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15 biggest facepalm moments in history (according to Reddit)

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Chris Sayer
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Having a bad day? No, you’re not. You’re really not.

Unless you’ve come close to accidently blowing up the President of the United States of America with a torpedo, cocked up on a few sums that caused the loss of a mutli-million dollar space ship, or developed a product that might actually cause the destruction of Planet Earth, your ‘bad day’ is nothing compared these absolute nightmares.

Originally compiled in a recent Reddit thread entitled ‘What was the biggest fuck up in history’, we give you the most monumental facepalm moments the world has ever seen. Warning, intense levels of ‘they did WHAT?!’ lie ahead…

  • 15 biggest facepalm moments in history (according to Reddit)

    The US Navy Almost Blows Up The US President

    The story: Perhaps the most accident-prone warship in US naval history, the USS William D. Porter, or ‘Willie Dee’, has an incredible list of clumsiness to its name, including accidently shooting up a building filled with officers, almost blowing themselves up after dropping an armed depth charge, stupidly driving their anchor into another boat when leaving port, and somehow mistaking a friendly ship for an enemy plane. But the best has got to be very nearly killing President Franklin D Roosevelt and a dozen top-ranking naval officers when they accidently shot a torpedo at the ship he was aboard. Whoops.

    Repercussions: Thankfully, nothing much. A message got to the Prez’s boat, and they managed to evade the oncoming ‘attack’ within the two minutes it would have taken for the missile to strike. 

  • 15 biggest facepalm moments in history (according to Reddit) 1

    Thomas Austin’s Pet Rabbits

    The story: In 1859, Thomas Austin introduced 24 cute little rabbits to Australia for two simple reasons: as a source of food, and for him and his chums to hunt. 

    Repercussions: You know that phrase, ‘at it like rabbits’? Yeah, that. That happened really quickly and really uncontrollably. Within 40 years, the critters had spread from Austin’s small garden to the entire country. They led to the total extinction of entire plant species, and contributed to the demise of native species such as the bilby and the bandicoot. Yo, Johnny Depp – see why the Aussie’s are so paranoid about foreign animals coming into their country?

  • 15 biggest facepalm moments in history (according to Reddit) 2

    Chairman Mao’s Sparrow Massacre

    The story: As part of a huge push to transform farming into a communist system in 1958, Mao Zedong (the guy that founded the People’s Republic of China) ordered a sparrow genocide in a bid to stop the tiny birds from eating up all the country’s grain seed.

    Repercussions: Sparrows don’t just eat seeds. They eat locusts. And when there’s nothing around to eat locusts, locusts like to thrive, swarm over the country and eat everything in their path. This knock-on effect is thought to have majorly contributed to the deaths of as many as 78 million people through starvation and famine. 

  • 15 biggest facepalm moments in history (according to Reddit) 3

    Ronald Wayne’s Apple Exit

    The story: Forty years ago, Ohio-born Ronald Wayne set up a small computer company with two mates, both named Steve. Twelve days later he backed out, taking an $800 cheque with him for his 10% stake in the business.

    Repercussions: The company was Apple, obviously, and that stake today would be worth sixty billion dollars. Not only that, but he sold his original paper Apple contract to some clever/lucky bloke for $500. The same document made $1.6million at auction in 2011. Someone give Ron a hug. Please. 

  • 15 biggest facepalm moments in history (according to Reddit) 4

    Blockbuster Shuns Netflix

    The story: In the early 2000’s, video rental company Blockbuster was offered a fledgling, and money-losing, streaming service by the name of Netflix for $50m.

    Repercussions: Netflix is now worth approximately £25bn. How do you feel about that, Blockbuster? Hello? Blockbuster? It’s what? Gone forever? Oh. Oh dear.

  • 15 biggest facepalm moments in history (according to Reddit) 5

    Thomas Midgley Jr’s Bright Idea

    The story: Pre-1920s, driving your car around would mean having to endure a fairly irritating knocking noise from the engine. That was until mechanical engineer, chemist and inventor Midgley started working at General Motors. He found that adding lead to gasoline would totally eradicate that knocking noise. Rejoice! We’re all saved!

    Repercussions: Oh, hold on… doomed. We mean we’re all doomed. The combustion of leaded petrol is a direct factor in the destruction of the o-zone layer, and in global warming and long-term health problems… quite a lot of bad stuff, really. Still, how about that knocking noise!?

  • 15 biggest facepalm moments in history (according to Reddit) 6

    The Sugarloaf Bat Tower

    The story: In a bid to kill off huge swarms of mosquitos in the Florida Keys, and increase the success of his fishing resort, Richter Clyde Perky constructed a thirty-foot tower for $10,000 in 1929 that he filled with enough bats to hunt down the little winged bloodsuckers.

    Repercussions: The bats just flew off. That’s what bats do – just fly off. The tower still stands to this day, in all its batless glory. 

  • 15 biggest facepalm moments in history (according to Reddit) 7

    Sam Bowie Makes The Cut

    The story: In the 1984 basketball draft, the Portland Trail Blazers chose to sign up Sam Bowie, a Kentucky-born, 7’1 power forward with their second pick in the college draft, instead of a 6’6 Michael Jordan from North Carolina.

    Repercussions: Jordan instead went on to play for the Chicago Bulls and, well, become the most famous basketball player in history. Bowie, on the other hand, would simply be ‘that guy that got picked ahead of Michael Jordan’, and live out a fairly unremarkable career on the court. 

  • 15 biggest facepalm moments in history (according to Reddit) 8

    John, Paul, George and Ringo Get Shown the Door

    The story: Dick Rowe, A&R man at Decca Records, uttered seven words to band manager Brian Epstein that probably haunted him until his dying day: “Guitar groups are on their way out.” Who was he referring to? The Beatles. Or, the biggest band in the world ever.

    Repercussions: Decca, of course, did not sign the Fab Four. But it’s not all bad news for Rowe – he went on to sign up the Rolling Stones instead. Guitar groups, it seems, we’re very much in. 

  • 15 biggest facepalm moments in history (according to Reddit) 9

    The Lake Peigneur Whirlpool

    The story: In 1980, an attempt to strike oil beneath Lake Peigneur, near the Gulf of Mexico, went a little too far when drillers accidently hit a salt mine 1200ft below the surface.

    Repercussions: Dramatic, this one. Not only did the $5million drilling rig disappear under the lake, which was only 11-foot deep, but the hole quickly drained the entire 3.5 billion gallons of water, and in doing so created a quarter mile-wide whirlpool so destructive that it sucked barges, trucks, trees, buildings and a whole parking lot into the subterranean salt mine. 

  • 15 biggest facepalm moments in history (according to Reddit) 10

    Kodak’s Refusal To Develop

    The story: In 1975, A Kodak employee named Steve Sasson showed his bosses an mash-up of a digital cassette recorder, a Super-8 movie camera, a digital converter and other components that, together, made up with world’s first ‘electronic still camera’ or digital camera. Sasson’s bosses were unimpressed, felt it would never catch on, and thought it would cannibalise their film sales.

    Repercussions: Oh, it caught on alright. All of Kodak’s rivals saw what a great consumer opportunity there was with the digital camera, and went into development, leaving Kodak in their dust. Kodak did make few billion from their digital patent, but that money dried up fast, and the company filed for bankruptcy in 2012.

  • 15 biggest facepalm moments in history (according to Reddit) 11

    The Halifax Explosion

    The story: In the midst of the First World War, the coastal city of Halifax served as an important strategic assembly and departure point for warships taking part in naval ops. On the 6th December 1917, a disastrous miscommunication resulted in a French cargo ship carrying a huge amount of explosives colliding with a Norwegian vessel.

    Repercussions: The collision led to a catastrophic explosion that reduced the city to rubble, killed 2,000 and injured a further 9,000. In fact, the explosion was so huge that it’s thought to be the single largest man-made non-nuclear explosion ever created, and even triggered a tsunami that eradicated a community living in an area known as Tuft’s Cove. 

  • 15 biggest facepalm moments in history (according to Reddit) 12

    Lojka's Wrong Turn

    The story: After dodging an assassination attempt by seven Bosnian Serbs in 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand decided to abandon an army inspection in Sarajevo and return home. Only, nobody told his driver, Leopold Lojka. Lojka continued along the pre-planned route until being told of the error, and stopped the car to turn around. Unfortunately for Franz, the motor halted in front of Gavrilo Princip, a key conspirator in the assassination (being arrested above), who pulled out a gun and shot the heir to the Austria-Hungary throne in the jugular vein, killing him slowly.

    Repercussions: World War One, and 38 million deaths. Kind of a big one, this. 

  • 15 biggest facepalm moments in history (according to Reddit) 13

    The Botched Battle of Karansebes

    The story:  After a bunch of Austrian soldiers got drunk in the town of Karansebes in 1788 during a war with Turkey, a fight broke out, and in the mayhem someone screamed that the Turkish army was fast approaching. While many drunken soldiers ran, others grabbed their weapons, got into formation, and shot down anything that moved, and in doing so mistook their comrades for the enemy.

    Repercussions: Alright, we can’t be totally certain this really happened due to a distinct lack of evidence. That minor point aside, the story goes on to state that the Turks didn’t arrive until two days later, when they stumbled across 10,000 dead or wounded Austrain soldiers, and took the strategic town with ease.

  • 15 biggest facepalm moments in history (according to Reddit) 14

    The NASA Maths Fudge

    The story: NASA spent a massive £327million on developing, building and launching a Mars orbiter in 1998, only for the entire mission to fail 9 months later. The cause? An engineer using imperial measurements instead of metric. Oh, c’mon!

    Repercussions: One big fat lost space ship. 

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Chris Sayer

Chris Sayer is a freelance journalist and editor based in London. Chris has interviewed some of the biggest names in entertainment and travelled the world doing an all manner of adventures for lots of brilliant magazines. He writes for Shortlist about booze but would probably prefer we let him write about fishing instead. Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisSayer00

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