12 small typos that caused big disasters

  • Typos happen. Usually they don’t cause much trouble.
  • But for stock brokers, politicians, and coders, “fat finger” errors can have massive consequences.
  • Here’s a list of some of the costliest typos ever, from exploded rockets to stock brokers serving jail time.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

We’ve probably all made typos, but rarely have our small mistakes amounted to colossal disasters that would ruin our lives and be remembered for decades.

That’s what happened to some people who didn’t double-check (or triple-check) their work. When designing rockets for NASA, it’s important to be precise. The same goes for stock trading.

These are the typos that have toppled businesses, blown up rockets, and lost companies billions of dollars.


A NASA rocket exploded in 1962 because of a misplaced hyphen.

Mariner 1 launched on Juy 22, 1962. It was intended to do an unmanned fly-by of Venus to collect scientific data, but an error in the computer codes caused it to veer off course. This was NASA’s first planetary mission, and it was losing to Russia in the already contentious space race.

As it turns out, a misplaced hyphen seems to have caused the rocket’s trajectory to be off. A NASA range-safety officer wanted to avoid any possible crashes back down to Earth, so 293 seconds into the launch, he blew it up. The coding blunder cost NASA $US80 million (in today’s money, that’s over $US673 million). There were conflicting reports, some of which blamed a misplaced decimal and others saying a hyphen caused the error in trajectory.

Luckily, Mariner 2, a backup rocket, was already built and waiting just in case disaster struck. That one completed the mission successfully, but Mariner 1 would always be remembered for its critical error. Science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke called it “the most expensive hyphen in history.”


A tax-code typo is keeping restaurants from remodeling.

Wikimedia Commons

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 was supposed to give tax breaks to mum-and-pop restaurants and shops that wanted to remodel their stores. Instead, an immediate tax break became one that wouldn’t kick in for 39 years, all because of a typo.

The mistake reportedly happened because lawmakers were in a rush to get the act passed, so restaurants and shops were excluded from the tax write-off list.


Japanese securities once sold for pennies by mistake, costing a brokerage firm $US225 million.

In 2005, a Japanese company called Mizuho Securities Co. lost at least $US225 million on a stock trade thanks to a “fat finger” error.

The typo accidentally listed 610,000 shares of their company at 1 yen apiece, instead of what they intended: one share for 610,000 yen ($US5,041).

Mizuho tried to cancel its mistake three times, but the Tokyo Stock Exchange doesn’t cancel orders, mistake or no mistake. So Mizuho lost $US225 million, which set off the Nikkei 225 index to go down by nearly 2%.


An “exotic” vacation turns “erotic.”

In 1988, the Yellow Pages was a great way to advertise.

Banner Travel Services, a company in Sonoma, California, put out an advertisement on the Yellow Pages for an “exotic” vacation destination. But the Yellow Pages accidentally advertised an “erotic” travel destination.

As a result of the misused word, most of the elderly clients stopped booking tours, but large numbers of younger couples asked about it.


Taylor & Sons Ltd. v. Taylor & Son Ltd.

Erich Rau/EyeEm/Getty Images

Sometimes it pays to have a company with a unique name.

Taylor & Sons was a thriving engineering firm in Cardiff, Wales, that accidentally got mixed up with Taylor & Son, a different company, which was going under.

Companies House, a British bureau that keeps track of all businesses in the UK, listed the wrong company as closing for good in 2009, causing a severe decline in business for Taylor & Sons. Customers disappeared, thinking the firm was gone. In 2014, after 124 years in business, Taylor & Sons closed its doors for good, all because of the grievous clerical error.

Taylor & Sons subsequently sued Companies House, and won£8.8 million ($US11.5 million).


A typo on the a tariff act in 1872 cost the US government $US40 million.

In 1872, a comma that should have been a hyphen in the Tariff Act of 1789 cost the US government a huge sum.

The act was meant to decide which goods entering the country were taxed and which weren’t. The 1872 update accidentally listed “Fruit, plants tropical and semi-tropical,” when it should have listed “fruit-plants.”

It may not seem like a significant difference, but the act accidentally made all imported tropical fruit and tropical plants untaxable, as opposed to just tropical plants that bore fruit. The government ended up losing $US2 million in revenue – $US40 million in today’s money.


An Excel error led to the London Whale debacle.

pegqwin/Flickr/CC 2.0 Attribution

Who is the “London Whale”? It’s the nickname for a guy who reportedly lost JPMorgan Chase & Co. $US6.2 billion in stocks in 2012, all because of a simple error.

According to a later report, Microsoft Excel was blamed for the Whale’s flub. A spreadsheet was used by the company to organise its “Value at Risk” model, which was in turn copied and pasted in another table manually. This meant that an error in Excel led to a massive loss for the company.

JPMorgan Chase & Co. still made a record profit of $US21.3 billion in 2012, so things could have been worse.


Deutsche Bank accidentally gave a hedge fund $US6 billion because of its antiquated computers.

Getty Images / Stephanie Keith

One of Deutsche Bank’s clients, a hedge fund, randomly received a payment of $US6 billion in 2015 before returning it the next day.

The payment was the result of a mistake made by a bank employee. Deutsche Bank’s internal systems were also to blame, however, and CEO John Cryan said in a statement that the bank’s “cost base is swollen by poor and ineffective processes, antiquated and inadequate technology.”

The typo did have some beneficial consequences, though: The bank planned an overhaul of its management system, all because one accidental payment.


The biggest of errors was a loss of $US617 billion at the Tokyo Stock Exchange.

In September 2014, one of the biggest “fat finger” errors in history lost $US617 billion in stocks on the trading floor of the Tokyo Stock Exchange.

A trader accidentally pressed the wrong button, cancelling stock sales adding up to 67.78 trillion yen. Forty-two separate transactions were canceled, which is why the price tag was so massive.

According to the report by the London Evening Standard, the mistake is “thought to be the most extreme example of a trader in financial markets inputting hopelessly wrong figures while working under intense pressure.”


A Google forward slash error broke the internet for a day.

On January 31, 2009, between 6:30 and 7:25 a.m. PT, the internet didn’t work properly.

If anyone tried logging on to a site, an error message from Google said “Warning! This site may harm your computer.” Google’s fumble happened when someone added “/” to a list of harmful sites. For some reason, the trigger for this error message was the forward slash key. Since every website includes a forward slash in there somewhere, every website was considered harmful to computers.

The site that users were directed to, StopBadware.org, quickly crashed because of the sudden flow of traffic. Google fixed the problem that same day, but not before millions of people noticed.


Typos are a huge moneymaker for Google.

Despite a typo breaking the internet for a day, Google thrives on user errors.

Users who make mistakes when they Google websites occasionally find themselves on sites created to take advantage of common misspellings. These webpages are known as “typo-squatting” sites. According to a Harvard study, Google’s annual income from typos in searching is $US497 million, because those typosquatting sites pay for advertising at the top of Google’s search results.

So, unlike the other typos on this list, someone’s making money from these.


Australia spelled “responsibility” wrong on its AU$50 bank note.

Australia printed 46 million AU$50 bank notes in October 2018, only to find that there was a typo on all of them.

The word “responsibility” was printed as “responsibilty,” in the text from a speech given in 1921 by Australia’s first female member of Parliament, Edith Cowan. The text reads, “It is a great responsibilty [sic] to be the only woman here, and I want to emphasise the necessity which exists for other women being here.”

The Reserve Bank of Australia said it would fix the typo in its next print run, but these bank notes, the most widely circulated ones in Australia, will be around for years to come.

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