One look at the past and we will find that history is filled with many stumbling blocks. The path walked by our forefathers was not always smooth. They had their fair share of mistakes and blunders. Some of these blunders started as tiny mistakes, but with time they grew to be big enough to change the course of history. Let’s take a look at the biggest mistakes ever made in history.
1. A faulty repair of a Japanese Boeing 747 resulted in 520 deaths, resignation of Japan Airlines then President, the suicide of an inspection engineer, a guilt-stricken maintenance manager, and a one-third drop in air travel in Japan.
On August 12, 1985, Japanese Airlines Flight 123 was scheduled to travel from Tokyo’s Haneda Airport to Osaka International Airport, Japan. Twelve minutes after the takeoff, the Boeing’s aft pressure bulkhead burst open. As a result, the aircraft suffered an explosive decompression which allowed unpressurized air to rush into the cabin. The ceiling around the rear laboratory started collapsing. The pilots somehow managed to keep the plane in the air for next 32 minutes after which it crashed in between the ridges of Mount Takamagahara.
Out of the 509 passengers, only four survived the crash. The 15 crew members too lost their lives in this incident. The cause of the aircraft crash was later revealed to the public following an official inspection. Seven years ago in 1978, the aircraft was involved in a tailstrike incident which damaged the rear pressure bulkhead. When the bulkhead was repaired, the technicians did not use the approved repair method. The faulty repair reduced the metal fatigue resistance of the bulkhead which led to the Boeing’s crash seven years later.(1,2)
2. Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin approached Excite CEO George Bell in 1999, to sell their search engine at $1 million. After rejecting the initial offering, the pair went down to $750,000, but Bell still rejected it. Today, Google is valued at around $498 billion.
Google was founded by Larry Page and Sergey Brin in January 1996 when they were both Ph.D. students at Stanford University. In the beginning, they called it “BackRub.” Later it was changed to Google.
In 1999, Page and Larry went to Excite CEO George Bell to sell Google. They offered to sell it for $1 million, but Bell rejected the offer. Vinod Khosla, the founder of Khosla Ventures who was also one of Excite’s venture capitalists, talked to both Page and Larry. He convinced them to bring down the price to $750,000, but Bell rejected it again. Had Bell accepted the duo’s offer, he could have been the owner of the current $498 billion conglomerate.(1,2,3)
3. During Mao’s China in 1958, thousands of sparrows were killed because they were believed to be pests. As the sparrows decreased, locusts and other insects increased and ravaged crops in China. This led to the Great Chinese Famine which killed 20-45 million people.
In 1958, Chinese ruler Mao Zedong introduced a campaign called the “Four Pests.” in to eradicate four pests: mosquitoes, rodents, airborne flies, and sparrows. Among the sparrows, the Eurasian tree sparrow was specifically targeted as it ate grain, seed, and fruits. People started shooting sparrows, breaking their eggs, destroying their nests, and killing the young chicks. Also, the citizens started banging pots and pans which would create noise and wouldn’t let the sensitive birds rest. As a result, hundreds of sparrows died from exhaustion. Within a year, about 220,000,000 sparrows were killed.
But what the Chinese leader didn’t realize was that along with eating seeds and grains, the sparrows also ate insects which were otherwise harmful to the crops. Without the sparrows, the population of insects started increasing. They harmed the crops, and as a result, the rice yields began to decrease. The locust population too boomed and soon they were swarmed in the fields. China began suffering from famine, and the result was the Great Chinese Famine which went on from 1959 to 1961.(source)
4. Before they went on to become an international star, the Beatles auditioned for Decca Records on 1 January 1962. Committing one of the biggest mistakes in musical history, Decca rejected the band stating that: “The Beatles have no future in show business.”
Just like other bands, Beatles too struggled a lot before their success. They faced many rejections including one from the Decca Records. On the New Year’s Eve in 1961, the Beatles drove for ten hours to reach the Decca Studios located in north London. On 1 January 1962, the band auditioned for the Decca staff. They performed on fifteen different songs in just an hour. The songs were recorded, but eventually, Decca Records rejected them, saying: “The Beatles have no future in show business” and “Guitar groups are on the way out.” Instead, they chose Brian Poole and the Tremeloes, who were a local band and would require less travel expense.
But rejecting the Beatles turned out to be a big mistake. That’s because just after their rejection from Decca Records, the popularity of the Beatles began to rise in London, and after that, they became an international sensation.(source)
5. Gavrilo Princip, who shot Archduke Franz Ferdinand, got the chance to assassinate him because the archduke’s driver made a wrong turn. Had the driver gone the right way, World War I might not have happened, and the history of the 20th century could have been completely different.
Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and his wife, Sophie, were visiting the capital of Bosnia on June 28, 1914. At the same time, six Bosnian-born Serb terrorists were waiting along the route of archduke’s entourage. They wanted to avenge the 1908 annexation of Bosnia by the Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary. When one of the terrorists got the opportunity, he threw a hand grenade at the archduke’s car. But the archduke and his wife escaped the attack, and the grenade only wounded other members of the entourage.
The angry archduke arrived at the town hall reception, but instead of going to the museum, the royal party decided to visit the wounded in hospital. But while driving towards the hospital, the driver took a wrong turn. The driver put the car into reverse and coincidentally stopped just five feet away from 19-year-old Gavrilo Princip. Astonished at the opportunity, Princip fired twice and killed both the archduke and his wife.
Their death led to a series of events. The Astro-Hungarian empire declared war on Serbia. Russia joined Serbia to defend it. France and Germany too declared war in support of their ally Austro-Hungary. At first, Britain was not interested in the war, but when Germany’s war plan involved an attack on Belgium and France, Britain was obliged to honor its treaties to defend both these countries. Hence, World War I began, and the world’s history changed forever.(1,2)
6. In 1988, due to a communication gap and shift change, the staff on the Piper Bravo Oil Rig were not aware of the lack of a safety valve in one of the pumps. As a result, gas started leaking out leading to a huge explosion killing 167 people and $3.4 billion in damages.
Pier Alpha was an oil and gas production platform located in the North Sea. At one time it was Britain’s largest single oil and gas producing platform. The explosion on the rig occurred during a series of construction and upgrading work. On 6 July 1988 at 12 in the afternoon, the pressure safety valve of one of the pumps was removed for routine maintenance. Since the work could not be completed before the shift ended, it was temporarily sealed, but the safety valve was not set in place.
During the shift change, a lack of communication occurred and the staff of next shift was not aware of the lack of safety valve. At 9:55 pm the pump lacking the safety valve was turned on. Soon gas began leaking out and ignited. The firewalls on the oil platform failed to control the fire causing an explosion which killed 167 people.(1,2)
7. English soldier Henry Tandey came face to face with young Adolf Hitler on a French battlefield during WWI but decided to spare the wounded soldier’s life. Had Tandey shot Hitler that day, the world would have been saved from one of the most reviled dictators and mass murderer of all time.
In 1938, a British war hero of First World War, Henry Tandey, received a phone call from Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. The Prime Minister had just returned from Germany after a fruitless meeting with Hitler to persuade him not to start another war. In Germany, Chamberlain was invited to Bavaria, Hitler’s hilltop retreat, where he was shown a reproduction of the famous painting “The Menin Crossroads.” The painting depicted a soldier carrying his wounded comrade on his back at the Battle of Ypres in 1914. The man carrying the wounded soldier was Henry Tandey.
During the phone conversation, Chamberlain told Tandey that Hitler has recognized him as the man who had spared his life in a battlefield twenty years ago. According to Hitler, on September 28, 1918, Private Henry Tandey was serving near a French village where he encountered a wounded German soldier. But instead of shooting him, Tandey let him go. The then 29-year-old soldier was Adolf Hitler.(1,2)
8. The biggest fire in California history, the Cedar Fire, was caused by a hunter while he was putting out flares but ended up in spreading the fires over 270,000 hectares costing the lives of 15 people and an estimated loss of $1.5 Billion.
The story of Cedar Fire began on 25 October 2003. Sergio Martinez, a hunter from West Covina, was lost in the Cedar Creek Falls of Cleveland National Forest after being separated from his partner. As the sun started going down, Martinez lit a signal flare and sent it high into the sky to mark his location. By then, his partner had called for help on a cell phone. As help was approaching, a person who resided near the forest noticed smoke. When he called 911, he was told that it’s nothing and the police already know about it.
But by 5:38 p.m., calls started pouring into 911 reporting the growing blaze. When San Diego CountySheriff’s Deputy Dave Weldon arrived in his helicopter, the flames covered an area about the size of half a football field. He radioed for air tankers and helicopters. At 6:05 p.m. he found the lost hunter Martinez and carried him to the helicopter as he could not walk due to exhaustion.
The fire signal sent by Martinez on 25 October started the Cedar fire burning 280,278 acres of land, destroying 2,820 buildings, and killing 15 people before being finally contained on 4 November 2003. It still remains one of the largest wildfires in California history.(1,2,3)
9. German war general Field Marshall Erwin Rommel was at home celebrating his wife’s birthday when Allies launched the D-day attack. Left without their finest tactician, the German soldiers could not launch an effective counter-attack leading to the Allied victory on the Western Front.
The Normandy landing on 6 June 1944 was the largest seaborne invasion and marked the beginning of the Allied victory on the Western Front. The successful invasion of D-day is credited to two things: the weak weather forecasting system of Nazis and the birthday of Mrs. Rommel.
According to the Allied forecasters, the weather would improve sufficiently on June 6 to allow landing. But the German forecasters failed to predict the improvement in the weather. Believing that the weather was too bad to make an attack, Rommel went home to celebrate his wife’s birthday. On the same day, many senior commanders of The Seventh Army, which was in charge of the defense of Normandy, went away to Rennes for a war game. Thus, when the Allied force landed in Normandy on June 6, the Nazis were caught off-guard.
Rommel received the information of the landing on the morning of June 6. He started back immediately but couldn’t reach Normandy before evening. By that time the Allies had successfully established themselves on all five major landing areas which later proved to be the most important factor in their victory.(1,2,3)
10. As it was very difficult for the Russian empire to maintain its territory in Alaska, they sold it to America for $7.2 million. About 20 years later, huge oil and natural gas reserves were discovered underneath. Alaska is now worth billions and billions of dollars more than the price at which it was purchased.
According to historians, the first Russian settlement in Alaska began in the 17th century. Since then, Alaska remained a part of Russian territory until the late 19th century. During this time, the Russian Empire was finding it hard to maintain its foothold in Alaska due to the constant threat of a war with its enemy, the British Empire. So, Russia negotiated with the US and sold Alaska on March 30, 1867, for 7.2 million dollars.
When Russia sold Alaska, it was believed that there was not much which could be gained from this piece of land. But that notion turned out to be false after the discovery of oil at Prudhoe Bay in 1968. Since then, huge reserves of oil have increased the value of Alaska several times more than the initial price for which the US purchased it. Recently, in 2017, about 1.2 billion barrels of oil have been discovered and is considered as the biggest onshore discovery in the US in three decades.(1,2,3)