Examples of failures

of one

Examples of Famous Human Failures

Famous human failures range from the lost original moon landing recordings to the questionable advent of Smell-o-Vision. Within the span of a single Wonder request, we identified 40 such failures, compiled from a variety of lists from engineering and news sources. The list includes numerous architectural failures, questionable and sometimes dangerous products, and technological inventions deemed either bad innovation or ahead of their time.


1. Lost moon landing tapes - In 2009, NASA admitted to losing the original moon landing recordings.

2. Mars Climate Orbiter lost due to math mistake - In September 1999, the Mars Climate Orbiter burned up and broke apart because someone failed to use the metric system when calculating.

3. Kemper Arena - In the 1970s, the Kemper Arena was constructed with a trussed roof, intended to slow the release of rainwater into the West Bottoms area. Unfortunately, the design caused pooling water. In addition, there were miscalculations in the engineering. Ultimately, the sagging roof took down the building.

4. Pier 1 Playground, Brooklyn Bridge Park, New York - Made of steel, this playground was too hot for children to touch.

5. Olympic Stadia, Greece - Stadiums constructed for the 2004 Olympics now sit abandoned, neglected, and useless. They are thought to contribute to the failure of the Greek economy.

6. Walkie Talkie Centre, London - The concave design of this building causes issues with sunlight damaging parked cars and creating extreme heat.

7. Vdara Hotel & Spa, Las Vegas - Again, a curved structure causing heat-related problems. This structure made the pool area so hot people got burned.

8. Mets Citi Field, New York - Designed to replace New York Mets Shea Stadium, the structure suffered from bad design, broken elevators, water leaks, and mold.

9. Ryugyong Hotel, North Korea - Construction began in 1987 but has never been completed due to faulty engineering and a shortage of money.

10. Kangbashi District, Ordos City, China - Originally intended to boost China's GDP, the Kangbashi District is mostly a ghost town. Most of the dwellings have been purchased by investors but remain uninhabited.

11. Chelsea Waterside Park, New York City - While not quite a failure since the park is in use, it has garnered criticism and ridicule because the water fountains children play amidst have a phallic appearance.

12. W.E.B. Du Bois Library, University of Massachusetts - The 26-story library began shedding its outer brickwork, purportedly because the architect did not consider the weight of books and the library started sinking.

13. The Dubai Aquarium - This 2.5 million gallon Dubai aquarium, constructed in the world's biggest shopping center, started gushing water from the tank in 2010, causing an evacuation of the mall.

14. John Hancock Tower, Boston - This 60-story skyscraper opened in 1976 to high praise for its minimalism. However, thermal stresses caused 10,000 windows to be replaced, and severe swaying caused motion sickness on the upper floors which had to be rectified.

15. Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles - Another problematic curved building design, the Walt Disney Concert Hall caused overheating of neighboring buildings and created a blinding situation for nearby drivers.

16. Radioactive health products - Before the dangers of radium were fully understood, the chemical element was included in many products, including health products. When a man drank 1,400 glasses of Thor-radium to increase his libido, his jaw fell off, prompting a reconsideration of the benefits of the radioactive products.

17. Flying tanks - Intended to be flown behind aircraft and glided into battle, but there weren't any aircraft that were powerful enough to tow them, and the project was abandoned.

18. Dymaxion Round House - This house kit was designed to be assembled in less than two days, but it was not customizable and furniture did not fit round design, so it ultimately failed to take off.

19. Car boats or boat cars - Many enthusiasts in the mid-1900s thought that car boats (or boat cars) were the wave of the future, but the lack of these strange vehicles on the road or water would seem to prove otherwise.

20. Cinerama Movies - Considered the predecessor to the current IMAX screens, Cinerama movies were much more complicated to operate, using three screens that had to be perfectly aligned by projectionists. It was costly and unwieldy, so few movies were shot this way, and the concept ultimately failed.

21. Intellivision - Mattel designed Intellivision to compete with Atari 2600, but it almost bankrupted the company. It was plagued with borderline false advertising when it purported that its keyboard could help the user "learn a foreign language, develop a personal exercise program…even work out a financial plan."

22. Portable record players - In the days of vinyl records, several companies attempted to create a portable record player, but the devices required a level space with no possibility of it being bumped, as it was easy to damage the records. The devices, therefore, never took off.

23. Robotic speed readers - The Readamatic was intended to help people read faster by guiding them down the page, but it was noisy and distracting.

24. Polaroid Polavision - This device was an early but failed attempt at home video processing. It was constrained by limited video length, lack of sound recording abilities, and dark output that made it difficult to view. The company lost $68.5 million on the device.

25. LaserDiscs - The LaserDisc was heralded as an improvement over VHS recordings, offering better sound quality. But ultimately, the disks were too big, heavy, and fragile to be a feasible option and were eventually replaced by DVDs.

26. General Motors EV1 - There was a lot of early enthusiasm for this electric car, but GM required strict screening of buyers and ultimately recalled and destroyed all the cars, fearing what electric vehicles might do to the industry.

27. Sega Activator - This failed attempt at motion-activated video games used infrared beams to read a player's movements and interpret them into onscreen character movements. It caused most players to experience frustration as their onscreen equivalents were constantly receiving a beating.

28. Microsoft SPOT Watch - This watch was introduced by Microsoft in 2004, but it used one-way FM radio, which was technology that was already deemed outdated at the time. It was clunky and overpriced and eventually succumbed to the Apple Watch.

29. TwitterPeek - This device was used for sending Twitter messages, but that's all it could do, so it ultimately lost the support of Twitter.

30. Revolv - Revolv was designed as a smart device hub that would allow users to control smart home devices from various manufacturers. The company was bought and ultimately axed by Nest.

31. Brock Control Systems - Considered ahead of its time, this system was an early attempt at CRM software that failed due to the company's lack of focus on midmarket clients and technical difficulties transitioning from Unix to Windows.

32. Google Glass - Touted as the future of wearable devices, Google Glass was "buggy, over-priced and apparently quite threatening."

33. Smell-o-vision - This invention intended to inject scents into a movie theater in sync with a movie's actions to enhance the viewing experience. But reviews cited the technology as noisy and out of sync with the picture.

34. The Concorde - The supersonic jet proved to be noisy, highly polluting, and excessively fuel consuming. Ultimately, only 14 of anticipated 200 airplanes were made.

35. Apple Newton MessagePad - This "handheld portable digital assistant (PDA)" was hard to read and offered poor handwriting recognition.

36. Microsoft "Clippy" - An early attempt at a virtual office assistant, "Clippy" was considered annoying by most users, and Microsoft discontinued it in 2004.

37. Segways - Marketed by its inventor as being to the car "what the car was to the horse and buggy," the Segway personal transporter was found to be glitchy and offered shoddy construction. It also caused confusion about its intended use with some countries deeming it a road vehicle, which would require licensing. Though some are still in use, the device is largely considered a failure.

38. DeLorean DMC-12 - Mostly famous for its appearance in the "Back to the Future" movie franchise, the then-futuristic vehicle, introduced in 1975, suffered from high costs and poor specs.

39. TiVo - TiVo took off when it was introduced in 2006, but it suffered from bad marketing and lack of anticipation regarding the advent of streaming media.

40. Leaded gasoline - Considered a car-enhancing improvement as early as the 1920s, leaded gasoline was ultimately linked to lead poisoning among Standard Oil Co employees in the mid-1920s. Still, the EPA did not recognize the dangers until 1975, but by 1995, all cars had switched to unleaded gasoline.


We have provided a list of 40 human failures, ranging from historic misses such as the lost moon landing tapes to architectural mishaps and strange inventions.