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The Biggest Mistakes That Changed History

Updated December 20, 2019 27.7k votes 6.8k voters 424.0k views12 items

List RulesVote up the most momentous mistakes in world history.

You know when you've made a big mistake. Sure, there have been tests that you thought you aced or dates that you thought went well - but you know when you've made a really big blunder. Now, imagine that your miscalculation is so large, it changes the course of history. We're taking a look at some of the worst - and best - historical mistakes, those with effects you can still see today.

Some of these mistakes that changed history were tragic miscalculations; others were fortuitous mishaps. Read on for a list of historical events that were a mistake and their surprising consequences.

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  • 5

    Fox Turned Over 'Star Wars' Rights To George Lucas

    After making American Graffiti, George Lucas had a first-look deal in place with Universal, who ultimately passed on Star Wars.

    As part of the deal that Lucas eventually made with Fox, he retained both sequel and merchandising rights. To 1977 studio executives, the arrangement seemed perfectly reasonable, as sequels were not yet a cultural phenomenon nor were franchises. Even Fox’s executives were rather skeptical about the space opera’s financial prospects.

    When Star Wars dropped, however, box offices were shaken to their core, and Lucas was able to make his sequels the way he chose, all while making yet another fortune on merchandise.

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  • 6

    General Pickett Charged Directly Into Enemy Hands

    A combination of tactical blunder and impulsivity, Pickett’s Charge took place on the last day of the fight at Gettysburg. After strikes on the flanks, General Robert E. Lee ordered a charge directly up the middle at General George G. Meade’s position - but it was an order that Meade had anticipated the previous night.

    After artillery fire on the Union position, about 15,000 Confederate soldiers (including one of three commanders, General George Pickett) moved across .75 miles of open field. They made for Meade's fixed position, taking heavy volumes of artillery fire. While some reached the target wall, they were repelled at the cost of 6,000 lives. Many experts point to the charge and the subsequent loss at Gettysburg as the turning point of the conflict, and the Confederacy would go on to surrender in April 1865.

     

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  • 7

    Titanic's Lookout Had No Binoculars

    Many of the reasons behind the tragedy of the Titanic are already well-known: few life rafts were available, class separation increased the number of casualties, and the ship's boisterous claim of "unsinkability" most likely led to general ill-preparedness. A lesser-known oversight, however, is that the ship's lookout had no binoculars .

    The ship was sailing relatively fast given the icy conditions, despite warnings from other vessels. The event also occurred at night, when the extreme darkness would have resulted in limited visibility. Because of this, the potential utility of binoculars is debatable, but whether or not such a tool could have saved the ship and its passengers will remain unknown.

    The fallout of the disaster greatly improved ocean-going safety as it introduced many regulations regarding available life crafts and the manning of radios and created the International Ice Patrol .

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  • 8

    Static Build-Up Causes The Hindenburg Disaster

    Photo: gus pasquarella / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    The Hindenburg disaster is one of history's most baffling mysteries - many are unsure of what exactly went wrong. Some still suspect sabotage, but the generally accepted notion is that static build-up and discharge is what ignited the hydrogen in the LZ 129 Hindenburg on May 6, 1937. Others say docking mistakes were also at fault.

    While the true cause is unknown, the subsequent explosion and loss of 36 lives more or less marked the end of the airship era.

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