Charts & Graphs

I’ve Made a Terrible Mistake

Inventions regretted by their creators.

  • Photograph of the Trinity detonation

    atomic bomb

    “I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture the Bhagavadgita: ‘Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds,’” recalled J. Robert Oppenheimer, the Manhattan Project’s lead physicist, of seeing a mushroom cloud during the first test of a nuclear weapon, in 1945. “I suppose we all thought that, one way or another.”

  • A golden Labradoodle puppy


    Hoping to produce a breed with an “affable, controllable nature” and minimal shedding as a guide dog for visually impaired allergy sufferers, Australian dog breeder Wally Conron crossed a Labrador retriever with a poodle in 1989. “I’ve done a lot of damage,” he said in 2014 of the number of unethical breeders who now produce the lucrative puppies in unsafe conditions. “I’ve created a lot of problems.”

  • AK-47 assault rifle


    “I sleep well,” Mikhail Kalashnikov, designer of the low-maintenance assault rifle that would become near-ubiquitous in wars and acts of terrorism, once told a reporter. “It’s the politicians who are to blame for failing to come to an agreement and resorting to violence.” A year before his 2013 death, however, he wrote, “I keep having the same unsolved question: If my rifle claimed people’s lives, can it be that I was to blame for their deaths?”

  • Web rotary press

    web rotary press

    New York inventor William Bullock perfected the rotary printing press designed by Richard March Hoe in 1843, patenting his improvements in 1863. “It is a matter of profound regret,” the 1871 edition of the American Encyclopedia of Printing noted, that four years later Bullock’s leg was crushed by the machine. He died several days later, during an attempted amputation of the limb.

  • Red and white striped lighthouse


    In 1699 the English painter and engineer Henry Winstanley built the first open-ocean lighthouse, off the southern coast of Cornwall. Having expressed the wish to witness his creation withstand “the greatest storm there ever was,” Winstanley was found dead in its rubble after the Great Storm of 1703. “The loss of that lighthouse,” wrote Daniel Defoe, “is a considerable damage, as ’tis very doubtful whether it will be ever attempted again.”

  • Blue and pink balloons

    gender-reveal party

    From 2017 to 2020, expectant parents announcing the sex of their baby by means of colored pyrotechnics have caused forest fires, broken bones, and death by shrapnel. “When I first saw that a gender-reveal party had caused a forest fire, I cried because I felt responsible,” said Jenna Karvunidis, who is credited with holding the first such gathering, in 2008. “But,” she added, “when planes crash, no one goes after the Wright brothers.”