Top 10 Most Expensive Mistakes In History

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Top 10 Most Expensive Mistakes In History

VOICE OVER: Peter DeGiglio
These expensive mistakes will blow your mind! For this list, we're looking at some of the costliest, most infamous errors in history. Our countdown includes Apollo 13, New Coke, “Star Wars” Billions, and more!
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Top 10 Most Expensive Mistakes in History


Welcome to WatchMojo and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the Top 10 Most Expensive Mistakes in History.

For this list, we’re looking at some of the costliest, most infamous errors in history.

Let us know which you think was the most embarrassing in the comments.

#10: Heavy Submarines

Maybe they are designed to reach astonishing depths, but that’s no good if your submarine is incapable of surfacing again. That’s exactly what happened to the doomed Isaac Peral class of Spanish submarine when designers realized that somebody at some point had carelessly left a decimal point in the wrong place. The sub was 100 tons heavier than it should be, meaning that if it submerged, it would never be able to return to the surface. Thankfully, the sub hadn’t yet been built, so the schematics were changed to make it longer and capable of supporting all that extra weight. Except, then there was another problem: the sub was now too large to fit into the port where it was being constructed.


#9: New Coke

In 1985, about a century after Coca-Cola first hit shelves, Coke decided to mix things up and rework the tried-and-tested Coke formula. The result was New Coke, one of the biggest marketing fails and disasters of all time. The simple fact was that nobody really liked New Coke. Coke wanted to make its drink taste more like Pepsi, which is a little sweeter than Coke, and it was a resounding failure. Though we understand trying to corner Pepsi’s share of the market, consumer capitalism is about choice; nobody wants to choose from two identical colas. There was just no reason for Coke to try and destroy its own business by changing the recipe.

#8: Ronald Wayne Sells Out

Hindsight is 20-20, which is why this error stings so much. Back in ’76, businessman Ronald Wayne met Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak and initially thought they had something with their fledgling computer company. Wayne went in with a 10% stake in Apple, but it wasn’t to last: less than two weeks on and he’d lost faith, selling those shares back to the company’s founders. As we all know, Apple went on to become one of the biggest companies and electronic manufacturers in the entire world, with over a billion “active iPhones” as of 2021. What we wouldn’t give for a time machine to the 70s so we could invest in the Apple shares Ron Wayne gave up!


#7: Wrong Trains

We’ve seen submarines too big for their ports, but what about trains too wide for their platforms? That’s what happened in France in 2014 when France’s national rail company SNCF put in an order for 2000 brand-new trains. The trains would fit many big, metropolitan stations like Paris’s newer infrastructure, but in rural France, the platforms were too narrow. This all happened because somebody at the French Rail Network gave SNCF the wrong measurements. SNCF was left trying to secretly widen the affected stations, but eventually, the error was made public. The trains themselves cost around $20 billion and modifying the platforms has cost over $60 million.

#6: Quaker Buys Snapple

In the early 90s, Snapple was only on the up; it had a few high-profile ad campaigns that meant it was able to hold its own in the competitive world of juice and soft drinks, making it look like a promising investment opportunity for Quaker Oats. Unfortunately, things didn’t go to plan; though Quaker Oats spent $1.7 billion on a deal it thought was a sure thing, after only three years Snapple was sold off again so that Quaker Oats could lick its wounds, for a meager $300 million. Perhaps a little embarrassingly, Snapple is still going strong. It seems that separating was the best thing for both of these brands.

#5: “Star Wars” Billions

In the mid-70s, nobody knew that “Star Wars” was going to become one of the biggest pop-culture properties in history. Production was expensive, difficult, and ran George Lucas into the ground. Not seeing its potential, 20th Century Fox made a deal with Lucas that he’d receive the royalties from merchandise sales. What followed set a new standard for merchandisable franchises, giving Lucas a personal fortune to the tune of billions of dollars. It was a grave error on the part of Fox, and saw the studio miss out on an absolutely obscene amount of money in the decades between “Star Wars’” release in theaters and Lucasfilms being acquired by Disney.

#4: Russia Sells Alaska

It’s easy to look at a map of North America and wonder why Alaska, isolated as it is on Canada’s western coast and completely separated from the US mainland, is one of the United States. But it’s been that way since the 1860s when the territory – then controlled by the Russian Empire – was sold by Tsar Alexander II to America for the low low price of $7.2 million. Today, that’s over $130 million, which is still a paltry sum when you consider how large and valuable Alaska is, what with its many oil fields. The reason the territory was sold was to recoup losses from the Crimean War, and because Russia doubted it would be able to defend Alaska from invasion anyway.

#3: AOL Buys Time Warner

In the year 2000, the “Dot Com Bubble” was at its height and it didn’t look like anything would slow down the meteoric rise of the internet. Ultimately, the internet’s development didn’t slow down, but the stock market did, leading to a recession. One of the biggest casualties was the merger of AOL and Time Warner in 2000, which even at the time was viewed by many as being a ridiculous idea. AOL spent a whopping $182 billion on merging with Time Warner, but years on, the companies split again. Today, Time Warner remains a major player in the media business, and while AOL still exists, it’s dead in the water. How the tables turned.

#2: Apollo 13

The basis of a blockbuster movie starring Tom Hanks, Apollo 13 was destined for the moon in 1970 – but it never made it. Thankfully, unlike many other space failures like the high-profile Challenger and Columbia disasters in 1986 and 2003 respectively, the astronauts in Apollo 13 all survived. The problem was that an oxygen tank had been damaged long before its installation in the spacecraft, which was described as a “bomb” by Commander Jim Lovell. That bomb went off, severely damaging the craft when it was already in space. The crew had to move into the lunar module so they would survive and then loop around the moon to return to Earth.


Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few Dishonorable Mentions:

Morgan Stanley’s Losses
Broker Howie Hubler Lost Billions of Dollars Speculating on Mortgages in the 2000s


Lost Bitcoin
James Howell Accidentally Threw Out a Hard Drive with $480 Million in Bitcoin on It

#1: Chernobyl

In 1986, the biggest nuclear disaster on record was triggered. The Soviet Union was initially extremely secretive about what had happened, with many downplaying the severity of the meltdown even when nuclear fallout spread as far west as Germany. But eventually, the truth came out, and it was revealed that a slew of errors was to blame for Chernobyl, making it an entirely avoidable tragedy. It was the human error of the unprepared shift workers combined with a fatal design flaw that was known about, but not fixed. The problem was that the control rods, made of boron, had graphite tips, and the graphite reacted with the core to cause the explosion. Without the cheap graphite, the disaster wouldn’t have happened.
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