Scroll down to watch the video
Mistakes happen. Hindsight, as we are all often reminded by those who have made a blunder or two, is 20/20.
1. The Alaska Purchase was a huge waste of money
In 1867 when the United States sealed the deal with Russia on the purchase of Alaska for roughly two cents an acre, it was viewed as a major mistake by the U.S. Congress.
Some members sarcastically referred to Alaska as then-president Andrew Johnson’s “polar bear garden.”
Considering the times and how little was known about the area, it also wasn’t surprising that the purchase came under intense scrutiny from the press. Even after the U.S. officially took control of Alaska and offered American citizenship to the few Russians who were living there, almost all politely declined the offer and moved back to Russia instead.
Russia’s Emperor Alexander II had been trying for years to tempt the United States with the purchase of Alaska’s 375 million acres, in part to pay off some hefty debt his country had accumulated as a result of the Crimean War (fought between 1853-1856).
Russia’s minister to the United States, Baron Eduard de Stoeckl, was instructed to get the talks back on track again when the start of the American Civil War sidelined everything in 1861.
Although economist David Barker infamously made the argument the deal was a bust for the United States, others counter that with the millions of barrels of oil that Alaska has provided over the decades America definitely came out on top.
2. We seriously thought aliens were living on Mars
In 1877, Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli thought he was making a meaningful scientific observation about Mars, and with it he offered a detailed hand-drawn map as proof of his claim. Schiaparelli’s hypothesis? Mars’ surface was covered with naturally-formed channels.
Groundbreaking at the time, yes, but also a statement that was translated into English incorrectly. The Italian word for channels, canali, was incorrectly translated to read “canals.”
Channels, canals – same difference, right? For American astronomer Percival Lowell, the answer to that question was a definite, “No!” Lowell took the canals concept and Schiaparelli’s drawing as all the proof he needed that there was some kind of life form on Mars had to have dug them.
In 1894, he opened the Lowell Observatory in Arizona, where he had an impressive telescope installed so that he might get a better look at the Martians’ handiwork.
Lowell then went on a 22-year-long Mars observational binge that eventually saw him publishing 400 pages worth of his now-debunked conclusions and theories in 1906.
To be fair to both Lowell and Schiaparelli (both of whom were wrong in their assessments of the Red Planet, by the way), their telescopes were extremely primitive compared to today’s technology. But the translation guffaw? That’s a mistake that someone could’ve avoided and saved some people a lot of time.