Small Mistakes With Huge Consequences

Here are some small mistakes with huge consequences!


We all make mistakes but however embarrassing your mistake was, you can rest easy knowing it wasn’t that bad. Not compared to hitting a switch that plunged an entire city into chaos, or not tightening one single bolt and leading to a cataclysmic meltdown! You will feel better about yourself, as we explore some tiny mistakes that had huge consequences.

The 1977 NYC Blackout and the Hip-Hop Era

On July 13th, 1977, three lightning bolts struck New York’s Con Edison facility. In an instant, New York City and Westchester County were plunged into darkness. The operator had some 15 minutes to restore power and get the facility back up and running.

To do that, the operator needed to flip a series of switches in the right order. Unfortunately for the people of New York, that unnamed Operator messed up. They missed a switch, and as a result, the city was dark and powerless for 25 hours.


The people of New York immediately descended into the largest riot the city had ever seen. Stores were looted, public infrastructure was vandalized, cars were burned; the city was consumed by chaos. It resulted in 1000 fires, 1600 lootings, and 3700 arrests. It’s estimated that one missed switch cost the city nearly $300 million in damages.


However, there was another unexpected consequence of the blackout: the birth of mainstream Hip-Hop music. Professional mixing and music gear are expensive, and at the time they were incredibly up-market products. After this equipment was stolen, it was hot, meaning the police were eager to retrieve it. This forced looters to sell the equipment quickly at huge discounts.

Most of those buyers were poorer inner-city New Yorkers, who would otherwise struggle to afford it. A new generation of musicians in New York suddenly had access to the equipment they needed to make the music they wanted, and Hip-Hop went from a niche genre to a nationwide phenomenon in a matter of years.

Gender-Reveal Starts El Dorado Fire

When parents hold gender reveal parties for their unborn babies, does anyone besides them actually care? You might think they're stupid but at least they’re harmless. That is, until September 5th, 2020, when Angela and Refugio Jimenez got a little bombastic with theirs.

They hosted a get-together in the woods near their home in El Dorado, California, and decided to make the reveal special with a few pyrotechnics. It seems they both had baby brains because fireworks and dry forests in the summer don’t get along, especially considering September 2020 was 20 degrees hotter than previous summers.

A dramatically timed smoke bomb ended up lighting a branch on fire. Which lit another branch on fire and another; things spiraled out of control fast. The fire spread through the dry woods quickly, and soon nearby houses and buildings were blazing.


The harsh, dry summer made the fire hard to combat, and it raged for an unprecedented 23 days. During this time, families evacuated their homes, roads were closed due to smoke, and many businesses couldn’t operate. By the time the fire subsided, it had claimed 23,000 acres of land, fifteen businesses, five homes, and the life of one firefighter.

The inferno caused an estimated $40 million in damages. At the end of it all the Jimenez family was charged with 30 crimes. The name and sex of the baby were never revealed to the public when it was born. If it’s a boy, we hope they called him Burnie!


Heinrich Albert's Lost Briefcase

We love spies. In the movies, they’re suave, deadly, and have the coolest gadgets but they’re not always perfect. During World War One, Heinrich Albert was the paymaster for German spies operating in the United States. He made sure these spies were paid on time, and he had the right supplies for missions, along with whatever documents they needed.


By 1915, America wasn’t officially in the war yet, but they were providing European allies with munitions and supplies. Germany thought this was an obstacle, so set up an enormous spy network sabotaging America’s production lines, bribing officials, and causing all sorts of trouble.

One day, Albert stepped onto a train in Harlem, New York, sat down and, after a while, fell asleep. When you get to a certain age, needing the odd power nap is understandable. What’s less understandable, however, is falling asleep on a train right next to your briefcase containing the names, locations, and missions of every spy in the country.

Albert groggily awoke and got off the train before realizing he didn’t have his briefcase. He ran back on, but it wasn’t there! It’d already been swiped by American Secret Service Agents who were on his tail. A terrified Albert put an ad out in the Evening Telegraph offering $20 for the return of the briefcase, but the US Government wasn’t that strapped for cash.


The US now had evidence proving Germany’s sabotage, which they used to send all German ambassadors and diplomats back to Germany. This left all of Germany’s spies in the dark, with no idea of where to go or what to do. The White House then leaked this news to the press, humiliating Germany and making them look weak on the world stage.

The US eventually entered the war in 1917, and while this wasn’t entirely Albert’s fault, it was a scandal that shocked many Americans out of their formerly passive stance on the war. So remember, no matter how badly you might have screwed up, you never accidentally tipped the scales of a world war!

Why Airplane Windows Are Round

For most of human history, flight was a beautiful and unattainable dream. Today, it’s a more cramped affair that somehow always seats you between two crying babies. Still, it was exciting for a while, and in 1950 there was nothing more exciting than de Havilland’s new Comet plane.

It was the world’s first commercial jet airliner, boasting a futuristic design powered by four awesome-sounding Ghost Turbojet engines. Its 1949 test flight went smoothly, and in 1952, the sleek new plane began carrying passengers around the world.


Only a year after its launch, however, tragedy struck; one crashed. This was incredibly unlucky for de Havilland. In the 1950s, US Airlines experienced around half a dozen crashes per year. Considering there were thousands of flights per year, though, this was just extremely unfortunate but then, another broke up in the air and another.

Within two years, three Comets crashed, resulting in the loss of 89 lives. Three crashes in two years were beyond bad luck. Something was up, and after several inquiries, an unlikely culprit was found. Look at this picture below of the Comet next to a modern Airbus. Notice any difference?


It’s the windows: the Airbus windows have rounded corners whereas the Comet has hard, angled corners. In vehicular engineering, a square corner or angle is considered a stress amplifier. When you apply pressure to an object, it’s most likely to break along a stress amplifier like that.

Think of a Toblerone; the hard angles where the corners meet are always where you break it apart. The square-cornered windows around the Comet’s fuselage were particularly vulnerable to pressure. They are, after all, at the very front of a plane going 450 miles per hour.

After a few journeys, those square windows gave out where rounded ones would’ve remained strong. It’s sad to think about, but this one aesthetic design decision ended up costing many people their lives.


De Havilland immediately redesigned their planes, and no airplane has featured square windows since. Today, the final Comet has been decommissioned and moved to an air hangar that acts as a museum.

The Soviet N1 Moon Rocket Failure

The dream of space travel has always been an idea that unites all humanity! One day, together, we may make the impossible, possible. But, in reality, it’s all about showing off. Throughout the 50s and 60s, the USSR and USA were competing to see who could get to the moon first.

The Soviets were the first to launch a satellite into space with Sputnik in October of 1957 and became the first to launch a living creature, a dog named Laika, into space only a month later. Rest in peace, Laika.


As the years dragged on, though, the Americans began to catch up. In 1962 they announced their plans for the Saturn V, which they believed would take a man to the moon. Not wanting to be outdone, the Soviets quickly began work on their ambitious N1 rocket, with a similar goal.

It was neck and neck, until July 3rd, 1969, when the N1 gloriously launched before it came crashing back down to Earth. The event was a tragedy, claiming the lives of the cosmonauts on board, and crushing Soviet spirits. At the time, the N1 fireball was the largest man-made explosion ever besides the atomic bomb.

The disaster set the USSR back years, both economically and on the world stage. To make matters worse, America’s Saturn V launched without a hitch just 13 days later on July 16th, 1969. America landed a man on the moon, and that was history but it almost wasn’t, because this catastrophic, history-altering explosion was caused by one loose bolt.


It turns out that not long after launch, an improperly fastened bolt on the N1 was sucked into a fuel pump. There, it ricocheted around at high speed, disrupting fuel flow, and sparking one huge fireball. If not for that one tiny oversight, we may have seen the Soviet flag forever frozen on the moon.

Titanic Locker Key

We all know the story of the Titanic: the supposedly unsinkable cruise ship that sailed into the Atlantic, hit an iceberg, and sank in the icy waters, costing some 1500 people their lives. Over the decades the exact cause of the disaster has been picked apart, especially by James Cameron and the finger of blame often points towards one man: Fred Fleet.

He was the lookout onboard the Titanic, and it was his job to spot obstacles in the water. So, he must have been pretty crummy to not notice the enormous iceberg, right? Like many stories from the Titanic, it’s more complex and tragic than it initially seems.


Shortly before the Titanic departed, higher-up cruise executives decided they wanted esteemed seaman Henry Wilde on the crew. Wilde was experienced, so when he was placed on the crew list, other crew members were moved down in rank to make way for him. That’s where David Blair comes into play. While Mr. Blair was also an experienced seaman, his presence wasn’t requested like Mr. Wilde.

It was thought that moving Blair down a rank would be insulting to him, so he was instead removed from the voyage. After all, he wouldn’t be necessary with Wilde on board. This is where a minor but incredibly tragic accident occurred. When Blair left, he forgot to hand over something small, but very important to his replacement: a key.

This little key belonged to a vital locker in the crow’s nest of the ship, containing Fred Fleet’s binoculars. Through this unfortunate series of mishaps, Fleet couldn’t access his binoculars on the night of the incident. This meant he was unable to see much surrounding the ship, and couldn’t spot the iceberg until it was too late.


Fleet would survive the incident but was wracked with guilt for the rest of his life. He testified before the Senate that if he’d had his binoculars, he’s certain he’d have prevented the disaster. The key was later found and sold at auction in 2007 for £90,000 or $200,000 today. Although, at one point, technically, it would have been priceless.

Cigarettes and Ammunition Depots

This next story begins in Ukraine, in the village of Novobohdanivka. While the town itself was a rather small and humble place, it was keeping an important secret. Nestled in the scenic hills of Novobohdanivka was a munitions warehouse that was storing 92,000 tons of explosive material.

These included weapons, munitions, and explosives that the country had little use for. They had simply been stockpiling it all after the fall of the Soviet Union in the 90s. Still, the munitions were valuable, and guards were installed to watch the depot. However, watching a dreary grey building for hours and hours at a time can get boring. So, they did what all listless Europeans do to kill time: smoke.


What happened next isn’t entirely clear, but one account posits that a guard crammed a dirty burger king wrapper in the smoking area’s trashcan. As soldiers put their cigarettes out in the designated ashtray, the smoking area began to stink.

So, the guards decided to move out of the designated smoking area, and closer to the weapons depot. For whatever reason they were there, one guard dropped or flicked an errant cigarette, and catastrophe struck. Unsurprisingly, if you pile a bunch of explosives on top of each other, it’s really hard to set just one of them off.


One explosion led to another, which lit fires, which led to even more explosives going off. The slow and steady chain of explosions made it impossible to safely deal with the disaster. In total, the explosions lasted for eight straight days, and the effects were felt across an area of over 150 square miles.

Several people lost their lives, many were injured, and 35,000 had to be evacuated. Ultimately, the incident caused $450 million worth of damage. Several years later, Ukraine would suffer another catastrophic fire in a weapons depot in Balakleya. While this one isn’t confirmed to be the fault of smokers, it wouldn’t be surprising if it were.

Three Mile Island Accident

On March 28th, 1979, the unassuming little rock of Three Mile Island near Middleton, Pennsylvania, had a problem. This unassuming little rock housed a nuclear reactor that was on the verge of overheating. A mechanical failure was preventing pumps from sending water to the plant’s steam generators, which remove heat from the reactor’s core.


Luckily, there was an incredibly simple solution: closing a valve. Once closed, this valve would act as an emergency stop-gap, keeping the reactor from overheating, and it could be activated by just hitting a button. So, what was the problem? Poor design.

There was a little light above the valve indicating its status. Everyone at the power plant reasonably assumed that once the switch was hit and the light above the valve flicked on, it meant the valve was closed and the crisis was averted. But that wasn't the case. Instead, the light only indicated that the button had been hit, not that the valve had actually closed.

This meant workers were breathing a sigh of relief when they should have been soiling themselves. Had anyone at the plant known this, they would have attempted another solution or pressed the button way earlier. As they didn’t know what the light meant the plant overheated, and went into meltdown.


The incident is still considered the worst nuclear accident in US history, forcing thousands to evacuate their homes, causing severe damage to the plant and surrounding environment, but luckily only having minor effects on the workers. Clean-up would take 12 years and $973 million because someone thought a light indicating something might happen was a good idea.

Hannibal Caused An Avalanche With His Cane

During the Second Punic War some 2200 years ago, ancient Rome was squaring off against the toughest adversary they’d ever faced: the North African Kingdom of Carthage. What made Carthage so terrifying was the leadership of their great general, one of history’s best-ever Hannibal Barca.

Hannibal won several huge victories against Rome including the battle of Cannae, which is still seen as one of the most strategically impressive victories in history, as well as one of Rome’s greatest defeats.


Rome was so scared of Carthage that some politicians would end every speech with the phrase "Carthage Must be Destroyed", even if they were talking about something else. And eventually, its army was. So, why didn’t Hannibal win? It’s a great historical mystery.

The predominant theory is that, despite his victories, Hannibal’s supplies and men were too few for him to assault Rome’s capital. This allowed Rome time to regroup and, eventually, win the war. Hannibal was running on empty because, during the War, Hannibal decided to cross the Alps with his army.

This was a miserable, insane trek, especially considering he had live elephants in tow. One account reports that to inspire his men to march on, Hannibal decided to give a rousing speech. He ended it by dramatically striking his cane into the snow, which triggered a massive avalanche that buried one-third of his army alive.


Some accounts say as many as 18,000 men and elephants were wiped out instantly. If true, this sudden loss would explain why Hannibal didn’t have the manpower to seize Rome. When Rome emerged victorious, it sealed its status as the predominant superpower of the classical era. If Carthage had won, the world would look very different.

Many languages would be based on Phoenician rather than Latin, meaning our alphabet would look very different. Without Rome, there’d also have been no Holy Roman Empire and probably no Christianity either, as there’d be no Roman occupation of Jerusalem. All this, because Hannibal needed to make a dramatic point.

Hanshin Earthquake

1995 was a big year! Windows released an operating system that would take the world by storm, Michael Jordan made his triumphant return to basketball, and somehow, a movie about shooting gorillas with diamond-powered lasers was a hit. For Japan, however, the year is remembered for a single catastrophic event; the Hanshin Earthquake.


This monstrous 7.3 magnitude quake occurred early on January 17th. In addition to claiming between five and a half and six and a half thousand lives, it caused a mind-boggling $200 billion worth of damages. As unavoidable as much of this destruction was, there was one area where things didn’t have to go as badly as they did, and that was along the Kobe route.

This is the main link between the city of Kobe and Osaka, which housed the mighty Hanshin Expressway. Constructed in 1966, the network was supposed to be able to withstand an earthquake’s tremors. But that didn’t happen, and the bridge collapsed.


A post-mortem on the bridge suggests it had improper hoop anchorage along with insufficient shear capacity. To put simply, anchorage refers to the means by which structures are connected to concrete, while shear capacity refers to a structure’s ability to resist sliding against itself.

While either of these oversights are bad on their own, in a structure supposedly designed to withstand earthquakes, they made for an especially terrible combo. In the 20 short seconds the earthquake lasted, the bridge buckled and collapsed. It was so utterly decimated that it needed to be completely rebuilt at the cost of $4.6 billion.

When it comes to civic engineering, everything must be perfect, and it has to be regularly maintained to stay perfect. Take the football stadium in Vitesse in the Netherlands, for example. Fans were cheering and stomping along after a victory in 2021 when the stand collapsed.

Watch on YouTube

By some miracle, there were no reports of any injuries. While the fans laughed it off, Mayor Hubert Bruls failed to see the humor, knowing the situation could have been much worse. A formal inquiry didn’t reveal a single cause but did reveal the structure had been built in the 1930s with almost no maintenance between then and the incident.

And if you’re an American laughing it up at the silly European and Japanese infrastructure. Get ready for a rude awakening, because by some calculations as much as 25% of US infrastructure is at risk of becoming inoperable, with disastrous consequences. Just check out this Metrodome collapse from 2010:

Watch on YouTube

That was a hefty amount of snow breaking through that roof! This Minnesota stadium’s roof featured an exterior layer of Teflon-coated fiberglass, with an inner layer of fabric acting as the structure’s ceiling. The roof itself was sturdy, weighing in at a hefty 580,000 pounds.

The problem was an oversight in the material. Even a small hole in a weak fabric can become a big deal if enough pressure is applied to it and all that snow applied a lot of pressure. Like a torn bedsheet, the tiny holes in the fabric grew and grew under the weight of the snow before the whole thing collapsed.

Imagine if the team had been practicing, they’d have to become skiers. Let’s learn from examples like Hanshin, Minnesota, and Vitesse; check your work! And then check it again every few years.

Citigroup Center Stilts

In 1977, Citicorp unveiled its fancy new building, known at the time as the Citicorp Center. It boasted a sleek modern design with an angled roof and a series of long, slender legs. This fancy new look made the building the toast of New York upon construction. That fabulous design gave the building a glaring weakness.


It gets windy 918 feet up in the air because there’s nothing to impose any air resistance, like trees or other buildings. Architecture student Diane Hartley realized that the unique shape of the building made it particularly susceptible to harsh winds, which could wreck its structural integrity.

Diane contacted the building’s designer, William LeMessurier, with her discovery. William realized his mistake, while he had accounted for strong winds on the building’s faces, he hadn’t thought about the effects on its corners. Doing some frantic research, William realized that a storm strong enough to topple the building occurred roughly once every 55 years.

Worse still, its legs meant if it did fall, it wouldn’t simply collapse inwards, but topple into other buildings, causing even more destruction. Furthermore, Diane and William discovered this fact, right before Hurricane Ella was set to hit New York.

William sprang into action. He created an evacuation plan with the NYPD and made sure there were 2500 Red Cross members on standby. He and a team of engineers worked around the clock for three months straight to devise a solution.


Working covertly to avoid creating hysteria, engineers welded two-inch-thick steel plates over the building’s bolts, increasing its resilience. They worked so secretly that residents of the building didn’t even notice them.

Thanks to Diane’s deduction, William’s conviction to fix his mistake, and the hard work of those engineers, the crisis was averted, all without making headlines. In fact, the only reason this was uncovered at all is because an engineer blabbed about it at a party years later.

If you were amazed at these small mistakes with huge consequences, you might want to read our expensive mistakes series. Thanks for reading!

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