11 Examples of Irony in History that May Surprise You

Updated November 5, 2020
Otto Lilienthal's hang glider as examples of irony in history

Irony is most often defined as a contrast between expectations and realities in a circumstance. Throughout history there have been many examples of irony in a variety of different areas including politics, government, culture and media. Irony is often only recognized well after an original statement or occurrence since it often takes current perspectives to shed a greater light on a previous issue, statement or situation.

Examples of Irony in History

  • In the 1920s The New York Times often insulted crossword puzzles, claiming people would get bored of them. In 1925, after having made a derogatory statement the previous year, The New York Times declared, "The craze evidently is dying out fast." Today, The New York Times Sunday edition has one of the most well-regarded crossword puzzles in the world.
  • Gunpowder was accidentally created by Chinese alchemists in the 9th century who were actually attempting to find an "elixir of immortality."
  • Otto Lilienthal, creator of a flying glider, was killed by his own invention after declaring that it was one of the safest ways to travel.
  • Increased fighting, terrorism and religious tribalism engulfed the Middle East when the Bush administration handled the situation militarily after 9/11, stating that freedom and democracy could be brought to that population via the employment of American power.
  • Slaves were denied rights via the Bill of Rights, when in 1856 the U.S. Supreme Court determined that the 5th Amendment preserved the rights of slaveholders to keep slaves.
  • Just before being shot and killed, the Governor of Texas' wife had said to John. F. Kennedy: "Mr. President you can't say that Dallas doesn't love you," to which he responded, "That's very obvious."
  • The widespread introduction of the Kudzu vine into the U.S. in the 1930s was intended to prevent soil erosion and the government encouraged farmers to plant it. Instead of performing its intended job of preservation of nature, Kudzu chokes trees and plants as it grows and climbs.
  • In 1974 the Consumer Product Safety Commission had to recall lapel buttons it produced to promote toy safety because they contained lead paint, had sharp edges, and the clips could break off and be a choking hazard.
  • In 1893, Australia's Kalgoorlie gold rush uncovered large amounts of calaverite, or gold telluride. The mineral was mistaken for pyrite, fool's gold, and used for building material and street repairs. Years later, upon recognizing the gold content of the mineral, there was another gold rush - to excavate the town's streets.
  • H.G. Wells called what is now known as the First World War "the war that will end war." This phrase morphed several times to finally become "The War to End All Wars." Its untruth is clear in the final name of that war including the word "First."
  • The introduction of cane toads to Australia was intended to prevent the overpopulation of the cane beetle. Instead, not only did it not prevent that overpopulation, it resulted in the cane toads being an even worst pest and more of a danger to native animals and plants.

Finding Irony in History

Now, you have seen plenty of examples if irony in history. Looking back at what has happened in the past is always interesting. To learn about different types of irony, you can check out Examples of Irony.