Top 10 Costliest Mistakes in History, $10 Billion Oupsies

” Whoops ! » The last word uttered by a broker before unintentionally liquidating a listed company. The last word spoken by Maginot when the Germans bypassed his line. The last word spoken by the drunk captain of a stranded oil tanker in Alaska. Generally, saying “oops” does not avoid jail time.

1. The Maginot Line

We invested 5 billion francs between 1930 and 1936 to create an impassable line that the Germans would never be able to pass. And the Germans simply decided to bypass the line through Belgium and the Ardennes. In purchasing power parity, this represents approximately 2.3 billion euros today. For something that was useless. We could add to this the hours of debate carried out in the chamber to vote for the construction of the line with the corresponding salaries of the deputies.

2. The UraMin scam

In 2006, it was no secret that Sarkozy was going to be elected president of the republic the following year. Anne Lauvergeon, who runs Areva (a strategic and largely public company), decides against the advice of all her management, to invest in a Canadian company, UraMin, which claims to own several uranium mines in Africa. Except that this company is actually totally bogus and the so-called extraordinary mines have dried up. Areva still pays 1.8 billion euros to acquire the operating rights. In total, by the time Areva drops the case, the company will have lost 3 billion euros and will have been bailed out by the state to avoid bankruptcy. In short, if you are passionate about it, I can only recommend the show Pieces à conviction in good and due form:

3. The broker who fails

We are in 2003 when a Japanese investment company, Mizuho Securities, asks one of its brokers to sell part of its shares at a unit price of 610,000 yen. But there, the broker gets tangled up and offers the following deal: he puts 610,000 shares of the company on sale at the price of… 1 yen. This error caused a net loss of more than 280 million euros to the company. Want to know more? everything is summarized in this article from Le Monde.

4. The Mars Polar Lander climate probe

Sometimes globalization is not all good. NASA had indeed decided to entrust the construction of the navigation system of its probe to Mars to a British subcontractor. Except that, when setting up the tools, he used the imperial measurement system instead of the metric system. No one noticed and the probe ended up crashing on landing. In total, we are talking about a loss of $125 million.

5. The Drunk Commander Who Creates an Oil Spill

In 1989, the captain of the Exxon Valdez, an oil tanker, was totally drunk at the helm of his little boat. It runs aground in Alaska and causes an unprecedented disaster, 42 million liters of oil spilling on the coasts and killing more than 250,000 birds, not counting fish. The first estimate of the cost of this little faux pas de bourré was around 2.5 billion euros (which corresponds to the fine that Exxon was ordered to pay before a second judgment reviewed this sum at the decline). More info to be found here.

6. The Alaska Sale

Tsar Alexander II didn’t know what to fuck with Alaska. One day, he said to himself that a bit of fresh air would do no harm to renovate his palace, and so in March 1867, he decided to sell this small useless land in the United States, for 4 £.5 million at the time. And you know what there is finally, in Alaska? I give it to you in the bull’s eye: oil. Who must bring in around 4.5 million pounds every day.

7. When an Australian hunter releases 24 little rabbits into the wild

In 1859, the hunter Thomas Austin wanted to hunt rabbits and therefore released 24 of them into the wild to have a little fun. Except that the rabbit does not exist in Australia and that the animal does not suffer from any predator on the territory. And it reproduces quickly, the rabbit. Since then, Australia has had a HUGE rabbit problem: there were 10 billion of them in 1970 across the country eating the crops. It has become a real scourge that costs farmers $500 million every year. Suddenly, the authorities deployed an action plan, spreading a virus to kill the rabbits. They are 10 million to have died in a few years, but continue to proliferate.

8. The Falklands Invasion

Ok. Imagine that you are a dictatorship in decline and that you want to regain the support of your population by creating an immense patriotic momentum. Now imagine that a few miles from your shores there is a tiny islet with more sheep than humans that once belonged to you before being placed under British rule. Imagine that this islet is barely guarded. What do you do ? You send your troops to invade it thinking that Great Britain will never bother to intervene on the other side of the world to recover its property. And you poke your finger in the eye. The Falklands War, which Argentina lost, ultimately cost the country $850 million and 700 young soldiers dead.

Top 10 costliest mistakes in history, $10 billion oupsies
Photo credits (Public Domain): Falklands, Campaign, (Distances to bases) 1982.jpg: Department of History, United States Military Academy, at

9. The Treaty of Versailles

Now imagine that you have just been at war for more than 4 years, that it was horrible, that you lost a lot of young active people, but that you won the war and you want to make it clear. What are you doing against the advice of all your allies? You are making the loser pay very very very very very much. And this is what happened during the Treaty of Versailles: the armistice provided for the payment of insane war reparations from Germany, so insane that the country was never able to pay them really. Result: Germany entered a terrible crisis which, accentuated by the crash of 29, led the country towards Nazism and the whole world towards the second war. Who knows how much it all cost exactly, but if you consider that the second world war is a direct consequence of the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, I think it’s safe to say that nothing has cost the world more than the French pride.

Top 10 costliest mistakes in history, $10 billion oupsies
Photo credits (Public Domain): Helen Johns Kirtland (1890-1979) and Lucian Swift Kirtland (died 1965)

10. The Evergreen stuck in the Suez Canal

And we save the best for last with this event that happened in 2021: the Evergreen liner stuck in the canal blocking the passage to the billions of goods exchanges that pass through it every day. A heavyweight 400 meters long and 220,000 tons that lost around 8 billion euros per day (or 350 million euros per hour if you prefer) for just under a week. We can talk about a big dumpling.

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