Humans have made a number of costly mistakes, some of which have literally changed the course of history. We list some of the greatest mistakes in world history.
If you can learn from the worst times in your life, you will be ready to move on to the best times in your life.
Can a butterfly flapping its wings start a storm? Most likely not. And yet, if you look back in time, you will find numerous examples of small and seemingly insignificant acts that had inexplicable and sometimes even dire consequences.
In the following sections, we present some of the greatest mistakes made in human history. These are not presented to emphasize the extent of human folly, but are meant to be seen as lessons we should all learn from and try to ensure that mistakes like these don't happen again in the future.
The most famous mistakes in history
Sinking of the Titanic
The RMS Titanic was the largest and most luxurious ocean liner of the time. She was considered "unsinkable," and although she could hold a total of 64 lifeboats, which together could have saved more than 3,547 people, she actually carried only 20. When the Titanic struck an iceberg on her maiden voyage in 1912, it sank along with it 1,500 of its 2,200 passengers to the seabed.
Russia sells Alaska to the United States
In the 1860s, Alaska was part of Russia. However, when the Crimean War broke out, Russia found it was unable to defend this region against the combined powers of Britain, France and Turkey.
At the time, the importance of oil was unknown, and prospects for gold mining in Alaska seemed slim. Since the possibility of Britain conquering Alaska and blockading Russia altogether seemed all too real, Russia decided to sell it to America, hoping that doing so would upset British plans. Russia sold Alaska to the US for just 2 cents an acre. However, this turned out to be one of the biggest mistakes in Soviet history. In just 50 years, the US was able to earn from Alaska more than 100 times what it invested in the purchase.
NASA loses the Mars Climate Orbiter
NASA lost its $125 million Mars Climate Orbiter in one of its biggest design and development failures. In 1999, Lockheed-Martin engineers used the imperial system of measurement when designing part of the orbiter module, while the rest of the NASA team used the standard metric system.
Because two different measurement systems were used, the spacecraft's navigation system failed to receive the correct coordinates, and as a result, it crashed into orbit and was lost forever.
The leaning tower of Pisa
The cornerstone of the Leaning Tower of Pisa was laid in 1173, but due to wars and other political reasons, construction took 199 years to complete. However, its iconic slant was not what its builders originally desired. The tower tilted early in construction as it was built on soft ground and the foundation gave way under its weight. Since then, many efforts have been made to stabilize the tower and prevent it from collapsing while maintaining the incline that has made it so popular.
Atahualpa agreed to meet Fransisco Pizarro
Atahualpa ascended the throne of the mighty Inca Empire after executing his older brother in a civil war following the death of their father.
In 1532, Spanish conquistador Fransisco Pizarro landed on the South American coast and established a settlement in Peru. He set out with only a handful of men to meet Atahualpa. Atahualpa, with his army of 80,000, did not consider Pizarro a threat, which turned out to be deadly folly.
Pizarro set traps and was able to capture Atahualpa. He then ransomed Atahualpa's life for gold and later used it to bring down the entire Inca Empire. Pizarro later even executed Atahualpa.
The Dutch discover Australia but ignore it
Almost 100 years before British explorer Captain James Cook landed on its east coast, the Dutch had already discovered Australia but ignored it, thinking it was nothing more than a useless desert land.
The Dutch ship Duyfken, commanded by Willem Jansz, is believed to have explored nearly 200 miles of Cape York's west side in 1606. When they first landed, they had to face attacks from the local aborigines, which prevented them from further exploring the land.
The Chernobyl reactor meltdown, described as the worst nuclear disaster in human history, is believed to be the result of gross negligence on the part of the authorities responsible.
On April 26, 1986, nuclear experts conducted a test in Ukrainian (then in the Soviet Union) on one of the four reactors at Chernobyl. They turned off the backup cooling system and used only eight boron carbide rods to control the rate of atomic fission instead of the 15 required by standard test procedure.
This set off an uncontrollable chain reaction that destroyed the reactor's steel and concrete lid and emitted nearly 100 times more radiation than the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs combined. The Chernobyl disaster killed 4,300 people and left more than 70,000 permanently disabled.
JK Rowling rejected by 12 publishers
JK Rowling, who was a client of Christopher Little Literary Agency, was rejected twelve times in a row for her first novel. Finally, when the eight-year-old daughter of an editor at Bloomsbury expressed her desire to read the rest of the book, Bloomsbury decided to publish Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. However, the editor believed this novel was going to be a huge flop, going so far as to advise Rowling to look for a spare job for the day.
What happened after that is history. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, which was published in 1997 (UK) and the following four novels in the series, became the fastest selling books of all time with a combined total of 450 million copies sold worldwide. It is the best-selling book series in literary history.
Alexander does not name an heir
Alexander the Great was the king of the ancient Greek kingdom of Macedonia. By the age of 20 he was on the throne and by the age of 30 he had established one of the greatest empires of antiquity, stretching from Greece to Egypt and well into north-western India.
However, Alexander died in 324 BC. at the young age of 32 from the effects of consuming wine made from a poisonous plant. His death was sudden and unexpected, and he didn't even have a legitimate heir at the time.
There have been claims that Alexander made his bodyguard Perdiccas his heir by giving him his signet ring. But Perdiccas did not assume power, suggesting that if born a boy, Alexander's unborn baby should be the king. However, this arrangement was not accepted by the supporters of Alexander's half-brother Philip Arrhidaeus.
When Alexander IV was born, he and Philip III were proclaimed joint kings, but disagreements between supporters of both persisted. Later, when Perdiccas was assassinated, Macedonian unity collapsed and the great empire eventually disintegrated.
China adopts isolationism
By the 14th century, the Chinese Navy was one of the greatest in the world, thanks to its unrivaled nautical technology and numerous other inventions. They had already established trade connections to the Persian Gulf almost 50 years before the first European ships circumnavigated the African continent.
The Chinese Navy was poised to expand its influence beyond India and Africa, but the Chinese emperors opted for a policy of isolationism and made all overseas trade illegal. They stopped investing in treasure fleets and even made it a felony to sail off the coast of China in a multi-masted ship.
If this mistake had not been made, it would probably have been China that colonized most of the world and not the Portuguese, Spanish, British or Dutch.
In 1936, the airships or zeppelins, large rigid airships filled with hydrogen, seemed to have a promising future. The Hindenburg, one such German airship, successfully carried a total of 1,002 people and completed 10 return flights between Germany and the United States.
However, the US imposed export restrictions on Nazi Germany, forcing operators of the Hindenburg to fuel her with highly explosive hydrogen gas, even though she was designed to run on helium gas.
On May 6, 1937, the Hindenburg caught fire while landing in Lakehurst, New Jersey, which completely consumed her. This disaster killed 36 of the 97 passengers. This incident received a huge amount of negative media coverage, which eventually marked the end of the era of rigid airships for commercial transport.
Trojan horse destroys Troy
The walls of Troy could not be breached; not even by the formidable Greek army that invaded in the 12th century BC. had gathered at their gates. So the Greeks decided on an entirely different tactic. Pretending to have left the war, they sailed to the nearby island of Tenedos. They left a huge wooden horse as a peace offering to the gods. They also "abandoned" Sinon, a Greek soldier captured by the Trojan army.
Sinon managed to convince the Trojans that the horse was a sacrifice to the goddess Athena and that if allowed through the gates Troy would remain impregnable. Cassandra, the daughter of Priam (king of Troy), as well as the seer-priest Laocoon tried to warn that this was a deceptive Greek tactic, but they were not heard.
The horse was brought in through the gates and that same night as Troy slept Greek warriors dismounted from this hollow horse and opened the gates of Troy allowing the Greek army entry. This eventually led to the downfall of the once impregnable city of Troy.
British Petroleum's Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded on April 20, 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico. After the rig sank, a gush of oil flowed from the seabed for almost 87 days, after which it was sealed on July 15, 2010.
The first explosion occurred when high-pressure methane gas from the subsea oil well expanded into the drill pipe and rose to the rig where it ignited and exploded. Eleven of the 126 crew members are believed to have lost their lives in that blast, while many others were rescued and treated for injuries. The oil spill that followed occurred at a rate of around 62,000 barrels per day.
It was estimated that a total oil spill of 4.9 million barrels (210 million US gallons) resulted from this accident, affecting an area of approximately 2,500 to 68,000 square miles, destroying natural habitat and ecosystem and causing the death of numerous plants and animals.
Prior to the 2006 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, BP was also responsible for another oil spill in Alaska's Prudhoe Bay. This oil spill was attributed to BP's failure to properly inspect its oil pipelines for corrosion. This spill, which lasted five days, spilled 212,252 US gallons of oil over an area of 1.9 acres, making it the largest oil spill in Alaska to date.
The fatal wrong turn
On the morning of June 20, 1914, nineteen-year-old assassin Gavrilo Princip plotted to kill Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria. However, after his original plan failed, he went to Morizt Schiller's café for a sandwich.
Then, in an unexpected turn of events, Leopold Loyka, the driver of the Archduke's carriage, made a wrong turn and drove right in front of an astonished prince, who immediately seized the opportunity and shot the Archduke, his wife, and Loyka.
This event triggered World War I, which killed 16 million people and plunged the world into the Great Depression. The economic crises, coupled with the humiliating Treaty of Versailles that Germany had to sign to end the war, led to the rise of nationalist dictator Adolf Hitler, who again set in motion a chain of events that led to World War II, where another 60 million people died People died, an unfathomable amount of money was lost, and the age of nuclear weapons began.
Uncontrolled fire in Cerro Grande
What started as a mandatory fire in Cerro Grande, New Mexico in 2000 due to the winds and drought conditions escalated into a wildfire that burned nearly 48,000 acres and left nearly 400 families homeless.
B-2 stealth bomber crash
In 2008, a B-2 stealth bomber was destroyed on takeoff when some faulty sensors on it messed up its barometric pressure readings, causing it to stall and crash. The B-2 was the most advanced American jet of the time. His crash was one of the costliest ($1.4 billion) in USAF history.
Nuclear disaster on Three Mile Island
The 1979 Three Mile Island meltdown was one of the largest nuclear disasters in American history. This accident happened when a malfunctioning piece of equipment caused water intended to cool the reactor to leak from its tank, which the plant operators, due to their insufficient training, could not understand and fix. Although no lives were lost in this disaster, nearly $1 billion was spent on repairs and cleanup.
Explosion on the Piper Bravo oil rig
In May 1994, inspectors on the Piper Bravo Oil Rig in the North Sea removed all safety valves for inspection during a routine check. However, when it was replaced, it was forgotten to reinstall a safety valve. Unaware that a safety valve was missing, a worker pushed the start button, causing gas to leak into the rig. This gas ignited and led to an explosion that killed 167 of the 226 men working on the rig.
Exxon Valdez crash in Prince William Sound
In 1989, Captain Joe Hazelwood got drunk and crashed the Exxon oil tanker into Prince William Sound, spilling around 760,000 barrels of crude oil off the coast of Alaska. The captain was found guilty and later convicted of negligently discharging oil.
Decca Records rejects The Beatles
On New Year's Eve 1961, the Beatles auditioned at Decca Studios, where they threw out 15 tracks in a matter of hours. These songs were a mix of both mainstream and original numbers. However, their performance failed to impress Dick Rowe (A&R), who famously told Brian Epstein (manager) that "guitar groups are on the way out". Decca didn't sign the Beatles, but five months later they signed George Martin to Parlophone - part of EMI Records - in what, history has it, became one of the most successful artist-producer collaborations of all time.
Austrian army attacks itself
In the Battle of Karánsebes (1797 – 1791), about 100,000 Austrian troops camped in the village of Karansebes. They sent some scouts ahead to watch the enemy (Turks) advance. However, instead of finding the enemy, the scouts came across a couple of gypsies from whom they bought alcohol.
The scouts took the alcohol back to base camp and started drinking. As they got more and more drunk, their little party started to get louder. This caught the attention of some other soldiers in the camp who wanted to join.
However, the Boy Scouts did not want to share their liquor, and a dispute soon broke out over it. Amidst the drunken chaos, someone shouted that the Turks had arrived. Some of the soldiers fled while others rallied and began fighting, killing every man in sight.
When the dust finally settled on this madness, it turned out that the Turks hadn't really attacked and the drunken Austrian soldiers had killed about 10,000 of their own brothers in arms.
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