History books are a parade of great people planning wars and inventing shit and in general dictating what the world is going to be like for the rest of us. Some of them are good and some are evil, but we like to think they all knew what they were doing. After all, they made history, didn't they?
But the truth is much more mundane and perhaps frightening -- sometimes, major moments in history are influenced by something as dumb as a guy dropping a sandwich. In fact, many of the most important chapters in your history books wouldn't have been written if not for a tiny blunder, like ...
6The Titanic Sank Because Someone Forgot a Locker Key
The reason people are still debating exactly why the Titanic sank is that most of the people who actually knew went down with the ship (you've seen the movie, right? The captain stands there and drowns while sad music plays?).
Paramount Pictures/20th Century Fox
That old couple took their secrets to their watery grave, the selfish pricks.
But one prominent theory is that the guy who was in charge of, you know, watching for icebergs didn't have access to a pair of binoculars. That guy was Fred Fleet, who was in fact one of the few crew members to survive. He was the first to spot the iceberg, and he testified to a senate inquiry that, if he'd had access to binoculars, he might have seen it soon enough to avoid it. The ship would have never sunk, and that one guy would have never fallen hilariously onto the propeller on the way down.
Paramount Pictures/20th Century Fox
"Eh, could have been worse."
But here's the thing: the binoculars were on the ship. But they were locked up, and the key to the locker didn't make the trip. That's because right before the Titanic sailed, the company that ran the cruise made a split-second decision to replace the ship's second officer, David Blair, with another guy, Charles Lightoller, who had more experience working on giant ships and was thus less likely to, say, get them all run aground on an iceberg. So Blair missed out on the cruise of a lifetime, but as he waved goodbye to the departing Titanic, he neglected to realize that the locker keys were still in his pocket.
London Evening Standard
Beside a now-useless drink coupon.
He probably got a good laugh and a forehead slap out of it after he got home and emptied his pockets on the kitchen counter. The key remained a souvenir in his family to remember the cruise he narrowly missed, and nobody saw it again until it came up for auction in 2014. Meanwhile, back in 1912, the crew aboard the fateful ship soon realized that they couldn't get into the locker but opted not to turn around for the sake of a cheap pair of binoculars. After all, the lookout crew had a perfectly good set of eyes, and the Titanic was unsinkable.
The oversight, which might have become known as BinocularGate if it had occurred later in history, was a notorious blunder in the Titanic tragedy. In 2012, on the 100th anniversary of the disaster, an anonymous prankster left a pair of binoculars on Fleet's grave with an apology note for the late delivery. Too soon, asshole.
5A Bureaucrat Stumbling Over a Reporter's Question Brought Down the Berlin Wall
The Berlin Wall was such a perfect symbol of the split between Democracy and Communism that, when it fell in late 1989, it almost seemed too on-the nose, like the ham-fisted climax in some post-apocalyptic YA novel. But most people don't remember exactly why the momentous event actually happened -- was it a popular uprising that overwhelmed the government's guards? Or did the commies agree to take it down, bowing to the inevitable march of freedom?
White House Photographic Office
Did the Gipper smash through it with a single pelvic thrust?
Well, there's a reason the story gets confusing at that point: the whole thing was sort of an accident.
After nearly 30 years and no sign of the wall coming down, East Germany had decided to show their people how charitable they were by slightly loosening travel restrictions for a little while. Gunter Schabowski was an East German politician charged with holding the press conference that would alert Germany to the new, minor changes to the travel code. On Nov. 9, 1989, Schabowski was handed a piece of paper that he expected to be so business-as-usual that he didn't even read it before he approached the podium.
Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-1982-0504-421/CC-BY-SA
"The state of the division is strong, may atheism bless the GDR, blah blah, the usual."
As expected, the speech was so tedious and uninteresting that it nearly put the crowd to sleep, until ears perked up at references to relaxing travel between the borders. Through either poor wording or boredom-induced lapse of concentration, some journalists got the impression that Schabowski was implying they were to drop the restrictions entirely.
When someone asked him when this was to take effect, Schabowski flipped through the speech he hadn't read, and unable to find the answer, and probably feeling like his fly was undone in front of the world's press, he shrugged and said, "Immediately, right away." The press ran back to their typewriters and visors and declared to the world that East Germany had just canceled the Berlin Wall, effective, like, right fucking now.
Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-1989-1109-030/Lehmann, Thomas/CC-BY-SA
Their cameras conveniently doubled as sledgehammers.
The resulting frenzy at the border was too much for authorities to handle, and although they considered firing on the crowd, they decided that doing so would escalate the situation to an all-out heads-in-guillotines revolution. So the military fell back, the wall came down, communism ended, David Hasselhoff sang a song, and politicians everywhere learned how important it was to read the goddamn speech before a press conference.