The most expensive mistakes in history
Nobody likes making mistakes, especially when there’s money on the line. Even mistakes costing as little as fifty cents can be pretty darn frustrating, so imagine how you’d feel if you had made one of the most expensive mistakes in history. These people made mistakes costing thousands, millions, and even billions of dollars, and some of them even cost people their lives. From causing horrible disasters to disastrous corporate mergers, expensive mistakes come in all shapes and sizes. We’re counting down to the most expensive mistake in history, so hopefully whatever you’ve fudged up lately won’t seem so bad in comparison.
30. The Hateful Eight guitar
Quentin Tarantino’s 2015 western The Hateful Eight follows a bounty hunter played by Kurt Russell as he escorts a criminal played by Jennifer Jason Leigh through a wintry Wyoming landscape. On his way to collect his prize money for her capture, they meet up with a variety of shady characters.
Unfortunately, there was a very expensive blooper on set. In a scene where Russell takes a guitar from Jason Leigh and smashes it, he accidentally smashed a 150-year-old Martin guitar instead of a balsa wood prop. The guitar was on loan from Martin Guitars and was worth $40,000. Martin will no longer loan out guitars from their collection for filming.
NEXT: A mistake in filing an application cost schools in this state millions.
29. New Jersey schools
Cost: $4 million
“Race to the Top” was a $4.35 billion U.S. Department of Education competitive grant awarded to schools serving kindergarteners through 12th grade students. Unfortunately for schools in the state of New Jersey, an application error led to their schools missing out on $4 million in funding. Even more embarrassing, New Jersey had very publicly announced their bid for the fund.
It turns out when they were filling out the application, the administrators responsible used data from 2011 instead of 2009 as the application required. This mistake ended up keeping the state from getting any “Race to the Top” money at all, and it was a bad moment for then Governor Chris Christie.
NEXT: This high profile mistake was truly a bridge too far.
28. Millennium Bridge
Cost: $6.3 million
Before it was unveiled to the public, the Millennium Bridge across the river Thames in London was hailed as, “a pure expression of engineering structure,” and “an absolute statement of our capabilities at the beginning of the 21st century.” Unfortunately for the people behind the project, the Millennium Bridge got off to a shaky start.
When the bridge opened in 2000, the first pedestrians to cross felt it swaying beneath their feet. Engineers had designed the bridge to withstand wind and weight, but not the simple motion of a crowd of humans walking across. The mistake took $6.3 million and two years to fix.
NEXT: This submarine could have taken an unexpected dive.
27. The heavy submarine
Cost: $11.4 million
In 2013, the Isaac Peral was set to be the first in a new class of diesel-electric submarines when the discovery of an expensive mistake led to a big set back. It turned out that the submarine was 70 tonnes overweight because an engineer had put a decimal point in the wrong place early in the planning process.
To offset the weight of the enormous submarine, engineers were forced to make it even longer. By adding about six meters of length to the sub’s hull, they were able to make it more buoyant. Unfortunately, the mistake still cost them $11.4 million.
NEXT: This attempt at innovation turned out to be a multi-million dollar mistake.
26. New Coke
Cost: $34 million
One of the most notorious product flops in history, New Coke was an ill-fated attempt on the part of Coca-Cola to compete with Pepsi’s growing popularity. In 1985, New Coke was released. It was a sweeter-tasting soda that Coke hoped would make Pepsi’s sales go flat.
However, New Coke turned out to be an enormous and costly mistake. Nobody liked it and Coke fans were so upset that the original flavor had to be brought back. Coke had spent $4 million to develop the new flavor and was left with $30 million in unsold New Coke, for a grand total of $34 million lost.
NEXT: He was once a co-founder of one of the biggest tech companies. Now some people call him the unluckiest man in the world.
25. Apple founder sells shares
Cost: $35 million
Most of us know Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak as the founders of Apple, but back in the 70’s when it all began there was a third founder. Ron Wayne actually drew the first Apple logo and wrote the Apple I manual. However, tensions between Wayne and Jobs led to him selling his stock.
Wayne had a 10% share in Apple, which he sold in 1978 for a mere $800. Had he held on to those shares, they would be worth at least $35 million today. Luckily, Wayne has made peace with his choice. He told The Daily Mail, “I made a decision that allowed me to pursue my interest. I honestly don’t regret walking away at all.”
NEXT: This rail line found out the hard way that bigger isn’t always better.
24. Trains too wide for the rail
Cost: $68.4 million
In 2014, French train operator SNCF ordered 2,000 new trains for their lines in Paris and throughout France. Unfortunately, the trains were too wide to fit into the platforms at some of the older stations in France. The mistake arose because SNCF officials had measured stations built 30 years ago but failed to account for stations that had been built 50 or more years prior when trains were much thinner.
To correct the error, construction was needed to widen the platforms at over 1,000 train stations in France. All told, fixing the mistake cost $68.4 million.
NEXT: This story will make you think twice before you throw old laptops away.
23. Lost bitcoin
Cost: $127 million
James Howells is a British IT worker who made a mistake that cost him over a hundred million dollars. In 2009, Howells began using his personal laptop to mine the cryptocurrency bitcoin. Although his laptop eventually stopped working, he held onto the drive that contained his 7,500 bitcoin, worth $127 million today.
Then, in 2013 he mistakenly put that drive in the bin, and it was taken out with the trash. As late as 2017, Howells was still lobbying his city to allow him to search the landfill for his lost bitcoin. Unfortunately, the drive is by now certainly buried under six years of waste, and according to the city undertaking a search would cause a “huge environmental impact on the surrounding area.”
NEXT: This couple lost even more money when they took out the trash.
22. Tossed the winning ticket
Cost: $147 million
Be careful with your lottery tickets folks! In 2010, a British couple holding a winning ticket worth $147 million were unable to claim their prize. It turned out, the husband had mistakenly thrown the ticket away and ended their lottery dreams. Can you imagine the fight they must have had next?
If you believe in the lottery curse, it’s possible that losing the ticket was a blessing in disguise. Many lottery winners have ended up penniless or losing their loved ones. Some have even been murdered. However, we have to admit that if we won the lottery, we’d take our chances with the curse.
NEXT: A simple mistake caused one of the biggest shipwrecks in history.
21. Crashing the Titanic
Cost: $168 million
Before she set sail on her maiden voyage, the Titanic was known as an unsinkable ship. It was the largest ocean liner built at the time and was specially designed to make the long journey from England to America. Unfortunately, as we all know, the Titanic did not live up to its unsinkable reputation.
The crew ignored warnings of an iceberg ahead, which led to disaster and death for many on board the ship. Titanic’s whole right side scraped the iceberg, and the enormous ship sank. 1,517 people were killed in the accident because the ship wasn’t carrying enough lifeboats for all the passengers.
NEXT: Failing to convert between inches and centimeters led to this mission getting lost in space.
20. Mars Climate Orbiter lost
Cost: $193.1 million
The Mars Climate Orbiter was a NASA space probe launched in 1998. It was supposed to orbit Mars and study the red planet’s atmosphere and surface, but due to a miscommunication, it was lost in space forever.
NASA had two teams working on the project: a spacecraft team in Colorado and a mission navigation team in California. One team worked with navigation data in metric units, while the other team was working with imperial units. They failed to communicate the different units while trying to get the craft into Mars’ orbit, and ultimately lost the spacecraft which cost $193.1 million.
NEXT: Keep reading to see the most expensive typo ever.
19. A broker’s typo
Cost: $225 million
This story will have you proofreading everything twice before you hit send for the rest of your life. In 2005, stock for the company J-Com was accidentally listed at 610,000 shares for 1 yen each when the company meant to sell shares at 610,000 yen each. The mistake tanked the stock’s price and led to an investigation.
The brokerage firm that had made the error was able to buy most of the shares back and recover the stock’s price, but it cost them the equivalent of $225 million to fix a typo. That’s why you should always double-check your work.
NEXT: This automotive flop is a textbook example of big marketing mistakes.
18. Ford Edsel
Cost: $250 million
In 1958, Ford spent $250 million on a new line of cars that they were convinced were going to be the next big thing. The Edsel was a large, gas-guzzling family car that Ford claimed had been built based on extensive customer surveys. Unfortunately, Ford’s team had a tendency to skew their data to match their pre-existing notions of what their customers wanted.
After building a car their customers didn’t really want, things got even worse for Ford. The stock market went into decline just as the car was released, leaving their middle-class target market reluctant to spend on big items. All told, Ford spent $250 million on making this failed car.
NEXT: Russia probably regrets selling this territory to the U.S. at such a low cost.
17. Russia sold Alaska
Cost: $700 million
In 1867, Alaska was a Russian territory that was rapidly bleeding money. Russian merchants and bureaucrats had found some early financial successes there, but demand for higher salaries among officials was making Alaska more costly than it was worth despite newly discovered gold mines.
So, Russia made a deal with the U.S. to sell the chilly territory for just $7.2 million. Over time, Alaska would turn out to be more valuable than Russia ever could have imagined. Thanks to Alaska’s rich gold and oil industries, America has made back over $700 million on the deal. That’s more than one hundred times what we paid for the 49th state.
NEXT: A simple mistake caused the worst nuclear accident in American history.
16. Three Mile Island
Cost: $836.9 million
In 1979, disaster struck at a nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania. A pressure valve in the reactor at Three Mile Island malfunctioned, causing water contaminated with radiation to flood the buildings. Meanwhile, the nuclear core got dangerously close to melting down. In the event of a nuclear meltdown, radiation would have leaked into the earth exposing thousands of people to dangerous levels of contaminants.
At one point, a large hydrogen bubble had formed in the plant, which many feared would lead to a total meltdown. Luckily, engineers were able to shut down the reactor and crisis was averted. Containing the radiation and stopping the meltdown wasn’t cheap. The Three Mile Island incident cost $839.6 million to fix.
NEXT: See what happens when a controlled burn goes terribly wrong.
15. Cerro Grande
Cost: $1 billion
The Cerro Grande fire in New Mexico remains the state’s worst wildfire ever. It began as a controlled burn in Bandelier National Monument, but high winds carried the fire north, south, and east of its designated lines. The fire blazed into the neighboring towns of Los Alamos and White Rock.
The Cerro Grande fire burned 47,000 acres of New Mexico forest and struck 280 homes. 18,000 residents were forced to evacuate. Although the fire constituted an enormous loss for the people of New Mexico, fire management lessons were learned from the experience and those learnings are still in use today.
NEXT: This so-called “stealth” plane was anything but.
14. Stealth Bomber crashed on takeoff
Cost: $1.4 billion
In 2008, the B-2 stealth bomber was the most expensive plane in the Air Force arsenal. There were only 21 of the bombers made at that time. Despite the plane’s tremendous cost, it could still be brought down by a simple mistake…
During a test flight in Guam, a faulty sensor in a B-2 caused the plane to stall during takeoff. It immediately crashed, taking out $1.4 billion with it. Water had gotten into the sensor because a technique to deal with moisture in the engines hadn’t been properly communicated to the right personnel. Luckily the two pilots in the plane were able to safely eject themselves so nobody was killed in the incident.
NEXT: Sometimes even the best stuff on Earth can be a big mistake.
13. Quaker buys Snapple
Cost: $1.4 billion
Quaker’s acquisition of Snapple will go down in history as one of the worst corporate mergers of all time. In 1994, Quaker spooned out $1.7 billion from their oatmeal empire to buy the iced-tea company. Commentators at the time criticized the price they paid, claiming they had seriously overvalued the company.
Though Snapple was quite popular, more established beverage companies quickly pumped out competing beverages. Snapple struggled to gain their footing and live up to Quaker’s hopes. Soon after, Quaker sold the beverage company in 1997 for just $3 million, taking a $1.4 billion loss on the whole deal.
NEXT: He tried to corner the market on copper, but he ended up in jail.
12. The “Copper King” falls
Cost: $2.6 billion
Yasuo Hamanaka was a shrewd investor with one big dream. Hamanaka’s desire was to corner the market on copper, but unfortunately, he resorted to manipulative practices. Though his shady dealings brought him success for a time, ultimately Hamanaka found himself in jail.
Copper is a tricky commodity, and the top copper holders in the world have startlingly small percentages of the stuff. With just 5% of the worlds’ shares of copper, Hamanaka was a power player. However, when the price of copper began to fall, his house of cards fell apart. All told, Hamanaka lost $2.6 billion in the course of his copper schemes.
NEXT: This movie company merger failed hard.
11. Sony buys Columbia Pictures
Cost: $3.2 billion
In 1989, Sony made a costly mistake in acquiring Columbia Pictures. Sony spent $4.8 billion to buy out the film studio, but a few years later they would grow to regret the purchase. Due to a series of box office flops, Sony announced in 1994 that they had no hope of making back their investment in Columbia. By that time, they had lost $3.2 billion in the deal.
Sony may be singing a different tune today. Columbia Pictures appears to be on an upswing thanks to movies such as Skyfall, The Amazing Spider-Man, and Men in Black 3.
NEXT: We’re heading into the top ten most expensive mistakes ever. Can you guess what’s coming next?
10. Exxon Valdez crash
Cost: $4.4 billion
A drunk driver caused the worst oil spill the U.S. had ever seen in 1989. The Exxon Valdez oil spill occurred when Captain Joe Hazelwood crashed the oil tanker into the Prince William Sound. Hazelwood was later convicted of operating the tanker while under the influence and negligent discharge of oil.
11 million gallons of oil were spilled in the accident, affecting 1,300 miles of the Alaskan coast. Wildlife was threatened and industries like fishing were severely impacted. The costs of cleaning up the spill, paying fines, and dealing with legal action added up to $4.4 billion.
NEXT: This horrible accident cost astronauts their lives, and cost NASA billions of dollars.
9. Challenger explosion
Cost: $5.5 billion
On January 28, 1986, the space shuttle Challenger was scheduled to take off. It was supposed to be the Challenger’s last flight, and the mission included scientific objectives and satellite deployments. Unfortunately, unpredicted temperatures caused a tragic malfunction.
Frosty temperatures the night before the launch caused rubber parts in the rocket boosters to freeze. The frozen parts didn’t seal the way they were supposed to, and the Challenger exploded, killing the seven astronauts on board. The space shuttle had never been tested at temperatures that cold, and sadly this oversight led to seven lives and billions of dollars being lost.
NEXT: This oil spill was the worst ecological disaster that Spain has ever seen.
8. Sinking of Prestige
Cost: $6.9 billion
Despite its illustrious name, by 2002 the Prestige was a rundown oil tanker with 26 years of transport work under its enormous belt. While carrying 77,000 metric tons of oil, the Prestige got caught in a storm off the coast of Spain. The ship took on water, causing engines to shut down. As the ship leaked oil into the ocean, the crew was evacuated.
After several days of debate and delay, the ship was finally brought into harbor in Spain. The ecological damage, cleanups, and legal fees cost $6.9 billion. If the ship had been better maintained, it likely would have withstood the storm and the oil spill never would have happened.
NEXT: You won’t believe how much this golfer’s cheating cost him.
7. Tiger Woods’ affairs
Cost: $12 billion
In 2009, shocking reports came forward detailing golfer Tiger Woods’ numerous extramarital affairs. The golfer’s formerly wholesome image took a big hit, and his bank account soon took a nosedive, too. Woods’ ex-wife Elin Nordegren was awarded a $750 million settlement in their divorce. But that’s not all.
Prior to the details about his divorce coming to light, Woods had had lucrative endorsement deals with companies like Nike and Gatorade. Woods’ sponsors dropped him, causing the golfer to lose even more. By some estimates, his indiscretions may have cost Tiger Woods as much as $12 billion. That’s a lot of golf balls.
NEXT: This 2011 incident was one of the most terrifying nuclear accidents ever.
6. Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster
Cost: $12 billion
Fukushima Daiichi was a nuclear power plant on the coast of Japan that unfortunately gained worldwide notoriety in March of 2011. An earthquake caused the reactors at the plant to shut down, but it also caused a tsunami. The tsunami shut down the plant’s backup generator, preventing the necessary cooling process from taking place.
Following this unfortunate chain of events, three nuclear reactors melted down and hydrogen explosions released dangerous radiation into the air. A 2012 investigation found that all of these events were totally preventable. Unfortunately, guidelines for the plant’s necessary maintenance had been ignored and disaster struck at Fukushima.
NEXT: Sadly, following the Challenger, another space shuttle mission met a disastrous end.
5. Columbia disintegrated on re-entry
Cost: $13 billion
The space shuttle Columbia crash of 2003 will sadly go down in history as another spacecraft accident that should never have happened. The shuttle was torn apart upon re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere because of a piece of foam that fell from the shuttle’s external tank, breaching its wing. All seven astronauts on board Columbia were killed.
When Columbia took off 16 days prior, a similar issue with falling foam had taken place, but nothing was done to correct the problem. This tragic incident led to the whole NASA space shuttle fleet being retired in 2011, and NASA bore tremendous public scrutiny for not taking precautions to secure the foam on the shuttle’s tank.
NEXT: Here comes the second most disastrous corporate merger of all time.
4. Mercedes-Benz buys Chrysler
Cost: $20 billion
Mercedez-Benz parent company Daimler Benz merged with Chrysler in 1998, intent on transforming the two companies into one international automobile powerhouse known as Daimler Chrysler. With one branch in the U.S. and the other in Europe, the company hoped to dominate the car market on both continents. Daimler Benz paid $37 billion for Chrysler, but unfortunately, the deal didn’t stand the test of time.
Due to culture clashes and differences in quality, the two companies struggled to see eye to eye. Then, in the 2000s, a recession drove Chrysler sales into the gutter. Daimler Benz ultimately sold Chrysler in 2007 for $7 billion to Cerberus Capital Management firm, a company whose specialty is restructuring failing corporations.
NEXT: Coming in at number three, we have the worst oil spill of all time.
3. Deepwater Horizon oil spill
Cost: $61 billion
The Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is considered the worst oil spill in history. 210 million gallons of oil were spilled following an explosion on the drilling rig. Oil threatened marine and wildlife habitats from Louisiana to Florida, and the spill continued for months as workers attempted time and again to stop the flow of oil.
Ultimately, an investigation revealed that BP, the British company responsible for the Deepwater Horizon rigger, had cut corners on safety with disastrous effects. Cutting corners turned out to be very costly for BP. Cleaning up after the disaster and paying associated fines and legal fees has stuck the company with a $61 billion bill.
NEXT: In the number two spot, check out the biggest corporate merger mistake ever.
2. AOL buys Time Warner
Cost: $146 billion
In the year 2000, the Dot Com bubble was at its height. AOL was regarded as the hottest tech company in the world, and the Time Warner deal was hyped to the max. AOL paid $182 billion to buy Time Warner, adding Time Warner cable packages to their then-popular home Internet offerings.
Just a few months later, the Dot Com bubble burst, causing AOL’s value to decline rapidly. In 2009, Time Warner struck out on their own with a valuation of $36 billion. Newly single, AOL’s value had dropped to just $2.5 billion. In 2000, AOL thought their reign as the leading home Internet service would never end, yet just a few short years proved them very, very wrong.
NEXT: You’ve made it all the way to the top. Keep going to see the worst, most expensive mistake in history.
1. Chernobyl disaster
Cost: $590 billion
The Chernobyl disaster is the worst, most deadly nuclear accident of all time. The worst part is, it occurred due to some totally preventable mistakes. On April 25, 1986, a drill simulating a power outage at Chernobyl led to uncontrolled reactions and a steam fire that burned for nine days. 134 workers were hospitalized due to radiation exposure, and 31 of them died in the following few weeks.
14 of them would later die from cancer, possibly caused by the radiation. The Chernobyl power plant ran on a Soviet-designed reactor that wasn’t up to code for usage anywhere else in the world. Design flaws in that reactor caused the terrible incident, and irreparable damage occurred.