often as we succeed, but we remain tenacious in our endeavors. This list serves testimony to some of the worst gaffes in the history of human invention.


10. Seat Fuel Tank

The Seat Fuel Tank is ranked tenth because it is the one invention on this list that never went ‘live’. It was too tempting to include at least one contraption that was such a fail that it hardly made it off the drawing board. The Seat Fuel Tank represents this class of failed ideas with pride. Kenneth Brock will forever be remembered as the man who suggested fighter pilots strap into a seat filled with fuel. In theory, Mr. Brock was probably right: the extra fuel capacity could mean longer flight distances. However, try to convince the pilot to strap into his own personal bomb. Any jet that would implement Mr. Brock’s design would be the first to have a pilot eject because of an emergency only to have the fire follow him into the atmosphere.


9. Otto Lilienthal’s Glider

First, it must be mentioned that this guy was called the Glider King and sported king-sized marbles to do the things he did. Otto made gliders and tossed himself off high places in the name of progress. His work would later be referred to as instrumental by the Wright brothers, two boys from North Carolina who didn’t fail. Be that as it may, Mr. Lilienthal died during a gliding flight. His legacy is that he made the possibility of flying man practical, if not a bit hazardous. With a last name reminiscent of a Middle-earth elf, Otto Lilienthal is the one person on this list that might make a top ten list of inventors as well as the one before you. Here is an example that the road to inventive greatness is paved in cobblestones of failure.


8. Thalidomide

Darn you, morning sickness, and your natural symptoms of being pregnant! Have no fear, just eat a pill of thalidomide and rest easy. The only drawback is a high likelihood that your offspring will spin a wheel of fortune and pop out with one of many birth defects this drug causes. During the 1950s and 1960s, over 10,000 children were born with deformed limbs among other health complications. It turns out that taking this morning sickness pill is the equivalent of putting Chernobyl in your mouth. Surprisingly, tests are being done with this drug to help with cancer and AIDS. Good luck with that one.


7. Ford Pinto

Never has Ford been as riddled with criticism and lawsuits as when the Pinto roamed the streets. The Pinto has been a lock on most “worst car” lists from magazines to blogs and beyond. Legend has it that the placement of the Pinto’s fuel tank increased the likelihood of a rear end collision resulting in a fiery roast of the occupants inside the vehicle. Other faults have been noted in the Pinto’s brakes, transmission, and suspension. Twenty-seven had been credited to the vehicle’s faulty design. Constant criticism and media attention caused Ford to recall the Pinto in 1978. The Ford Pinto’s heyday of terrorizing the streets was over, but the car continues to live in pop culture as a metaphor for ill-conceived vehicles.


6. Olestra

It seems as if every failed invention is based off a failed promise and Olestra (aka Olean) is no different. A magical substitute for fat that adds no calories or cholesterol to products, Olestra became all the rave during the 1990s. It was especially common among prepackaged, frozen snacks. Suddenly, people were wondering where their loose stools, tummy cramps, and excessive diarrhea was coming from. FDA issued a label warning of these potential side effects in 1996. In spite of large opposition, the FDA repealed these labels due to an experiment they ran. It was concluded that Olestra did not have as an adverse effect as many thought. Eventually, the debate turned to the rats for an answer. It turns out that the rats which ate a mixed diet of Olestra potato chips with regular put on more weight than rats that ate regular chips alone—go figure. Olestra is now banned in many countries and regions such as Canada and the European Union.

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