Quite the Cost: Expensive Mistakes Made Throughout History, Ranked
Nobody is perfect. We all make mistakes. But not every mistake has the same impact.
Some mistakes turn out to be so costly and disastrous that they've made historic changes to the world around us. In order to know which mistakes are the most expensive throughout time, we've adjusted the grand totals for inflation.
30. The Buckling Millennium Bridge - $45.6 Million
On June 10, 2000, London residents flocked to the River Thames to take their first steps across the newly constructed Millennium Bridge. As the bridge filled with people, it started to rock back and forth, swaying everyone in terror. The bridge was shut down almost immediately.
29. Tiger Woods Bogies His Marriage - $129 Million
In 2009, professional golfer Tiger Woods' spotless career came to a screeching halt. Days after a National Enquirer article alleged he was cheating on his wife, Woods crashed his Escalade into a neighbor's tree at 2:25 in the morning, signaling trouble was afoot. Soon women from all walks of life came forward to publicly confess their affairs with the sports star.
28. NASA’s Monumental Measurement Mistake - $192 Million
After a closely monitored, 10-month journey through space in 1999, NASA lost its Mars orbiter satellite. During a key operation, the wrong commands pushed the spacecraft too close to Mars' atmosphere, where it likely burned into pieces. What could have caused this interplanetary blunder?
27. A Florida Theme Park’s Unamusing Collapse - $196 Million
In late 1989, construction began on a 75-acre theme park in Four Corners, Florida. Only a few miles away from Walt Disney World, the $100 million project was going to be the sister site of China's celebratory Splendid China park in Shenzhen. The park promised to incorporate miniature replicas of China's greatest monuments and throw performances with 60 artists and dancers.
26. The Legendary Lost Lotto Ticket - $215 Million
When you’ve been married to someone for more than 50 years, it takes a lot to really irritate one another. So imagine the incredible frustration one 70-year old woman felt in 2010 when she realized her husband threw out her $141 million dollar-winning lotto ticket.
25. A Stockbroker’s Serious Snafu - $295 million
In December of 2005, a small typing error caused a $225 million loss at the Tokyo Stock Exchange. A trader at Japanese company Mizuho Securities tried selling 610,000 shares at 1 yen, which equals less than a penny apiece, of a job recruiting firm.
24. New Jersey’s Failed Race to the Top - $469 Million
This $400 million mistake cost New Jersey an important grant. In 2010, Governor Chris Christie admitted a midlevel official made a clerical error in the state's Race to the Top grant application. Instead of providing their 2008 and 2009 school budgets, the official offered their 2010 and 2011 budgets by mistake.
23. The Sinking Millennium Tower of San Francisco - $550 Million
In 2005, construction started in downtown San Francisco on the new Millennium Tower. At 645 feet, it would be the largest residential building in the city, complete with gorgeous views and high prices for wealthy residents. Construction was completed in 2009, but it wasn't until 2016 that residents caught wind of the news: the tower was sinking.
22. A Controlled Fire That Got Out of Control - $1.5 Billion
A controlled burn is a wildfire set intentionally to safely preserve healthy wilderness and farmland. Unfortunately for the town of Los Alamos, New Mexico, high winds and extreme drought in May 2000 turned a routine controlled burn into the disastrous Cerro Grande Fire.
21. The B-2 Bomber’s Billion Dollar Breakdown - $1.7 Billion
The Spirit of Kansas, a United States Air Force stealth-strategic bomber, met its untimely end in February of 2008. The B-2 bomber had previously logged 5,100 flight hours, but it crashed mere moments after takeoff from an air base in Guam.
20. A Californian’s Colossal Calamity - $1.7 Billion
A rookie hunter got lost in the woods of West Covina, California in 2003 and made a terrible mistake when he tried calling for help. Instead of firing off shots or lighting a flare, the man chose to start a small brush fire to attract attention. His rescue attempt resulted in the 273,000 acre Cedar Fire.
19. Quaker’s Thirst for Snapple - $2.4 Billion
In 1994, Snapple was everywhere. The beverage company was making waves with its natural flavors and charismatic Snapple Lady commercials. Quaker Oats Co. thought Snapple was a strong contender to compete against big soda juggernauts and purchased Snapple for $1.7 billion.
18. One Bank Executive’s Enormous Error - $2.8 Billion
In 1983, Toshihide Iguchi was an Executive VP and U.S. Government bond trader at Daiwa Bank's New York branch. While at work, Iguchi lost $70,000 by mistake during a routine trade of Federal Reserve Notes. In an effort to keep his job and protect his reputation, Iguchi concealed this hefty loss.
17. Nuclear Meltdown at Three Mile Island - $2.95 Billion
On March 28, 1979, the worst nuclear disaster in American history occurred at Three Mile Island’s Nuclear Generating Station. An early morning malfunction triggered the partial nuclear meltdown, but it could have been avoided. Operators reportedly ignored many warning signs that led to the malfunction.
16. George Lucas’ Lucrative Loss - $3.4 Billion
George Lucas is the iconic brain behind the Star Wars franchise. However, before Lucas became the success story he is today, film studios were reluctant to bring his vision to life. In order for Lucas to produce Star Wars, he had to sign over merchandising rights to 20th Century Fox.
15. The Explosion at The Piper Alpha Oil Rig - $7.3 Billion
The Piper Alpha was Britain's largest oil and gas producing platform, bringing in over 300,000 barrels of crude oil each day. On July 6, 1988 in the North Sea, gas leaked out of a temporary cover and set the rig ablaze. It quickly became the world's deadliest oil rig accident ever.
14. Exxon Valdez’s Disastrous Oil Spill - $9 Billion
On the evening of March 23, 1989, Exxon Valdez left Alaska for California with 53 million gallons of crude oil onboard. Late at night, the ship struck a well-known navigation hazard in Alaska’s Prince William Sound. The ship’s hull was instantly punctured, leaking 11 million gallons of crude oil into the water.
13. Morgan Stanley’s Mortgage Market Meltdown - $11.1 Billion
Howie Hubler was responsible for the single largest trading loss in Wall Street history. While at Morgan Stanley, the former bond trader purchased risky subprime mortgages. His risky behavior resulted in a massive net loss of almost $9 billion, contributing to the financial chaos of the 2008 Recession.
12. The Challenger Explosion - $13 Billion
The ill-fated launch of NASA's Challenger space shuttle lasted for 73 seconds before completely exploding. All seven of the astronauts died in the wreckage, including Christa McAuliffe, a schoolteacher who would have been the first civilian in space. Televisions across the country broadcast the historic launch, and viewers of all ages watched the chaos in real time.
11. The Columbia Shuttle Catastrophe - $18 Billion
On the Columbia's 28th and final takeoff from Earth, foam insulation broke off and damaged the shuttle’s left wing. Several members of NASA pushed for a closer look to see if the damage was crucial, but senior officials declined further investigation and the mission continued as normal.
10. France’s Fuller Train Fail - $22.2 Billion
The French Railway Train Company ordered 2,000 new trains in 2014 with more modern features and custom dimensions. The problem? The new trains were too wide to fit in some of the more regional stations. The train company failed to take into account that some of the older train stations from 50 years ago had much smaller measurements.
9. Russia’s Alaskan Deal Gone South - $37 Billion
The Alaskan Purchase was America's acquisition of Alaska from the Russian Empire in 1867. Then Russian Emperor Alexander II of Russia deemed the Alaskan territory too difficult to defend in case of invasion and was looking to sell. For $7.2 million, the United States acquired Alaska from Russia, but little did anyone know how valuable the property actually was.
8. Scott Thompson’s Tech Troubles - $60 Billion
In 2012, former Yahoo! CEO Scott Thompson was not well regarded by investors. He needed to do something to get back into their good graces and save the company. In a bold move, Thompson sold 20% of Yahoo's stake in Alibaba. At that time, Alibaba was a private company with a $30 billion valuation.
7. The Disaster at Deepwater Horizon - $71 Billion
Transocean and British Petroleum's Deepwater Horizon oil rig was responsible for the worst oil spill in U.S. waters in April, 2010. An uncontrollable blowout caused an explosion on the semi-submersible rig that instantly killed 11 crewmen. Two days later, the Horizon sank, with oil gushing from the sea floor into the Gulf of Mexico.
6. Ron Wayne’s Sour Apples - $95 Billion
He's the equivalent of the 'fifth Beatle'. Ron Wayne had the potential to be a household name like Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, the founders of Apple. Wayne joined the Apple co-founders to oversee mechanical engineering and documentation in exchange for a 10% stake in the company.
5. AOL’s Dot Com Bust - $141 Billion
It was the biggest corporate merger of all time. In 2000, AOL acquired Time Warner, the largest media and entertainment conglomerate, for $162 billion. The merger was at the forefront of the dot-com bubble at the turn of the new millennium, but excitement over the purchase didn't last long.
4. Blockbuster’s Big Blunder - $157.3 Billion
Before Netflix was the streaming giant it is today, it was a DVD-by-mail rental company in the early 2000s. The struggling company was nothing like the dominant entertainment behemoth it is today, and it needed support. That's why Netflix CEO and co-founder Reed Hastings reached out to Blockbuster in hopes of getting acquired by the reigning rental business.
3. Fukushima’s Nuclear Disaster - $212.9 Billion
As a result of a major earthquake in Japan in March 2011, a 48-foot tsunami crashed into the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. The impact of the water disabled the power supply and resulted in a nuclear meltdown in all three reactors. But could this have been avoided?
2. Excite passed on Google: $748 Billion
In 1999, dot-com era champion Yahoo was leading the pack in search engine sites. Its second place competitor, Excite.com, had the opportunity of a lifetime to expand its business. For a mere $750,000, Excite could have purchased young upstart Google. Excite passed on the offer.
1. The Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster - $836 Billion
The Chernobyl disaster in the Ukrainian SSR is the largest nuclear meltdown in history. During a safety test in 1986, a considerable number of oversights contributed to an unexpected power surge at the Soviet power plant. The surge resulted in an explosion and subsequent fire that emitted radioactive waste through the smoke.