Let’s face it, we all make mistakes. After all, we’re only human. Most of the time, mistakes are small enough that nobody notices, or they’re easily corrected, but sometimes, blunders are so big that they go down in history. Below are 38 examples of some of the most embarrassing moments in history.
1. Are They Guards or Ushers?
It’s only natural for a head of state to admire what they see on their visits to other countries, and normally, borrowing an idea or two from those observations wouldn’t be a big deal. In the case of Richard Nixon however, his borrowed idea became a laughingstock. After visiting various European countries and seeing the grandness of the troops and guards, he felt that the uniforms of his own White House police were kind of dull in comparison.
Naturally, he had new uniforms designed for the guards, but rather than looking striking and impressive, they resembled a school marching band or theatre ushers. Nixon suffered so much ridicule that the uniforms were only used for formal events and were hardly ever seen at the White House again. Eventually, he just gave up on the whole thing entirely and sold them to a college marching band in Utah.
2. They’re Not Sellable
Imagine a world without the Beatles. Impossible, right? Well thanks to a miscalculation by Dick Rowe of Decca Records, that almost happened! The official reason was that he thought guitar groups were “on their way out,” making Rowe forever known as “the man who turned down the Beatles.”
3. Is it Supposed to Lean Like That?
Despite the fact that it’s now a major attraction in Italy (and the subject of many hilarious tourist photos), the Leaning Tower of Pisa was never actually supposed to lean. The foundation of the tower was built on a clay mixture. The mixture, as it turned out, wasn’t strong enough to hold up the tower, and the weight began to pull the structure downward.
Once it started to lean, rather than fix the problem, the government decided to stop construction for 100 years and hope that it would fix itself. Like that ever happens.
4. Still Leaning
100 years later, the Italians still didn’t learn their lesson, and when construction resumed, they tried to fix the lean by making one side of the top floors taller than the other. That simply caused the tower to lean further, but they persevered. The final straw came in 1838 when yet another architect decided to dig a pathway at the already unstable base to allow people to admire it.
The digging caused the tower to lean even more, and yet, somehow the tower still stands in the 21st century. Go figure.
5. The Great Cat Purge
The Black Plague was a devastating disease with a near 100% mortality rate, but medieval doctors had no clue what was causing it. With no official cause, the people formed their own ideas (with a little help from the Catholic Church), one of which was to blame cats. The church convinced the population that because cats were pretty secretive creatures with strong survival skills, they must have been sent by the devil.
People started killing cats left and right, and since the cats were keeping the plague-infested rats at bay, the plague got even worse!. Eventually, people figured out that it was the rats and not the cats, but not before the cat population in England had been decimated.
6. It’s Unsinkable
The most tragic part about the sinking of the Titanic was that most of the deaths occurred because there weren’t enough lifeboats onboard. The ship only had 20 lifeboats. If filled to capacity (which we know they weren’t), these boats could have held just 1,178 people—a little more than half of the number of passengers on board. Even worse was that the reason for the lower number of lifeboats was to offer the passengers unobstructed views.
It also never occurred to anybody that the ship would sink and require all of the lifeboats to be used at once. Talk about a gross underestimation!
7. Major Typo
It’s not unusual for printing mistakes to occur in a mass printing of a book, but when that book is a bible, and the typo involves one of the Commandments, it’s kind of a big oops. In 1631, a new edition of the recently translated King James Bible accidentally left the word “not” out of the Commandment “Thou shalt not commit adultery” When the Bishop of London found out about the error, he told the King, and the King ordered the printers dragged before a high commission to explain their mistake.
The poor guys pretty much lost the shirts off their backs, and the book became known as the Wicked Bible.
8. A World Without Gravity
When Isaac Newton came up with his theory on gravity, he was all set to publish his findings—but was nearly stalled because of a book about fish. The Royal Society of London poured all of its money into a book called The History of Fish, which they wrongly thought would be a huge success, and had no money left for Newton’s book.
Luckily, Edmond Halley pretty much funded the book out of his own pocket, but talk about messed up priorities!
9. Friendly Fire
War has a way of getting chaotic, but the Battle of Karansebes, which took place in 1788 in present-day Romania, took chaos to a whole new level. Not surprisingly, the story starts with a heavy night of drinking and partying. As the Austrian scouts became more boisterous, a bunch of foot soldiers wanted to join the fun which resulted in an argument. Drunk arguments never end well, and neither did this one.
Amidst the punching and shooting, someone got the idea that the Turks had arrived, and they literally sent in the cavalry, shooting any man in sight without much thought. By the next morning, an estimated 10,000 Austrian soldiers were either dead or wounded, and the Turks didn’t have to do a thing! Today, the event is called the Battle of Karansebes, even though there was only one army involved.
10. An Accidental Shooting
The death of one of the Civil War’s most legendary generals was all because of friendly fire. General Thomas Stonewall Jackson was known as an unstoppable force during the war and was of the mind if you want something done now, do it yourself. After personally leading a nighttime attack on the union army, Jackson and his men headed back to the Confederate camp.
What Jackson didn’t consider was that when his sentries saw someone galloping towards them at high speed in the dark, they would shoot first and ask questions later. Jackson took three bullets, lost an arm, contracted pneumonia from the operation, and died eight days later. Oops!
11. Not Speaking the Same Language
Nine months after NASA launched the Mars Climate Orbiter on its mission to monitor conditions on the Red Planet, scientists on the ground lost all contact with it—the more than $300 million spent on the project down the drain. So what went wrong? Well, the team on the ground was using imperial units to send instructions, but the spacecraft was designed for metric, so they were sending the complete wrong navigation data. That’s a pretty costly mistake!
12. Should Have Checked the Weather
Napoleon was so confident in his ability to defeat Russia that he publicly predicted the war would be won for France in just 20 days. What he failed to anticipate was that Russia would not meet him in open battle. The retreated as Napoleon advanced, destroying all resources behind them, leaving the Grande Armee seriously weakened.
Then, when Napoleon finally reached Moscow, he found it abandoned and burning. Still unwilling to admit defeat, he insisted on waiting a few weeks, hoping the Russians would come and face him…but they never came. Then, before Napoleon realized his mistake, the brutal Russian Winter hit. By the time he managed to limp out of Russia, his 600,000 strong army was down to just 27,o00 men.
13. It’s Winter in Russia
Adolf Hitler apparently didn’t take any lessons from Napoleon’s failure because he too invaded Russia in 1941, and like Napoleon, he failed to account for the harsh Russian winters. Like the Grand Armee before them, the German forces were painfully unequipped for the cold. When asked why he failed to consider how his men would fare in the weather, Hitler simply said, “One can’t put any trust in the meteorological forecasts.”
Well, maybe he should have had a little trust—the German army’s lack of preparedness was a major factor in the operation’s failure.
Cao Cao was a powerful Chinese warlord during the legendary Three Kingdom’s period. In a campaign to take control of the Yangtze River and defeat the southern warlords Sun Quan and Liu Bei, he gathered a massive army and marched south. What he didn’t know was that the Sun Quan and Liu Bei had gotten together decided to join forces to outsmart him.
Cao Cao planned to transport his troops across the river in ships and decided to tie them together to stabilize the fleet and prevent seasickness. Liu Bei and Sun Quan got wind of this and came up with a plan. They tricked Cao Cao into thinking that one of their generals was going to surrender and send his ships to join Cao Cao’s fleet.
In reality, these “defector” ships were filled with kindling and oil. As the dummy ships approached, they were set ablaze. The wind did the rest, and Cao Cao’s formidable fleet became engulfed in flames. Sun Quan and Liu Bei’s forces used the chaos to their advantage, attacking the fleet and decisively winning what has become known as the Battle of Red Cliffs.
15. A Poor Escape Plan
After Republicans captured Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVI during the French Revolution, it took the king and queen two years to plan their escape, and they did a pretty poor job of it. When they finally snuck out of Tuileries, they traveled together with a lot of bulky and unnecessary crap. Louis also sent his wife’s (rumored) lover away, who, ironically, probably would have been useful in their escape.
They also had pretty thin disguises, and they liked to socialize along the way, so it’s not really surprising that they were recognized, captured, and sent back to Tuileries within 24 hours.
16. The Ol’ Flood Tactic
During the 80 Years War between Spain and the Netherlands, the Dutch came up with a genius plan to drive the Spanish back: They’d open their dikes and flood the land surrounding the cities of Antwerp, Ghent, and Bruges. Well, it was successful, and the Spanish were forced to retreat—but the floodwaters also completely devastated the landscape.
The area was largely abandoned, and the cities were eventually lost forever. Today, all three of the cities are a part of Belgium, not the Netherlands. Sometimes, a plan works too well.
17. Wrong Goal Line
During the 1929 Rose Bowl game, a center named Roy Riegels caused his team (and himself) huge embarrassment when he picked up a fumble on the thirty-yard line, somehow managed to get confused on the field, and ran with the ball for 69 yards…in the wrong direction! Luckily for him, a teammate stopped him before he made the ultimate mistake and ran into his own endzone.
18.Did You Want to Put Some Clothes On?
When former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill visited FDR in December 1941, he chose to remain in the White House as a guest. One night, after coming up with the term United Nations to describe the Associated Powers, the president went to Churchill’s room to share his brilliant idea. What he didn’t expect was to find Churchill to be completely naked.
Churchill seemed to find the whole thing amusing, though he does recall FDR being rather startled. Wouldn’t you be?
19. Failure to Choose
It’s hard to believe, but the fall of Alexander the Great’s massive empire pretty much all came down to his failure to name an heir. The man was pretty much on his death bed and he still refused to name an heir. Allegedly, his only words were “to the strongest.” Only Alexander knows why he wouldn’t just name his son as his heir, but he didn’t, and the empire shattered, resulting in hundreds of years of conflict.
20. Fatal Blunder
The 53 BC Battle of Carrhae saw 20,000 of the 50,000 Roman Legion soldiers who marched into the Mesopotamian desert killed by the Parthians, and another 10,000 taken prisoner. Rome was supposed to be undefeatable, so Crassus, one of Rome’s rulers and the wealthiest man in the Republic, decided to invade Parthia (north-eastern Iran) in hopes of getting his hands on their riches and earning some military glory.
Instead, he suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of the smaller Parthian forces, whose superior tactics left the Romans running in circles. Then, to add insult to injury, Crassus himself was killed while trying to negotiate a truce.
According to legend, Vortigern, a fourth-century King of the Britons, decided to outsource his land’s defense to the Saxons, Angles, and their allies. He would hire them as mercenaries, and they could deal with the raiding Picts and Scots. On paper, this might have seemed like a good solution, but as soon as the Saxons figured out that nobody in Britain was really equipped to fight them, they just took over. It wasn’t until 1066 that the Saxons were defeated by the invading Normans.
Not Vortigern’s greatest plan!
22. A Beer Tsunami
On October 17, 1814, eight Londoners were killed in a flood, but this wasn’t caused by the inclement British weather. This was a beer flood. The Horse Shoe Brewery had a 22-foot high wooden fermentation tank on-site, held together by massive iron rings. On that fateful afternoon, one of the iron rings snapped, causing the entire tank to rupture about an hour later.
The ensuing flood was so forceful that it collapsed the back wall of the brewery and blasted open several more vats, all of which flowed onto the street. Naturally, people tried to take advantage of the free beer, collecting it with containers or drinking straight from the river.
23. Rookie Mistake
In 1943, the destroyer USS William D. Porter was to escort the battleship USS Iowa (which held President FDR) across the Atlantic to a summit in Iran. What should have been a piece of cake turned into a near disaster, all because of an anchor. Some genius neglected to properly raise the anchor, and as they backed out of their mooring, they dragged the anchor along the deck of a neighboring ship!
The Captain apologized and left the Navy to clean up the mess while they rushed to meet up with the president. Not a great first impression!
24. War with Emus
After the Great Depression, farmers in Western Australia were struggling, and a flock of 20,000 migrating emus arriving on the scene for breeding season only made things worse. The farmers complained to the government, and the government responded by sending in ex-soldiers from WWI with machine guns. Over six days in early November, the military tried and failed to kill the emus, who managed to outsmart them and outrun them at every turn.
The Great Emu War ended in an embarrassing defeat and resulted in a lot of negative press for the government, not the emus.
25. Lack of Respect
Alā’ ad-Dīn Muḥammad, Emperor of the Khwarazmian Empire, was an extremely suspicious and paranoid fellow. Worried about Mongol spies, he ordered raids on Silk Road caravans and demanded that any Mongols caught be executed. Genghis Khan, leader of the Mongols, didn’t much care for this and sent a delegation of 50 nobles to demand restitution.
Muhammed could have apologized and made it right, but instead, he kept the ambassadors waiting for weeks, then set their beards on fire and beheaded the leader. Revenge is a dish best served cold, and three years later, Genghis Khan sent 300,000 Mongol horsemen through the mountains to destroy the empire.
26. You Left the Door Open
The 1453 assault on Constantinople by the Turks was pretty brutal. The Turks far outnumbered the Christians and were pretty likely going to win anyway, but their attack was made all that much easier the fact that someone had left one of the city’s gates wide open! Rather than launch another attack, the Turks simply walked through this tiny gate, then opened the main gate, allowing the rest of their forces to enter and take the city.
Constantinople had been the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire for centuries, but it fell to this boneheaded mistake.
27. Wrong Turn Leo
It’s pretty crazy to realize that WWI broke out because of a simple wrong turn, but an error made that fateful day in 1914 by Leopold Lojka, Archduke Ferdinand’s chauffeur, took them down the street where the Archduke was assassinated, triggering WWI. Had he not been killed that day, many historians believe the Great War could have been avoided, so apology telegrams just don’t cut it.
28. Drowning in Horse Poop
In the 19th century, horse poop on city streets was a major problem, and especially so in London, the largest city in the world at the time. The poop attracted disease-spreading flies, not to mention the smell, and that doesn’t even account for the horse urine and carcasses. The city was finally embarrassed into trying to solve the problem when the Times newspaper predicted that London would be buried under nine feet of manure within 50 years.
They never did find a solution, but the problem resolved itself with the introduction of cars.
29. Should Have Gone South
Until the end of the 16th century, Spain pretty much dominated in seafaring. At war with England, King Philip II of Spain made Alonso Pérez de Guzmán, 7th Duke of Medina the Captain of the Spanish Armada and tasked him with attacking England in 1588. The only problem was, Guzmán had next to no military experience—something that quickly became evident.
The Armada was outmaneuvered by the British Navy at every turn, largely because Philip had appointed a sycophantic aristocrat to lead his fleet instead of, you know, someone who knew anything about naval warfare. By the time the broken Armada gave up and made it back home, Spanish naval superiority was dead in the water, and England ruled the waves for centuries to come.
30. An Embarrassing End
After the initial mishap, one would hope that things got better for the USS William D. Porter, but for the next two years, her crew made blunder after blunder (which included nearly killing the president…twice) until, in 1945, she finally sank in a totally humiliating but fitting way. After accidentally hitting another sister ship with gunfire during the Battle of Okinawa, the Porter was sent to the perimeter to wait it out and hopefully not kill anybody.
Amazingly, her crew managed to shoot down five Japanese planes and even managed to evade one that was headed straight for them. What they didn’t know was that the plane kept going underwater even after it crashed, and it exploded right under the Porter. The ship sank three hours later. Even when they thought they’d done something right, it (literally) blew up in their faces.
Thankfully, the entire crew survived—but they lived to suffer the embarrassment of having served on that ship.
31. Getting the Perfect Shot
In 2010, a couple of Navy pilots nearly dunked their helicopter in Lake Tahoe, causing almost half a million dollars in damage. The pilots were experienced, and there was nothing wrong with the aircraft, so what could have caused the unplanned dip? The geniuses apparently forgot that they were flying a very valuable helicopter and were attempting to take pictures of the scenery with their cell phones.
It could have been a lot worse, but maybe they would have preferred death over having to explain what happened when they got back to base.
32. You Sunk Our Battleship!
The HMS Victoria was supposed to be the crown jewel of Britain’s Mediterranean fleet and was intended to absolutely obliterate their enemies. In 1893, Vice Admiral George Tryon decided to create a flashy formation with the Victoria and the HMS Camperdown to show off his prize to the public. Had it worked, it would have been an impressive display, but Tryon miscalculated the turning distance they’d need to execute the stunt, and the Camperdown slammed into the Victoria and tore it open.
The weight of the guns on board the Victoria pulled the ship down into the ocean nose first, where it remains to this day. 358 of her crewmembers, including Tryon himself, died, all because he wanted to show off.
33. Missed the Memo
Early in the Spanish-American War, the USS Charleston was sent to capture the Spanish Island of Guam. The Americans expected it to do so in about two days. They got to the island, and preemptively fired 13 shots at the shore fort, completely anticipating an attack from Guam. Instead, in a baffling turn of events, a Spanish officer approached the Charleston on a small ship and asked to come aboard.
Once on the ship, he genuinely thanked them for their salute and apologized for their rudeness in not returning the gesture, but they were out of gunpowder. He even asked them if they could borrow some in order to salute them back. Apparently, nobody had told him or the rest of Guam that the Spanish were at war with the US, or that several battles had already occurred.
Needless to say, the Americans did not lend them gunpowder, and took the island in a peaceful surrender.
34. I Misspoke
On January 12, 1950, Secretary of State Dean Acheson was making a policy speech at the National Press Club in which he was issuing a warning to Communists to stay away from those under American protection. He said Americans would defend nations from Japan to Indonesia. The only problem was the proverbial line of protection he referenced didn’t include Korea.
Russia and Korea took him to heart, and a few months later, North Korea invaded South Korea, starting the Korean war. He should have taken a geography lesson!
35. Never Say No to a Good Deal
James Wolfe Ripley, the Union’s chief of ordnance during the Civil War, thought that he was being frugal and saving money for the Union by refusing to upgrade their arms. He wouldn’t even purchase the Enfield rifles that the British were offering for cheap, mostly because buying anything from the hated British was unfathomable.
Unfortunately for him, the Confederates had no such qualms, and they purchased the British guns. Two years later, Ripley was gone thanks to his ego and his incompetence, and the well-equipped Confederates were still holding their own in one of the bloodiest wars in history.
36. Where is Everybody?
One of JFK’s early failures (and great embarrassments) was the unfortunate Bay of Pigs Campaign, in which the promised American air cover for invasion by Cuban dissidents never materialized. It wasn’t that they deliberately broke a promise, but the military and CIA forgot a crucial detail: the one-hour time difference between Cuba and their airbase in Nicaragua.
The bombers arrived too early and couldn’t meet up with their Naval escort fighters. The whole fiasco resulted in the deaths of four US pilots, and the Bay of Pigs has gone down as one of the United States’ most humiliating defeats.
37. I Think We Taped Over It
You’d think that a recording of the first moon landing would be kept somewhere safe for posterity, but unfortunately for NASA, some bonehead accidentally included it in a batch of tapes that were being magnetically erased so that they could save money and reuse them. As a result, no original recordings of the landmark event still exist.
Thankfully, they were able to cobble something together from old news footage and kinescope recordings.
38. Wrong Way, Doug!
In 1938, aviator Douglas Corrigan piloted his self-built, junkheap of an airplane non-stop from California to New York, where he received national attention simply for surviving the trip. He then filed plans for a Transcontinental flight to Ireland, but they were refused because no one thought he would make it to Emerald Isle alive.
He was, however, given permission to fly back to California. On July 17, he took off pointing west, but then made a baffling 180 and disappeared into the clouds. 28 hours later, he landed in Dublin, claiming that his compass malfunctioned. Nobody bought it and his license was suspended. The act also earned him the nickname “Wrong Way Corrigan” for managing to fly in the complete wrong direction.