Everybody makes little mistakes, but most of the time our mistakes have few, if any, serious consequences. And if they do have such consequences, their impact seldom reaches beyond our narrow circles. On the other hand, some small mistakes from history have had huge ramifications. Following are twenty things about little mistakes in history, with great unexpected consequences.
20. The Misplaced Decimal Point That Made Spinach a Superfood
Thanks to Popeye the Sailor Man, many kids have dreamt at some point in their early years that they could gain superpowers by eating spinach. Popeye’s love of spinach was popularized in a receptive public. Primed by a widespread belief that spinach contained extraordinary benefits, many kids swallowed the icky green vegetable. Sadly, kids who stomached the green goop were not rewarded by an explosive increase in strength or prowess. However, a silver lining shone and revealed a lesson to be learned: Kids, don’t believe everything you see on TV.
As it turns out, a simple mathematical error inspired Popeye’s passion for spinach and the strength it gave him. In 1870, German scientist Erich von Wolf conducted research into the amount of iron in spinach and other vegetables. He discovered that spinach had an iron content of 3.5 milligrams per 100-gram serving. However, when Wolf wrote up his findings, he misplaced a decimal point. He put down spinach’s iron content ten times greater than what it actually was: 35 milligrams of iron per 100-gram serving, instead of 3.5 milligrams. It was not until 1937 that somebody double-checked Wolf’s math, spotting the error. By then, Popeye had already become a cultural icon, and the spinach myth took hold.