Screwups That Changed the Course of History

Everyone makes mistakes but you can rest assured that life’s little mishaps rarely lead to much greater calamities. Some mistakes, however, are so colossal that they can change the world as we know it forever. The fates of nations and millions of people have sometimes hinged on a single bad decision. From the sinking of RMS Titanic to the selling of Alaska to the United States, here are ten big screwups that changed the course of history.

The Dutch Not Bothering To Declare Australia

Declare Australia

Before Captain James Cook, a British explorer, landed on the eastern coast of Australia, the Dutch had sailed to it over 100 years earlier in 1606.However, the Dutch made zero attempts to claim the land or establish settlements, and so it was left to Captain Cook to plant the flag in 1770.

Russia Selling Alaska to the United States

Russia Selling Alaska

Following the outbreak of the Crimean War, Britain, France, and Turkey took a stance against Russia, making it difficult for the nation to defend or supply Alaska. While tensions mounted between Russia and London, the relationship between Russia and the US was stronger than ever, so they came up with the idea of Russia selling Alaska to the United States.

Both nations signed an agreement on March 30, 1867, to sell Alaska for $7.2 million, which was approximately two cents per acre. The sale was a big mistake for Russia. By the 1880s and 1890s, gold mining had commenced in Alaska, providing America with hundreds of millions of dollars. Alaska now produces more gold than any other US state except Nevada.

The Sinking Of RMS Titanic

RMS Titanic

Fred Fleet, The Second Officer of the ship, was in charge of looking for the icebergs. However, he didn’t have access to the binoculars, as they were locked up and the key didn’t make the journey. Fleet even testified to the senate that if he had the access, he could have seen the impending disaster well in advance to prevent it.

Before the ship set sail, the company made a sudden decision of replacing the second officer of the ship David Blair, with Charles Lightoller. And the key to the locker stayed in the pocket of Blair, who had forgotten to hand it over, as the ship got going.

Berlin Wall came down because a bureaucrat didn’t read his speech properly


On Nov. 9, 1989, Schabowski was given a piece of paper that he didn’t care to read before stepping up the podium. The speech was long and boring, but everyone was at once alerted when he started to talk about relaxation in travel rules between the borders. Some reporters, after waking up from a long fish snooze thought Schabowski was saying that the travel rules are being dropped completely. So, when some of them asked “When does that go into force?”, Schabowski started to flip pages to find the answer. On realizing that he was making a fool of himself standing before the media unprepared with what he has to convey, he muttered, “Immediately, right away.”

Alexander Fleming’s Dirty Lab

Alexander Fleming

Alexander Fleming gets the credit for discovering penicillin in 1928 – and his methodology came down to forgetting to do the dishes. Turns out that Fleming spent the month of August on holiday with his family. Upon his return, he noticed that one of his Petri dishes of staphylococci had grown a mold that destroyed the sample around it. He then grew the mold in a pure culture and found out it could annihilate all kinds of bacteria.

It took a few years before penicillin would catch on, but by the time it did, it was widely used to treat Allied wounded in World War II, saving countless lives.

Japan Picks the Wrong Targets at Pearl Harbor

Pearl Harbor

At 7:48 AM local time on December 7, 1941, Japan launched a surprise aerial attack on the US naval base at Pearl Harbor, located on Oahu Island, Hawaii. Around 2,400 Americans also lost their lives, and over 1,000 more were injured, leading the United States to declare war on Japan the next day.

Mistake Japan made was concentrating its attack on US battleships instead of fuel reserves and repair yards, so US quickly recovered from this surprise attack.

Chernobyl Disaster

Chernobyl Disaster

The Chernobyl disaster occurred on April 26, 1986, and is undoubtedly the worst nuclear disaster in history. The steam blasts at the start of the reaction caused the immediate deaths of 31 people. 134 servicemen were later hospitalized with acute radiation sickness, and 28 firemen and employees passed away due to the effects of the radiation within days or months of the disaster. It is also believed that approximately five million people were exposed to radiation in Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia.

The wrong Turn That started World War I

World War I

World War I was started by the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand of Austria. On a fateful day, two assassination attempts were directed at the Archduke and in both of them, his chauffeur’s role was pivotal. The first attempt failed, thanks to his chauffeur’s success at deflecting the bomb that the assassins had thrown at the Archduke’s carriage. The explosion claimed numerous lives, but the Archduke and the duchess were saved. The duke later on expressed his desire to meet the victims, and while on the way to the hospital, a wrong turn taken by the chauffeur changed the course of history. The turn led them straight towards one of the assassins, Gavrilo Princip, who had been hiding in a coffee shop when he saw the car approaching. Princip fired two shots- the duke and the duchess dropped dead- World War I set off.

Related Content

Fascinating Snapshots from World War II


Written by Suddl

Unusual Death Rituals From Around the World

Top Cursed and Haunted Household Items