Great Problems Caused by Typos

Categories: News, Technology |

Photo by Norwood Themes on Unsplash

We’ve all accidentally sent an email with an embarrassing typo or let autocorrect completely change the meaning of a text message. But the consequences of these mistakes are usually minor at most. However, when you are responsible for billions of dollars or a top-tier government agency, typos can have disastrous effects. 

Here are 7 of the most catastrophic typos in history:

1870: Spinach’s iron content gets a boost.

Everyone knows that spinach is loaded with iron, right? Well, it turns out we might be overestimating its nutritional power. A German researcher in 1870 misplaced a decimal point and sent the iron content of spinach skyrocketing. Despite the error being corrected in 1937, the misperception persists. The character of Popeye was even created based on this myth. 

1872: The United States Government loses $40 million. 

To help fund the Civil War, the administration of Ulysses S. Grant decided to place taxes on certain agricultural imports. The Secretary of the Treasury planned to make “fruit-plants, tropical and semi-tropical, for the purpose of propagation or cultivation” exempt from this new tax. However, when the language was written down, a clerk replaced the first hyphen with a comma. Thus, all fruits and plants suddenly became tax-exempt and it cost the government two million dollars (equivalent to $40 million today).

1962: A misplaced hyphen costs NASA $80 million.

On July 22, 1962, NASA launched the Mariner 1 rocket to do a fly-by of Venus. Unfortunately, a mistake in coding caused the rocket to change direction. To prevent an uncontrolled crash, a safety officer decided to destroy the rocket in the air. 

1999: Kuwait misprints the Koran.

When Kuwait decided to print and distribute free Korans in 1999, a few misprints resulted in the dissolution of the entire government. Muslims consider the Koran to be the word of Allah and misrepresenting these words is a serious offense. The Minister for Islamic Affairs was accused of attempting to deliberately “disfigure the faith” of Kuwait, and the Emir had to call for a new election. 

2005: Mizuho Securities practically gives away stock shares. 

On December 15, 2005, Mizuho Securities planned to offer shares of a new company, J-Com Co., at 610,000 yen. A very unfortunate typo placed the price at only one yen. To add to their trouble, they accidentally sold 41 times more shares of the company than actually existed. All in all, they lost $225 million in one day.

2008: The Chilean Mint misspells ‘Chile.’

In December of 1008, Chilean engraver Pedro Urzua Lizana accidentally spelled the name of his country “C-H-I-I-E” instead of “C-H-I-L-E” on the 50-peso coin. His supervisor, Gregorio Iniguez sent that misspelling to production, erroneously creating over 1.5 million coins. 

2014: Tokyo Stock Market loses $617 billion.

In 2014, Japan suffered another disastrous typo. The most expensive typo in history might be when a trader accidentally canceled $617 billion worth of stock sales at the Tokyo Stock Market. The 42 canceled orders were for some of the biggest Japanese companies, including Sony and Toyota. 

In an age where technology controls more and more of our daily lives, accurate typing is increasingly important. A small typo can take down an entire government or stop phone service for millions. 

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