April 19, 2024 | Samantha Henman

The 13 Dumbest Mistakes In History


Oops!

We all make silly mistakes in our everyday lives—but luckily, they rarely have any sort of impact beyond an embarrassing memory. Unfortunately, other people throughout the years haven’t been so fortunate—and their dumb mistakes end up in the history books for all to laugh at.

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Alexander The Great’s Successor

Few emperors in history have lived up to the record of Alexander the Great. He built the largest Western Empire of the ancient world—but he made one fatal, completely avoidable mistake.

Print of Alexander The Great - 1888Kinney Brothers Tobacco Company, Wikimedia Commons

Splitting Heirs

Just before he passed on, Alexander’s men asked him who his successor should be. His answer wasn’t exactly helpful. He just said “…to the strongest one”. He had a son on the way—though they didn’t know if the baby would be a boy or a girl at the time—this led to a power vacuum.

Screenshot of Alexander The Great laying at deathbed with his wife Roxana - from Alexander the Great (2014)Gruppe 5, Alexander the Great (2014)

Succession: Macedonian Empire Edition

Left to their own devices, Alexander’s generals fought amongst themselves for his various seats of power—and as they were distracted played their reindeer games, the empire he’d built crumbled, leading to the division of a once-great empire.

Screenshot of Alexander The Great looking at front with his soldiers - from Alexander the Great (2014)Gruppe 5, Alexander the Great (2014)

Lockheed Martin’s Mars Obiter

In the 1990s, Lockheed Martin began to build a new Mars obiter for NASA. A number of different teams within LM worked on it—and their communication skills were a bit lacking.

Workers at Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, install a telescopic camera on NASA Mars Reconnaissance OrbiterNASA, Picryl

Metric Vs Imperial

While one team working on the project used the metric system, another used imperial measurements. Somehow, this went completely unnoticed even after the team delivered the finished orbiter to NASA—and the results were disastrous.

NASA Mars Reconnaissance OrbiterNASA, Picryl

The Maiden Voyage

The mistake only became apparent when the orbiter was in space and formulating its trajectory around Mars. As a result, it flew too close to the planet’s atmosphere and disintegrated, making it a $125 million mistake.

Concept of NASA Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter during the critical process of Mars orbit insertion.NASA, Picryl

The Unsinkable Titanic

Okay yeah—calling it “unsinkable” was for sure the first mistake. Ignoring warnings about icebergs in the area was another. Actually crashing into the iceberg? Undeniably also a mistake—but there’s one about the sinking of the Titanic that people often forget.

Titanic Belfast 1912Unknown, Picryl

Reports Of My Sinking Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

As news of the Titanic reached shore on April 15, 1912, newspapers began to report on the disaster—but they had trouble keeping their stories straight. Some newspapers claimed that the ship was still afloat and getting a tow to nearby Newfoundland, Canada. The company that owned the Titanic just made things worse.

Sinking of TitanicEverett Collection, Shutterstock

Fake News

Some representatives of the White Star Line said that the passengers had all been rescued and were making their way to New York City via Halifax. One paper, the Evening Star, reprinted this claim—in direct opposition to what made the front page of the New York Times.

Of course, there was a massive loss of life, but it’s unclear whether White Star was attempting to cover it up or if they’d simply been misinformed.

Titanic post sinkingParamount , Titanic (1997)

The Rabbit Attack

In 1979, US President Jimmy Carter was enjoying a moment of solo fishing in a small boat when a bizarre incident occurred. A waterlogged rabbit—apparently, gnashing its teeth and with ill intentions in its eyes—swam furiously toward Carter. He scared it away by splashing water at it with an oar. But that wasn’t his mistake…

President Jimmy Carter  looking at camerapingnews.com, Flickr

Stranger Than Fiction

Sure, it’s not every day that a menacing, soaking wet rabbit makes an attempt on your life. I could see how you’d want to share the story—but maybe, being the president and all, Carter should’ve thought twice.

Jimmy Carter in office.The U.S. National Archives, Picryl

Going Down The Rabbit Hole

Carter shared the story with his whole staff, who initially didn’t believe him until a White House photographer backed him up. The story—ridiculous as it was—spread, and became fodder for both Carter’s appointments and political cartoons. It became a metaphor for the perceived weakness of Carter’s office…and a contributing factor, albeit minor, to his loss in the 1980 election.

Carter And Ford In A Debate, September 23, 1976David Hume Kennerly, Wikimedia Commons

A Victorian-Era Catastrophe

You know all those stereotypes about poor Victorian children from stories? Well, you can imagine what would happen if you packed a theater with 1,000 kids and said something about free toys. Now, combine the two, and you’ve got one of the most unnecessary and deadly incidents in British history.

Victorian era children outside.Library of Congress, Picryl

The Victoria Hall Disaster

In 1883, an variety show for children was held at Victoria Hall in Sunderland, England. Some 1,100 kids were there towards the end of the show when the an announcement was made that children with certain numbered tickets would receive a free toy and began handing them out from the stage. As children rushed forward, it was clear that the announcement had been a mistake.

Village School class pictureGranville public library, Picryl

The Aftermath

Sadly, the ill-timed announcement caused a crowd crush that took the lives of 183 children. Ultimately, the disaster was one of the driving forces behind the invention of the push-bar emergency exit.

A black and white photo of a group of children in hospital.Library of Congress, Picryl

The Exxon Valdez Spill

In 1989, a ship named the Exxon Valdez accidentally dumped 42 million litres of crude oil into a sound off of the Gulf of Alaska. It was one of the greatest environmental disasters in history—in fact, there’s still oil in the water there today. And it all happened because of a dumb mistake… two. Or three.

The Exxon Valdez remains in place in Prince Williams Sound after running aground.Defense Visual Information Distribution Service, Picryl

Mistakes Were Made

Not only was the Exxon Valdez severely understaffed at the time of the disaster, it was also off route from its normal path, which lead it onto a reef, causing the spill. However, the fault for it all really lies in the hands of one man.

Exxon Valdez Oil Spill - 1989NOAA's National Ocean Service, Flickr

The Villain

The ship’s captain, Joseph Hazelwood, had a few too many that night. Like, way too many to man a ship of that size. He handed the reins off to his third mate and went to his quarters to sleep it off. Unfortunately, his third mate was definitely not experienced enough to take command, and so he ended up hitting the reef.

The Exxon Valdez remains in place in Prince Williams Sound after running agroundDefense Visual Information Distribution Service, Picryl

The Challenger Disaster

Much like the Titanic, many of us are all too familiar with the Challenger disaster. And like the Titanic, many mistakes were made which compounded the problem—including basically every school teacher who wheeled a TV into their classroom that day, traumatizing a whole generation of kids. Of course, the saddest part is that it all could’ve been avoided—if not for petty bureaucracy.

Space Shuttle Challenger lands for the first time - 1983NASA, Wikimedia Commons

The O-Rings

The cause of the shuttle beings ripped apart in mid-air came down to a series of O-ring seals. They hadn’t been properly tested in all conditions, including cold weather—and the morning of the launch happened to be quite chilly. Ultimately, the seals failed, which caused the ship to rip apart. But the real cause only came out decades later.

Challenger's roll-out from the orbiter processing facility (OPF) to the vehicle assembly building  - 1983NASA , Wikimedia Commons

Told You So

In 2016, a former NASA engineer came forward and revealed the dark truth about that day. Bob Ebeling said that he and four other engineers had warned their bosses about the potential problem with the seals and had tried to stop the launch—only for management and the team at NASA to ignore their pleas.

NASA engineers in clean room.NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Flickr

Louis XVI & Marie Antoinette

The storming of the Bastille. The Reign of Terror. The executions of King Louis XVI of France and Marie Antoinette. These are just a few of the most memorable moments of the French Revolution—but that last part totally didn’t need to happen.

Marie Antoinette ExecutionUnknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

The Truth Hurts

Revolutionary propaganda—and later, the history books—have portrayed Louis XVI and his wife as indulgent and clueless. And really, there’s a basis in fact for that. After they were initially captured in October of 1789, Louis and Marie actually had every opportunity to escape—they were just too stupid to actually do it properly.

Arrest Of Louis XVIThomas Falcon Marshall (1818-1878), Wikimedia Commons

Minimum Security

After their capture, they were never really locked up. Still, it took two years for Louis and Marie to come up with a plan—and it wasn’t a good one. Here’s where the indulgent part comes in: They traveled with a huge caravan with all their fine china and a wine chest. And they didn’t keep a low profile either.

Portrait of Marie AntoinetteAnne Flore Millet, Wikimedia Commons

The Green-Eyed Monster

Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette also chatted with locals along the way and didn’t exactly try to disguise themselves. Part of where they failed was the fact that Marie’s rumored lover was the one helping him, and he had a pretty good plan—but Louis’ bruised ego caused him to send the dude away.

Louis XVI FactsBrecht Bug, Flickr

Off With Their Heads

Their antics were simply too ridiculous to ignore, and the revolutionaries quickly captured the deposed king and his wife again. As a result of their mistakes, they did not end their story living happily ever after under the guard of the King of Sweden, but instead were both beheaded in public.

Louis XVI executionUnknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

Nixon’s Palace Guards

Richard Nixon may have been a US politician, but he had a taste for European flair—in particular, the elaborate uniforms of the palace guards who served his fellow world leaders. So when he became President of the United States, he decided to do something about it.

Painting of Richard Nixon at office.James Anthony Wills, Wikimedia Commons

Pomp And Circumstance

Nixon commissioned new uniforms for his guards, with white jackets with gold braiding and brass buttons, striped pants, and high black hats. Then, during a state visit from UK Prime Minister Harold Wilson, he had Wilson introduce them. This did not have the effect he intended.

Kevin McNally as Harold Wilson speaking on phoneITV, Stonehouse (2023)

Oom-Pah-Pah

When the press saw the new uniforms, they couldn’t believe their eyes. They descended on Nixon’s misguided decision like vultures, making light of how gaudy they were and comparing them to movie theater ushers. Though Nixon stood his ground for a while, they eventually were retired and only used for formal occasions…before they were later sold to a state college marching band. Ouch.

Secret Service uniforms designed during Nixon administrationShawn Porter, Flickr

The Wicked Bible

We’ve all been there—spending hours poring over a document, only to catch a typo when it’s way too late. There’s probably one (or a few) in this very list! Accidents happen—but rarely do they happen in such a hilarious way as they did with the Wicked Bible.

Bookworms Would Know factsPieter Keur, Wikimedia Commons

Thou Shalt Not Omit “Not”

In 1631, printers to the English royal palace were working on a new edition of the recently translated King James Bible. When they sent it to press, it was nearly perfect—except for the omission of one word. It just so happened to create an incredible mistake, smack in the middle of the Ten Commandments.

Gutenberg BibleNYC Wanderer, Wikimedia Commons

Dos And Don’ts

The line should’ve read “Thou shalt not commit adultery”. Instead, it read “Thou shalt commit adultery”. Oops! The King was not happy—and he immediately began an investigation into how much a mistake would happen.

King James Bible, 1631 edition, in which the word Brett Jordan, Flickr

You’re Fired

The palace had mandated that the royal printers should be “learned” men—but things didn’t really end up that way. As a result, he fired the printers in question and ordered them to find and destroy all copies of the Wicked Bible. Despite their efforts…which might not have been their best efforts, considering…copies still exist today.

A Close-Up Shot of a Priest Holding a Bible and a RosaryMART PRODUCTION, Pexels

Napoleon’s Invasion

Roughly two centuries back, Napoleon made a plan to invade Russia. Hey, he’s not always portrayed in the best light historically, but he did have a long era where he showed off his prowess as a skilled general, right? Well…

Napoleon Bonaparte LithoFranz Eybl, Wikimedia Commons

Napoleon’s Trip To Russia

Unfortunately, Napoleon had everything working against him on this particular invasion. His men were exhausted from his other campaigns and morale was low. On top of that, he didn’t have enough food to feed his men OR his horses. But that wasn’t even the worst part.

David - Napoleon Crossing The Alps - Malmaison1Jacques-Louis David, Wikimedia Commons

Brrr…

Bad moods and a little bit of hanger could be contended with—but there’s something that Napoleon’s army wasn’t prepared for at all, despite their notoriety. That would be Russia’s harsh winters. The terrible conditions doomed Napoleon’s invasion of Russia, lost him some 380,000 men—and shattered his reputation forever.

Napoleon Bonaparte By Auguste RaffetLos Angeles County Museum of Art, Wikimedia Commons

Tiger Woods’ Expensive Mistake

People make mistakes all the time. People cheat (maybe they just read a misprint of the Bible). But when Tiger Woods cheated on his wife of five years, Elin Nordegren, he had no idea what an expensive mistake he was making. Though he did learn pretty fast.

Tiger Woods FactsPeetlesnumber1, CC-BY-SA-4.0, Wikimedia Commons

Not Out Of The Woods Yet

Nordegren pursued a divorce to the tune of $710 million—making it one of the costliest divorces in the world, and the priciest split in sports. But the real toll came as sponsors and advertisers dropped the famous golfer. All told, the cost of it all to Woods and the companies involved was estimated to be $12 billion.

Golfer Tiger Woods poses with girlfriend Elin NordegrenAndrew Redington, Getty Images

The Walkie-Talkie

I think most of us could admit that we have very little idea about what the architects and structural engineers who work on skyscrapers actually do—even though we put our lives in their hands. So when a new building went up in London at 20 Fenchurch street between January 2009 and April 2014, no one really batted an eye…until they looked directly at it.

20 Fenchurch Street - Walkie-Talkie BuildingMr Biz, CC-BY-SA-4.0, Wikimedia Commons

Avert Your Gaze

The building was nicknamed the “Walkie-Talkie” because of its distinctive shape—but that wasn’t the only strange thing about it. When the sun hit the windows at a certain time of day, it became sort of like a concave mirror and created a disastrous solar glare problem. The reflection melted bodywork on cards and doormats in stores on the ground caught fire.

Trinity House & Walkie Talkie buildingLoco Steve, Flickr

The Blame Game

Of course, those responsible ended up playing the blame game. The architect said that he’d added mitigating features which had been removed by others from later designs—even though he made similar mistakes on the Vdara hotel in Las Vegas. He also said global warming might be a factor. Ultimately, the city added an awning—but not before the building got nicknames like “Walkie-Scrochie” (meh) and the “Fryscraper” (much better).

Top of the Walkie-Talkie Skyscraper in LondonSamuel Sweet, Pexels


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