Regretful Decisions in History: Hydrogen filled Hindenburg, Thalidomide to treat morning sickness, The Donner Party

Fareeha Arshad

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The Hindenburg disasterFlickr

Whether you agree or not, but most of your decisions come back and haunt you. Imagine how regretful all those publishing companies who rejected Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone must have been after realizing that they turned down not just any book — but one of the biggest hits of the century.

The same can be said about several other such worst decisions in history. From Decca Records rejecting the Beetles to the awful choices that led to the eventual sinking of the Titanic, history is filled with several such circumstances that will forever go down as some of the worst decisions taken in the past.

1. Hydrogen filled Hindenburg

Long before the world saw the first aeroplane, the idea of a flying ship gnawed engineers from around the world. In 1852, a French engineer, Henri Giffard, successfully constructed the first airship that boasted of a three-horsepower steam engine and floated at a speed of six miles an hour.

Not much later, Ferdinand von Zeppelin from Germany developed airships called the ‘zeppelin’ that had a lighter framework and used highly flammable hydrogen gas as fuel. Hindenburg was the biggest zeppelin to be ever constructed. It was thrice as long and twice as tall as today’s Boeing 747 and was the first airship planned to cross the Atlantic.

On the 3rd of May in 1937, Hindenburg left Germany carrying thirty-six passengers and sixty-one crew members and headed towards Lakehurst Naval Airspace in New Jersey. But, unfortunately, before the airship could properly dock itself, it suddenly burst into flames. It rapidly engulfed the entire zeppelin into the fire, killing thirty-six of its travellers and one civilian. The whole disaster lasted for over forty seconds and burnt away any hopes for the airship industry.

Had the zeppelin been filled with a less explosive alternative like helium and not hydrogen gas, perhaps the disaster could have been avoided.

2. Thalidomide to treat morning sickness

In the mid-1900s, Thalidomide, a sedative, was introduced that was deemed safe to treat morning sickness in pregnant women. This treatment came into effect across forty-six countries during the 1950s and 1960s.

Not much later, in 1961, it was observed that the babies born to the mothers who took this medicine during the pregnancy had severe deformities. Most babies developed shorter and deformed limbs and had issues with eyes, hearts, and other organs. Over 10,000 children born during this period suffered from serious complications, and about forty per cent of children born to the mothers who took this medicine died in infancy.

Despite the birth complications thalidomide causes, it is approved to treat other medical complications like cancers, leprosy, HIV related conditions, and Crohn’s diseases.

3. The Donner Party fiasco

In April 1845, about ninety American pioneers, also called the Donner Party, undertook a journey towards California in twenty wagon trains from the mid-West. Though they began their journey on the California Trail, they decided to take another route, called the Hastings Cutoff, which they assumed to be shorter.

Because these people were unaware of the travel routes, they made it into an unknown area. Also, because of the harsh winter conditions and rough mountains around them, the trail they assumed to be a shortcut turned out to be one of the longest journeys of their lives.

The Donner Party’s journey would take anywhere between three to seven months to reach their destination. Finally, they reached the Sierra Nevada by November of that year via their new route, only to get trapped by a heavy snowfall near Truckee Lake. Unfortunately, even their food supply became scarce, and they could not find anything to eat. Trapped in between towering mountains, many people from the Donner Party experienced frostbite, hunger, and eventually death.

A few people even set out on foot to get help. It has been widely speculated that the Donner Party indulged in cannibalism to survive while they were trapped in the snowy mountains of Sierra Nevada. Finally, when they were rescued for months later, in February of 1847, only forty-eight of the ninety survived, making it one of the most compelling tragedies in Californian history.

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I am a scientist by profession and a historian by passion. I write about current affairs, history, science, and lifestyle.

Texas State
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