In the 1988 Yellow Pages, an ad purchased by the Banner Travel agency was meant to promote the company’s “exotic travel” options – instead, thanks to a typo by Pacific Bell, it advertised “erotic” travel destinations. Banner’s owner said that this type cost her 80% of her business (primarily elderly folk) and was not assuaged when Bell waived the ad’s $230 monthly fee. She later sued for $10 million.
2. NASA’s Exploding Hyphen
It was 1962: America’s space race against the Soviet Union was in full flow, and NASA was preparing to launch Mariner 1, an $18.5 million probe bound for Venus. Official accounts dispute what it was that caused the prodigious probe to steer dangerously off course seconds after launching – some cite a missing hyphen in the guidance code, while others cite a missing decimal – but the results are well documented. Mariner 1 lost contact, lost control and was ordered to be blown up just 293 seconds after launch. Science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke dubbed the missing punctuation “the most expensive hyphen in history.”
This was supposed to be a simple publicity stunt. In 2005, the Roswell Honda car dealership mailed 30,000 scratchcards to potential customers, one of which was supposed to be worth $1,000. However, unfortunately for them, someone at the Force Events marketing company who handled the tickets misread the rules, and nobody caught the mistake when proofreading. Therefore, 30,000 shoppers received their tickets and all of them won $1,000. Unable to pay out the $30 million that they owed, Roswell Honda instead offered a $5 Walmart gift card to everyone.
4. The Son Who Ruined an Empire
How does a flourishing 124-year-old family business with 250 employees go out of business in just two months? Well, blame the letter “s”. In 2015, the British government’s registrar of companies reported that Taylor and Sons, a family engineering business established in 1875, was being liquidated. However, it wasn’t. In fact, a different company by the name of Taylor and Son had gone belly up, and the registrar didn’t notice the difference in spelling. Though the typo was corrected in three days, the damage to Taylor and Sons’ credibility was irreparable. Two months later they were out of business and a court found the government liable for the equivalent of a $17 million legal bill.
An eBay user learned the hard way that fortune (and spelling) can be fickle when he decided to auction off a rare bottle of Allsopp’s Arctic Ale, brewed in 1852 and perfectly preserved. The museum-quality artifact should have fetched him a small fortune, but he, unfortunately, spelled the name wrong. He accidentally labeled it as “Allsop’s,” so the item didn’t appear when buyers searched for it, resulting in just two bids and a sale of $304 ($5 more than the asking price). Eight weeks later, the lucky buyer listed the same bottle on eBay, though spelled correctly this time. After receiving 157 bids, the bottle sold for $503,300.
6. The Epic International Airfare
Back in 2006, Alitalia Airlines mistakenly listed a deal on flights from Toronto to Cyprus for just $39. They actually meant to put $3,900, but by the time the error was corrected, some 2,000 passengers had already booked flights at the epically low rate. Fearing the fallout of canceling those tickets, Alitalia allowed those customers to keep their bargain – costing the company more than $7 million in losses.
Twenty years before the word “typo” even entered the English dictionary, the US government made a huge one. In an 1872 attempt to recover America’s post-Civil-War economy, Ulysses S. Grant’s administration passed a tariff act that imposed a 20% tax on more foreign imports. There were some exceptions, the bill said, including “fruit, plants tropical and semi-tropical for the purpose of cultivation.” So, what’s wrong with that? Well, the bill was only meant to exempt “fruit plants” and not fruit and plants as the stray comma implied. When importers took advantage of this and insisted that their fruit should enter the country tax-free as the letter of the law decreed, the government was forced to refund around $2 million in duties – or $40 million in today’s currency.
8. The Map of Lies
The New York City subway system is not really known for its precision, but the Metropolitan Transit Authority might have suffered their most embarrassing blunder in 2013. The MTA printed about 80,000 new subway maps that March to inform passengers that the minimum balance on pay-per-ride cards had been increased from $4.50 to $5.00. Unfortunately, someone forgot to type that. All $250,000 worth of maps stated that the new pay-per-ride was still $4.50. MTA scrambled to retrieve as many faulty maps as they could, and were then forced to reprint them all.