History Life

The Most Expensive Mistakes in History

The Most Expensive Mistakes in History June 2, 2022Leave a comment

Failure leaves a bitter aftertaste, particularly when you've tried to give it your all but it just wasn't enough. Nobody wants to fail, but there is no way to avoid it. Even the most careful person is capable of messing up. But when money is involved, it can feel like you're working in a pressure cooker.

So the next time you mess up, remember that it can always be worse. A lot worse. And these extremely expensive mistakes in history are proof of this.

Million Dollar Super Mistake

Warner Bros.

Henry Cavill was done shooting his Superman scenes for “Justice League” and went on to shoot another film that required him to have a ton of facial hair. But then Warner Bros. needed the Superman actor to return to do a couple of reshoots. Unfortunately, Cavill couldn’t shave because of his commitment to the other movie, so the studio reportedly spent millions of dollars to give audiences the digital illusion that he was clean shaven.

Blockbuster Blunder


As Netflix’s popularity grew, Blockbuster’s popularity dwindled, but there was hope. In 2000, Netflix approached the video rental company with a proposal to handle the digital aspects of their business while they continued to run their physical rental stores. Blockbuster responded with a polite thanks but no thanks. Now there’s only one Blockbuster left in Bend, Oregon, while Netflix’s digital empire continues to grow by leaps and bounds around the world.

Goodbye Mars Orbiter


In 1999, NASA’s Mars orbiter was literally lost in space after a metric miscalculation sent it on a course towards oblivion. The mistake was the result of Lockheed Martin engineers using English measurements like inches and feet to program the orbiter’s course instead of NASA’s metric calculations like centimeters and meters.

As a result, the navigational computer was confused by the mishap and the $125 million orbiter ended up heading into the deepest regions of unknown space instead of Mars, which was its intended destination.

Scorching Skyscraper


A London skyscraper designed by Rafael Viñoly was dubbed the “Walkie-Talkie” because it looked like one and had all these awesome curves and a grill-like exterior. Unfortunately, the wall that faced south had reflective glass that redirected the sun’s rays towards the unsuspecting people below. As a result, the sun rays caused fires and melted things like cars. Luckily, they were able to stop this from happening by adding a permanent sunshade, which cost millions.

Texaco’s Costly Sinkhole


Texaco is an American oil brand of the Chevron Corporation responsible for its flagship product “Texaco with Techron.” Well one day, Texaco’s oil rig was drilling into the ground in Louisiana when the unthinkable happened. Without intending to, the drilling caused the salt pillars that held Lake Peigneur up to collapse.

As a result, a sinkhole formed and the lake went from 6-feet deep to 200-feet deep. This was a major environmental disaster and Texaco was obligated to spend $44.8 million for the unintentional mistake.

Titanic Mistake


On April 15, 1912, the RMS Titanic, a state-of-the-art ocean liner sank after striking an iceberg during her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York City. The loss of life was considerable. In fact, it’s estimated that over 1,500 died, but the monetary loss was pretty expensive too.

It was estimated that the loss of the ship set White Star Line back about $7.5 million, which would be about $168 million in today’s economy. If that weren’t bad enough, the bad press made potential customers nervous about getting on another ocean liner out of fear that they would suffer the same fate as those aboard the Titanic.

Costly Coke Flavor


Coke has been around for approximately 129 years and is still considered a lot of people’s favorite soda fountain drink at restaurants as well as at home. But in 1985, they decided to change things up by releasing a formula that was supposed to be sweeter, sort of like Pepsi. Sadly, the flavor did not impress customers, but it was the company itself that were left with a bitter taste in their mouths when their competitors’ stocks rose as a result of their mistake.

Train Headache


SNCF, a French train company, learned the hard way that it’s impossible to fit wide trains onto narrow railways. Unfortunately, by the time they learned this lesson, they had already bought 2,000 trains for $20 billion. Then they discovered that the trains were too wide to fit into most of the train stations the company needed them to travel to. So, SNCF had no other choice but to spend an extra $68 million to widen the train platforms so that the trains they spent billions on would fit.

Bitcoin Nightmare


Bitcoin is a form of digital currency that’s still a bit sketchy despite its ever-growing popularity. But back when Bitcoin first made its debut, an IT worker in Wales by the name of James Howells had 7,500 Bitcoins stored in his hard drive. Unfortunately, when the drive crashed, his Bitcoin collection was lost, too. Naturally Howells was pretty bummed out, but not as much as he was years later when he realized that his Bitcoins would have been worth about $127 million in today’s economy.

The Third Apple Founder


Most people are familiar with names like Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak as these two were responsible for founding Apple, the major tech company that’s developed things from PCs to laptops to tablets and phones. But there was a third founder named Ronald Wayne, who worked with the company for 12 days. Unfortunately, he sold his shares to Jobs and Wozniak for $800 thinking it would be a good idea. This was a decision he’s probably still kicking himself for as Apple is now worth an estimated $1 trillion.

King Tut’s Funeral Mask


In 2015, one of King Tutankhamen’s funeral masks suffered some serious damage at the Egyptian Museum after its beard started to fall off. So, the museum reached out to someone who could begin the restoration process, but then something went terribly wrong.

“Unfortunately he used a very irreversible material they said of the would-be fixer,” claimed the museum’s curator in an interview with the Associated Press. “Epoxy has a very high property for attaching, and is used on metal or stone—but I think it wasn’t suitable for an outstanding object like Tutankhamen’s golden mask.” 

The Wobbly Bridge


The Millennium Bridge in London was unveiled in June 2000 and was intended to make it easier for pedestrians to walk from one point to another. Unfortunately, the bridge earned the nickname “the wobbly bridge” because the increased number of pedestrians using it caused the bridge to shake. As a result, it took two years to modify the bridge so that it would stop swaying before it was safe to allow pedestrians to use it again.

School Funding Mistake


The State of New Jersey was set to received $400 million in federal funding for education courtesy of the “Race to the Top” funding. This amount would have benefited so many students and teachers as well. Unfortunately, the state didn’t provide the necessary data such as the budget information comparing the 2008 school year to the 2009 school year, so New Jersey lost out on the bid for the massive educational fund. And it was not the last time this happened either.

Raise to the Top Fail


Race to the Top was a $4.35 billion educational grant from the United States Department of Education, and states were in a bidding war to get it. Unfortunately, New Jersey failed to attain the grant once again when the administrations filling the application out used data from 2011 instead of 2009 like the application required.

As a result, New Jersey fell 3 points short of winning the grant. So, they did not come out on top in their Race to the Top, and the ones that had the most to lose from all this were the students.

$39 Flights


In 2006, the airline Alitalia offered $39 flights from Toronto to Cyprus, at least, that’s what customers assumed. But it turns out that the cost was a typo. The airline wanted to offer the flights at a cost of $3,900, not $39.

Regardless, two-thousand tickets were sold at the extremely low cost before the airline realized they had made a mistake and corrected it. But at that point, there was no way they could deny the people who had bought the tickets for their flight. So, they allowed them to board their flights, but the mistake set Alitalia Airlines back millions.

"The Hateful Eight" Guitar


Kurt Russell made an expensive mistake in the 2015 western “The Hateful Eight,” directed by Quentin Tarantino. During one scene, the actor took a guitar from Jennifer Jason Leigh, who plays a criminal in the film, and smashes it. The only problem was that he smashed a 150-year-old Martin guitar worth $40,000 instead of a balsa wood prop. The guitar was on loan from Martin Guitars and they no longer loan their guitars out to film studios after this costly incident.

Enormous Submarine

David Nagle/U.S. Navy/Getty Images

In 2013, the Isaac Peral was designed to be the first diesel-electric submarine, but there was a major setback when it was discovered that an engineer placed a decimal point in the wrong spot during the design stages of the project. As a result, the submarine was 70 tons overweight, so the engineers had to go back to the drawing board and add an extra six meters of length to the ship’s hull to keep it from sinking all the way to the ocean floor. This redesign ended up costing $11.4 million, too.

$147 Million Lottery Ticket


In 2010, a British couple won the lottery, and they were very excited, too. But that excitement turned to horror when the husband threw the ticket away by mistake. As a result, the couple had no way of proving that they had in fact won, and to add insult to injury, the lottery was for $147 million. This would have changed their lives forever. And while there’s no way of knowing for sure, it’s a safe bet that this caused quite a bit of arguing from the wife who wasn’t very happy with her husband’s careless mishap.

A Broker’s Mistake


In 2005, a broker accidentally listed the stock for the company J-Com as 610,000 shares for 1 yen each when the company actually intended to sell the shares at 610,000 yen each. This typo caused the stock’s price to jack knife and led to a major internal investigation. Luckily, the brokerage firm behind the mistake bought most of the shares back and recovered the stock’s price, but their mistake still cost them $225 million. After this incident, everyone at the firm made sure to double check their work.

Unpopular Edsel

SSPL/Getty Images

In 1958, Ford spent $250 million on the Edsel, a new car line that they believed was going to revolutionize family cars. But the Edsel was bulky and a total gas guzzler. Also, Ford learned that the team that had conducted the customer surveys that inspired them to build this car had fudged their data. And it became very clear that middle-class customers had no interest in the Edsel whatsoever. But Ford had also spent millions in making this car model they ended up living to regret.

Alaska Was Sold

Buyenlarge/Getty Images

In 1867, Alaska belonged to the Russians, but they didn’t want it because it was costing them a lot of money to pay officials' salaries. So, despite the gold mines in the area and the success of Russian bureaucrats and merchants of the time period, the Russians sold the landmass to the United States for $7.2 million. But over time, the gold and oil industries in Alaska made the United States over $700 million, which is over a hundred times the cost that the Russians got in the deal.

Three Mile Island Nuclear Leak

Jeff Fusco/Getty Images

In 1979, a pressure valve in the reactor at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania released radiation-contaminated water when a pressure valve malfunctioned. This caused the buildings to flood while technicians raced to prevent the nuclear core from melting down.

Had there been a meltdown, the radiation would have escaped into the soil and endangered locals. Luckily, the techs were able to shut the core down, but the entire incident, including the process of fixing the valve wound up costing $839.6 million.

Cerro Grande Wildfire

PAUL BUCK/AFP/Getty Images

What started out as a controlled fire in Bandelier National Monument in New Mexico turned into a disaster when high winds pushed the fire north, south and east of its designated lines. This led to the Cerro Grande wildfires, one of the worst in the state’s history.

In fact, things got so bad that the blaze expanded into the towns of White Rock and Los Alamos. In the end, 18,000 residents had to evacuate as the fire consumed 47,000 acres of the forest and encompassed 280 homes. All in all, the damage set the state back $1 billion.

Stealth Bomber Crash

Bob Riha, Jr./Getty Images

In 2008 the B-2 stealth bomber, a highly-sophisticated Air Force plane that cost $1.4 billion, took off. It was one of 21 bombers made at the time. Unfortunately, the plane had a faulty sensor which caused it to stall immediately after taking off during a test flight in Guam.

Fortunately, the two pilots aboard were able to eject to safety before impact. But the plane itself crashed and an investigation into what happened showed that water got into the sensor because a technique to deal with that type of moisture in the engines wasn’t properly handled.

Quaker Acquired Snapple

Mario Tama/Getty Images

In 1994 Quaker, the major oatmeal empire, acquired Snapple, a popular iced-tea company that sold flavored drinks like raspberry, kiwi strawberry and more. The acquisition cost Quaker $1.7 billion and was considered a major mistake. This became evident when other beverage companies rose to the top and gave Snapple a run for its money. So, Quaker eventually sold Snapple for $3 million in 1997, taking a 1.4 billion loss on their original deal.

The Copper Marketing Fail


Yasuo Hamanaka was an investor who wanted to dominate the market on copper. Unfortunately, his business practices were less than noble, but no one realized that this was how he had become successful.

Also, he was considered a person with a position of power because he was one of the top copper holders on the planet. But his copper schemes were revealed when the price of copper fell. In the end, he lost $2.6 billion and was also placed behind bars.

Sony’s Columbia Pictures Acquisition


In 1989, Sony spent $4.8 billion to acquire Columbia Pictures. Sadly, Columbia Pictures released a couple of movies that flopped at the box office and the losing streak continued. So, in 1994, Sony had lost $3.2 billion and realized that they would not be able to earn back the money they had invested. But years later, things started to look up as Columbia Pictures released some serious hits like “Men in Black 3,” and “The Amazing Spider-Man,” to name a few.

Exxon Valdez Oil Spill

Bill Nation/Sygma via Getty Images

Captain Joel Hazelwood crashed an oil tanker into the Prince William Sound which resulted in the Exxon Valdez oil spill, one of the worst spills seen in the history of the United States since 1989. 11 million gallons of oil were spilled across 1,300 miles of the Alaskan coast.

This not only impacted the fishing industry but also placed the wildlife in the area in serious danger. As a result, Hazelwood was charged and convicted with operating the tanker while under the influence. He was also charged with negligent discharge of oil. In the end, the cost required to clean up the oil spill, as well as the legal costs and fines for what he had done, set Exxon back by $4.4 billion.

Challenger Disaster

Oxford Science Archive/Print Collector/Getty Images

On January 28, 1986, the space shuttle Challenger took off on its last flight before being decommissioned. But suddenly, hot gases from the rocket slipped past the O-rings in two of the shuttle’s SRB segments.

And 73 seconds after the launch, the right SRB triggered the rupture of the external fuel tank causing liquid hydrogen and oxygen to ignite, which led to the Challenger’s explosion that killed seven astronauts. The malfunction set NASA back $5.5 billion, and the families of those lost were inconsolable.

Prestige Oil Spill


By 2002, the Prestige oil tanker had 26 years of transport work as an oil tanker, but while carrying 77,000 metric tons of oil, the rundown tanker encountered a terrible storm off the coast of Spain. Then the ship started taking on water which caused the engines to stall.

Left with no other choice, the crew had to abandon ship while oil from the cargo they had been hauling started to spill into the ocean. Several days later, the ship was brought into the Spanish harbor, but the cleanup, legal costs and ecological damage was in the range of $6.9 billion.

Tiger Woods’ Love Affair

David Cannon/Getty Images

In 2009, reported rumors of professional golfer Tiger Woods’ various love affairs came to light. All of a sudden, Woods found his seemingly flawless image tarnished. It was later discovered that the rumors were true, which gave his ex-wife Elin Nordegren the necessary ammunition to get a $750 million settlement during their divorce.

But this wasn’t the only hit Woods took. He was also dropped by companies like Nike and Gatorade, which he had endorsement deals with. Some say that the lost of those sponsors set him back an additional $12 billion.

Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Disaster

Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

In March 2011, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant gained notoriety around the world for all the wrong reasons. It turns out that an earthquake caused the reactors to shut down. To add insult to injury, the quake caused a tsunami that shut down the plant’s backup generator which caused the cooling process to stall.

This resulted in three nuclear reactor meltdowns and hydrogen explosions that released radiation into the atmosphere. When the disaster was over, an investigation was conducted in 2021 that revealed the disaster could have been prevented if the proper maintenance guidelines had been followed.

Columbia Disaster

Matt Stroshane/Getty Images

In 2003, the space shuttle Columbia was heading back to Earth when a piece of foam detached from the shuttle’s external tank and breached its wing. This caused the vessel to explode when it attempted to re-enter the atmosphere. All seven astronauts aboard Columbia were lost.

Oddly enough, a similar issue had occurred when the Columbia had taken off 16 days earlier but no action was taken to correct the flaw that could have prevented the loss of all hands aboard the ship, not to mention $13 billion.

Mercedes-Benz's Chrysler Deal

Thomas Niedermueller/Getty Images

In 1998, Mercedes Benz’s parent company, Daimler Benz, merged with Chrysler and became Daimler Chrysler. The merging was intended to create a new powerhouse in the international automobile industry. They even set up a branch in the United States and another one in Europe to dominate the industry in two continents.

But it cost Daimler Benz $37 billion to acquire Chrysler and the two companies had a tough time working well together. Not only was quality in building materials an issue, but both sides experienced a series of culture clashes that made the merger unproductive. So, in 2007, Daimler Benz sold Chrysler for $7 billion to Cerberus Capital Management Firm.

Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

U.S. Coast Guard via Getty Images

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill was considered an epic industrial catastrophe that began on April 20, 2010, in the Gulf of Mexico on the BP-operated Macondo Prospect. At that time, 210 million gallons of oil were spilled and this was immediately followed by an explosion on the rig. The massive amount of oil affected wildlife habitats and marine life from Louisiana all the way to Florida.

To make matters worse, the spill continued while workers spent months trying to stop the flow at its source. An investigation later revealed that BP had cut down on safety before the incident. As a result, BP was forced to pay legal fees and associated fines in addition to clean-up costs that totaled $61 billion.

AOL Acquired Time Warner


In 2000, American Online (AOL) was considered one of the biggest tech companies on the planet and they wanted to grow their business ventures. It’s why they spent $182 billion to buy Time Warner so they could add the company's cable packages to their home internet packages. But several months later, the deal caused AOL’s value to crash.

And in 2009, Time Warner separated from AOL with an estimated worth of $36 billion, which was higher than AOL’s lowly $2.5 billion estimated worth. The failed acquisition set AOL back $146 billion and signaled the end of their reign as the primary home internet provider.

Chernobyl Disaster

SHONE/GAMMA/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

On April 25, 1986, a series of steam explosions followed by an open-air reactor core meltdown in the Chernobyl nuclear power plant released a significant amount of radioactive contamination into the atmosphere. It was later discovered that the accident was caused by a flawed reactor design that was operated by poorly-trained personnel.

The steam fire burned for nine days straight and 134 workers suffered radiation exposure. Of that number, 31 lost their lives over a period of several weeks. Others died from cancer that may have been linked to the radiation poisoning. In the end, the disaster setback the Soviet-led Russia $590 billion.

Ariane 5 Explosion

Wikimedia Commons / Deadpan / Public Domain

In 1995 the Ariane 5 rocket, an orbiting satellite geostationary launcher for the European Space Agency, was developed to replace its predecessor, the Ariane 4. But after several months of prep work, which included numerous tests to ensure the launch went without a hitch, the Ariane 5 rocket’s first entry into orbit failed when the rocket exploded 36.7 seconds after taking off. The disaster was the result of a programming error and it set the agency back $500 million.

The Cedar Fire

Flickr / State Farm / CC 2.0

In 2003, a lost hunter in the forest in San Diego County, California set a signal fire in the hopes that someone would find him. Unfortunately, the Santa Ana wind caused the fire to spread at a rate of 3,600 acres per hour. As the fire continued, it wiped out more than 110,500 hectares and destroyed 2,820 buildings.

It also led to the deaths of 15 people. When the hunter was found, he was sentenced to 960 hours of community service and was fined $9,000 as well. That’s a pretty light sentence considering the damage the fire cost was estimated at $1.2 billion.

The Falklands War

Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

In a desperate attempt to retain the support of its population following a dictatorship, the Argentine government attempted to steal a small island a couple of kilometers from their coast that was under British rule.

But the Brits had ships, planes, trucks, tanks and a trained army of soldiers ready to fend off the less experienced Argentine force that invaded. In the end, Argentina lost 700 soldiers and $850 million to the war, and they are unable to stake any legitimate claim to the island to this day.

Lotus Riverside Apartment Building

Alamy Stock

On the morning of June 27, 2009, one of eleven buildings in the Lotus Riverside complex in Shanghai, China, collapsed without warning. Investigators determined that the collapse was the result of the 13-story building being built against a mound that was 10 meters high on one side, and an underground parking lot 4.6 meters deep on the other side.

Oddly enough, the accident only resulted in one death, but a Shanghai court found six people guilty of the horrible accident and sentenced them to 5 years in prison. And although the cost of the collapse was not mentioned, it’s safe to say that the number was extensive. 

Passing on Harry Potter


Long before the "Harry Potter" novels became a hit and were turned into successful movies, author J.K. Rowling struggled to find someone to publish her work. But in the end, she was the one who had the last laugh as her work was eventually published and she became highly successful.

On the book sales alone, the "Harry Potter" series made approximately $7.7 billion. So, the people that wrote these rejection letters that Rowling shared on Twitter are undoubtedly kicking themselves in the backside for being so short-sighted.

Rejecting the Beatles

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In 1962, Dick Rowe, an executive at Decca Records rejected an unknown band from Liverpool who called themselves the “Silver Beatles” when they came in for an audition. The reason why he passed on the band was that he thought the popularity of guitar music would eventually fade.

Several months later, The Beatles signed on with the EMI label and became the hit they were destined to be. In fact, according to The Wall Street Journal, the band’s record sales grossed a reported $50 million in 1964 alone.

Yahoo! Sells to Alibaba

AFP/AFP/Getty Images

In 2005, Yahoo! Owned 30 percent of a Chinese multinational e-commerce, technology, and retail business known as Alibaba. Seven years later, Yahoo! sold half their stake to Alibaba for a mere $13 a share.

Then in 2014, Alibaba’s stocks rose to $68 a share and today, their shares are worth about $150, valuing the company at approximately $84 billion. Meanwhile, Yahoo! sold their internet business to Verizon for $4.8 billion in 2007. Clearly, Yahoo! wishes they could have a do-over to fix their mistake.

Elias Garcia Painting Destroyed

Wikimedia Commons

At the time, an 80-year-old parishioner laid eyes on the priceless fresco painting Ecce Homo (Behold the Man) at the Sanctuary of Mercy Church in Borja. But it was in a horrible state, so she decided to restore the painting.

Unfortunately, the end result was horrible and netizens dubbed the restored painting Ecce Mono (Behold the Monkey). Despite the error, tourists started flocking to Borja to take a gander at the painting, so the church started charging anyone who wanted to see it. In the end, they made 50,000 euros, which was donated to charity.

Star Wars Merchandise

Tibrina Hobson/Getty Images

When George Lucas was negotiating over the rights to get the film studio to greenlight his first “Star Wars” film, he made a mistake. He signed over the merchandising rights for all the films to 20th Century Fox. As a result, Lucas never got a penny from any of the action figures, Millennium Falcons or lightsabers ever sold.

This undoubtedly stung quite a bit since in 1978 “Star Wars” action figures exceeded $100 million in sales. That number has definitely increased over the years with the introduction of several films that followed the original trilogy.


Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Yahoo was the most visited search engine on the planet in the 1990s and early 2000s, but excite.com was the second most visited search engine on the planet. So, in 1999, excite.com was offered to buy Google for $1 million, but excite.com’s CEO said no, which may have been the worst mistake they could have ever made.

Not only is Google worth an estimated $280 billion, but it’s also the most visited site in the world. Meanwhile, the mere mention of excite.com will have people shrugging their shoulder and scratching their heads because they’ve never heard of them.

The Morris Worm


The Morris Worm or Internet Worm was a self-replicating computer virus written by Robert Tappan Morris, a student at Cornell University, and released from MIT on November 2, 1988. It took a great deal of hard work to get rid of this pesky digital virus from all the machines it had infected.

In the end, the United States Government Accountability Office estimates that the worm produced damages in the range of $100,000 to $10,000,000. And Morris himself was sentenced to three years in prison, 400 hours of community service and a $10,000 fine.