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Biggest Engineering Blunders Of All Time

01 May 2019

Sometimes, all it takes is a millimetre or a gram to royally wreck something beyond repair.

Ask any baker about tossing together ingredients to make artisan bread and they will almost certainly come back to you with tales of cricket bat textures or overcooked disasters. Thankfully you can throw a loaf of bread in the bin and start all over again, but what happens if things are – shall we say - little less disposable?

All jokes aside, the importance of accuracy in Engineering is paramount if you’re to have a successful career; when it comes to public structures and infrastructure the consequences of sloppy engineering can have dire and fatal outcomes.  Here are some of the world’s most famous engineering blunders of all time.

Tacoma Narrows Bridge

Probably one of the most stunning engineering failures ever to be filmed, the Tacoma Narrows Bridge couldn’t be more rubbery if it were made of, well, rubber. Wind was not this bridge’s friend. The bridge flung itself about for four months before succumbing to high winds and plummeting into the Strait of Puget Sound on November 7, 1940. The cause of the collapse? Aerolastic flutter.

You need to watch this video of the bridge to believe it.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nFzu6CNtqec 

St Francis Dam, Los Angeles

You’d think that someone with an engineering background so tumultuous would never be given any credence, however William Mulholland has one of the world’s most famous streets name after him. Self-taught engineer Mulholland, whilst having relative success with the Los Angeles Aquaduct, built the St Francis Dam and just 12 hours after it was officially inspected the whole dam ‘collapsed’ killing 600 people. 12.34 billion litres of water gushed through the San Fransiquito Canyon and obliterated its surroundings. The cause was geographical ignorance to the surrounds and defective foundations. Amazingly, it took Mulholland almost 12 months to resign. Ummmm, how was he not sacked?

Great Molasses Flood of Boston

You read that right – of all the things to be running away from, a river of sticky molasses would be one of the most terrifying. Almost 2.5 million gallons of molasses was stored in a huge 50ft high tank that wasn’t built to withstand the rapidly changing temperatures of North America and on 15 January 1919 the tank essentially exploded. What people thought were gun shots was actually the rivets popping out of the monstrous barrel before the molten sugar gushed through the streets, waist high. Yes. Terrifying.

France Rail Network

Probably unfair to say the entire network is a disaster but for the engineers who ‘forgot to measure’ the platforms with the specifications for the new trains ordered – all 2000 of them –  it may as well be the whole network… at a repair cost of close to $70million. What a difference 10 centimeters can make. RFF spokesman Christophe Piednoel puts the ordeal into perspective perfectly: “It’s as if you bought a Ferrari and wanted to get it in your garage only to discover the garage was not quite the right size because you’d never had a Ferrari before.”

If you think you could out-do these people in their career stakes, take a look at our Engineering courses  here at Melbourne Polytechnic.