Shakespeare’s use of tragic irony in his works like Macbeth are well known, but what happens when tragic irony happens in real life? Turns out, history is full of examples of well-meaning people who met tragic, albeit ironic, ends when their attempts at invention went wrong. Here are some of Dice’s most ironic tragedies in invention history.
Franz Reichelt (aka “The Flying Tailor”) (1879-1912)
In a stunt likely not tried again until Disney’s 80’s classic Condorman, French tailor, Franz Reichelt coined his own nickname and jumped off the Eiffel Tower to personally test his self-designed parachute-like wingsuit. Despite several failed attempts using dummies and against the pleas of journalists and onlookers, Reichelt leapt and quickly became entangled in his suit, plummeting 187 feet to his death.
William Bullock (1813-1867)
William Bullock invented the Web Printing Press, which revolutionized the printing industry by improving speed and efficiency. Ironically, Bullock was accidentally killed by his own invention in a freak tragedy in 1867. Bullock attempted to kick a driving belt onto a pulley and had his leg crushed by his machine. Bullock would die soon after his injuries became infected.
Sylvester H. Roper (1823-1896)
One of the earliest motorcycle inventors, Sylvester H. Roper, possibly suffered a heart attack while demonstrating his Roper-steam velocipede at a bicycle track near Cambridge, Massachusetts. Roper completed the mile-long demonstration race in 2 minutes 1 second and reached top speeds of 40 mph on his two-cylinder steam-powered speedster before crashing on the track and passing away. Roper’s other inventions include a steam-powered carriage and a hand-stitch sewing machine.
Henry Smolinski (1933-1973)
Looking to invent the first commercially available flying car, Northrop engineer Henry Smolinski fused the wings and tail of a Cessna Skymaster airplane to the body of a Ford Pinto. What could possibly go wrong? Smolinski’s invention made it airborne before a wing detached sending it crashing to the ground killing its inventor.
That’s all for now. We at Last Call encourage invention–just take a few extra safety precautions before you get started.