1. Four words that changed the course of American history
The night of August 27th, 1963 proved to be a sleepless one for Martin Luther King. He was due to give a speech at the Lincoln Memorial on August 28th, so he stayed up late preparing notes for the big moment. As he was delivering his speech, a singer by the name of Mahalia Jackson, who was stood to his side, shouted: “Tell them about the dream, Martin!" King paused, went off-script, and the rest (as they say), is history.
2. The Bay of Pigs invasion fails due to unsynced watches
In April 1961, the American CIA, together with Cuban exiles that were specifically trained for the task, was all set to invade Cuba via the Bay of Pigs. President John F. Kennedy ordered that six fighter planes be sent in to back up American forces after an initial airstrike failed. It turns out that the pilots forgot to sync their watches to Cuban time prior to setting off, so their presence was useless by the time they got there.
3. The Confederacy is foiled by a general's note
Confederate General Robert E. Lee led the invasion of Maryland during the American Civil War in 1862. He drafted Special Order 191, which was a document outlining the moves that the Confederate Army should make in preparation for the Battle of Antietam. A copy of the Special Order ended up in the hands of a careless general subordinate to Lee, who left it in a box on the ground. The note was promptly discovered by Union troops and led to them being able to fend off the Confederacy and turn the tide of the Civil War.
4. The speech that saved a president's life
President Theodore Roosevelt was staying at the Hotel Gilpatrick in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on October 14th, 1912. He was sitting outside the hotel with a 50-page manuscript in hand. He folded it in half and slipped it into the breast pocket of his overcoat. He stood up and headed to a nearby auditorium to give a campaign speech when he was shot at point-blank range by a man in the crowd. Luckily for Roosevelt, the manuscript’s thick papers prevented the bullet from entering his lung. Roosevelt gave his speech as planned.
5. The oversight that led to a Titanic disaster
April 14th, 1912 was a fateful night for the RMS Titanic that would end in infamy. The watchman assigned to the crow’s nest didn’t have any binoculars to use to spot icebergs, and that’s because they were inside a locked locker – and the key was missing. Just before the Titanic left port, the White Star Line decided to replace the ship’s second officer, and the keys didn’t get handed over in the ensuing rush. Sadly, that small but significant oversight led to more than 1,500 people meeting a grisly fate.
6. The man who marked the beginning of the end of the Berlin Wall
The beginning of the end of the Cold War was actually announced by accident by a man named Gunther Schabowski. On November 9th, 1989, the East German Communist official was addressing a news conference when a journalist posed a question about travel restrictions. He responded that a regulation would be implemented allowing citizens of the German Democratic Republic to leave East Germany via any of the border crossings along the Berlin Wall. Although the information wasn’t supposed to be released until 4 am the following day, Schabowski’s words immediately spurred the wall’s collapse.
7. Victory on D-Day thanks to a Nazi general's vacation
German general Erwin Rommel, also known as the Desert Fox, was supposed to be in charge of the Axis defense of Normandy. The thing is that he left his post just a few days before the Allies invaded on June 6th, 1944. No-one knows exactly where he went (he either went to see Hitler in Bavaria or was spending his wife’s birthday with her). His absence is seen as one of the key reasons for the Allies emerging with probably their most significant victory of the entire Second World War.
8. The 13th-century monk who nearly destroyed calculus
Calculus is the bane of many a high school student, but there’s no denying that many of the world’s scientific and technological advancements wouldn’t have taken place without it. A nameless 13th-century monk couldn’t find any fresh papers to write his prayers on, so he chose to erase the context of an ancient text written by Archimedes and use that instead. Luckily, scientists were able to decipher the priceless knowledge left to the world by the ancient Greek mathematician.
9. Marie Antoinette's fatal decisions
Although many people believe it, Marie Antoinette never actually said: “Let them eat cake”. Something she did actually do, however, made the decision that led to her and her husband’s executions. She refused to escape from Paris in two separate carriages, insisting that she and King Louis XVI escaped in a fancier carriage called a Berlin. As they escaped to Montmedy on the Dutch border, the carriage was recognized by armed villagers who overtook it and captured them both.
10. Nuclear war is stopped by one man
The Cuban Missile Crisis is often touted as the event which brought the world closest to nuclear war, but there was another, much less well-known event that also took place that was just as dangerous. Soviet Union Air Defense Force lieutenant, Stanislav Petrov, was working an overnight shift in September 1983 when his computer showed five US missiles approaching the Soviet Union. His gut told him that something was wrong, so Petrov chose not to report the incident to his superiors. He double-checked and realized that it was a malfunction, thus preventing the outbreak of a nuclear war.