Top 10 Most Expensive Mistakes in History

28 July 2021

Smart People Learn from the Mistakes of Others. Here Are the Most Expensive Mistakes in History to Learn From.

You know when you leave your phone in an Uber, and think: “Well, that was an expensive mistake?” Now imagine that times a few million, because that’s the kind of expense these human “oversights” racked up. There are so many mistakes, but we tried to pick some of the most interesting, avoidable, and costly.

These cringeworthy and sometimes tragic mess ups are the kind you just wish you had stayed home from work! The upside is that they might leave you feeling okay with the mistakes you have made in your life.

Here are the Top 10 Most Expensive Mistakes in History.

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The Time France Ordered Trains That Were Too Big and Cost an Extra 50 Million Euros

They say it’s not the size that matters, but when that comes to trains, we can confirm that it certainly does!

In 2014 the Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer Français or SNCF ordered 341 trains to cater for more passengers and provide more leg room inside carriages. The only thing they forgot to make space for was the…the trains!

The trains were too wide to pass through standard French train stations. So, there was a quick scramble to build 1,300 docks so that passengers could alight the wide girthed trains. The money lost was around 50 million Euros.


The Time a Plant Operator Mis-Read the Signs and Let the Three-Mile-Island Nuclear Reactor Meltdown and Cost $1 Billion to Clean Up

March 28, 1978, went down in history as the night of the worst nuclear accident in U.S. history. And what was to blame? Well, a chain of mechanical failures, some poor design, but mostly human error!

When a relief valve became stuck open, much of the coolant of the nuclear reactor escaped. This mechanical failure got even worse when a badly designed control panel meant that an indicator light wasn’t clear to the operator on duty. The operator decided to override the automatic emergency cooling system that kicked in, because he thought the steam pressure release he was seeing was because there was too much coolant water, rather than too little in reality.

Core reactor number two melted down and released radioactive gasses far and wide into the environment. It took decades to clean up and attracted a bill of over $1 billion.

If you think that’s soul destroying, keep reading.


The Time a Satellite Programmer Got It Wrong, and It Cost $500 Million

In 1995 the E.S.A or European Space Agency developed The Ariane 5 rocket, an orbiting satellite geostationary launcher. Unfortunately, the thrill of the launch only lasted 36.7 seconds before the Ariane 5 came crashing down in a blaze of…well blaze and smoke. In the fiery wreckage she brought with her the hopes and dreams of any promotions of the programmers who had miscalculated the maiden flight.

One thing you could calculate was the loss, which added up to $500 million.

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The Time a Ship’s Captain Hit a Giant Iceberg and Sank a Ship Worth $175 Million

April 14, 1912 is a date to remember, and a day that the maritime world never forgets. After 3 years of building and a cost of $7.5million in 1912 dollars, the Titanic set sail with a full house.

The crew failed to spot and avoid a massive iceberg, which they collided and were wrecked. The grand Titanic sank to the sea bottom and 1,500 lives were lost in the disaster along with money.


The Time a Dumped Hard Drive Cost 7,500 Bitcoins

We have all lost data at some stage. A missing assignment or a lost presentation has cost us all something. But in 2013 James Howell made one of the more expensive mistakes in history. In 2009 he had bought himself a tidy sum of 7,500 Bitcoin. They were stored on a hard drive.

In 2013 Bitcoin was sitting pretty at GBP613. Meaning that Howell’s was holding over GBP4.5 million worth of Bitcoin.

The problem was that thinking that the currency wasn’t going anywhere, James had tossed the hard drive away. He searched the landfill it went to, but no luck. Talk about feeling rubbish!

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The Time a Lost Hunter Started a Fire That Cost $1.2billion

A wayward hunter couldn’t find his way out of a forest in San Diego County. To signal for help he lit a fire. Being a hot and dry area, the fire quickly spread.

The Cedar Fire of 2003 as it was known, wiped out over 110,500 hectares, destroyed 2,820 buildings, and caused the deaths of 15 people. $1.2 billion of property went up in smoke.

What happened to the hunter? He got 960 hours of community service and only paid $9,000 in restitution. Which hardly made a dent in the $1.2billion in damages he caused.


The Time a Typo Cost Mizuho Securities $225 Million

This has to be the worst typo in history. On December 8, 2005 Mizuho Securities listed J-Com Co stock on the Tokyo Stock Exchange. The 610,000 shares were listed at a price of one yen per share. That is less than a penny a piece.

What they were MEANT to sell was just 1 share at 610,000 yen the equivalent of $5,041. This typo by the Mizuho trader cost the company $225 million.

Bet this guy wished he had called in sick that day!   


The Time a Communication Error on an Oil Rig Cost $3.4 Billion to Repair

In 1998 an explosion on the Piper oil rig Alpha led to the loss of 167 lives. The oil platform, based in the North Sea, contained oil and gas, so following the explosion a fire broke out.

Communication about maintenance that was under way when the shifts changed is the simplest way to explain what caused the incident. The impact of the communication error was devastating and caused a lot of reform in safety regulations and procedures. The money lost was around $3.4 billion.


The Time Mercedes Benz Tried to Merge with Chrysler and Lost $13 Billion Instead

In 1998 Mercedes Benz announced a merger. They would take over Chrysler in a planned buy out worth $20 billion. 9 years on and the marriage of car brands hadn’t worked out and Mercedes sold Chrysler for $7 billion. A $13 billion doozy!


The Time When Russia Sold Alaska for $7.2million and Lost $200 Billion in Energy Reserves

In 1867 Tsar Alexander II of Russia made a mistake that lost the country billions of money.

At the time Russia was in a financial funk and needed to liquidate assets. Tsar Alexander II took the decision to sell off Russia’s North American territories. He got $7.2 million for Alaska. Little did he know that the Oil and Gas reserves of Alaska are estimated to be worth over $200 billion by today’s value.


What is the most expensive mistake you have ever made?