During World War I, the United States Radium Corporation employed women to paint glow-in-the-dark dials with radioactive paint, instructing them to shape the brushes with their lips and fingers. Once women's jaws started to erode from radiation poisoning, the company covered it up by alleging that the workers were afflicted with syphilis.
After record label DGC wanted to censor the nude baby on the cover of Nirvana's 1991 album Nevermind, the band suggested covering the offending image with a sticker that said, "If you're offended by this, you must be a closet pedophile."
Underwater on Their Cable Bills
In the wake of 2008's Hurricane Ike, Comcast continued to bill South Texas residents for "unreturned equipment," despite that very equipment being destroyed by the hurricane.
Author and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel lost millions from both his personal fortune and his foundation to late Ponzi schemer Bernie Madoff.
Not Down to Clown
After getting orders from their parent company, Disney, Hollywood Records didn't just stop production on Insane Clown Posse's 1997 breakthrough horrorcore album The Great Milenko, but actually recalled the 100,000 copies that had already shipped, claiming that the material didn't "fit the Disney image." This for sure had nothing at all to do with the Southern Baptist Convention's call for a boycott of all things Disney after the parks started hosting "Gay Days."
In 2015, Heinz unknowingly allowed a QR code on their ketchup bottles to direct to an expired URL, which by then was home to a porn site.
From One Loser to Another
After a trader known as the London Whale lost JPMorgan Chase 6 billion dollars in a 2012 trading scandal, CEO Jamie Dimon received a pep talk phone call from NFL star Tom Brady. I'm sure the pep talk helped when Dimon found out that his annual bonus was cut in half to a measly $10.5 million.
We Depreciate Your Business
In case you ever think that you're bad with money, just remember that Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation bought Myspace for $580 million in 2005, only to sell it six years later for $35 million.
Jingles All the Way
In 2009, the ABC network cut over two minutes from A Charlie Brown Christmas, a beloved TV special that warns against the commercialization of the holiday, in order to give more airtime to commercials.
During the 1983 Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race, Rupert Murdoch's boat rammed into a boat sponsored by rival media mogul Ted Turner only ten kilometers from the finish line, sinking it, so that he was unable to complete the race. Turner followed up by challenging Murdoch to a fistfight.
Applebee's has gotten in trouble a few times for serving underage patrons, like the time they served a Long Island iced tea to a five-year-old New Yorker, a margarita to a California toddler, and a spiked apple juice to a Detroit fifteen-month-old.
4 Out of 5 Racists Recommend
In 1985, Colgate acquired a company that offered a toothpaste called Darkie to many Asian countries. If the name wasn't suspect enough, Darkie's logo was an Al Jolson-esque performer in blackface. It took executives until 1989 to change the name of the product to Darlie and update the packaging, although the Chinese name of the brand still translates to "black person toothpaste."
Dying for a Smoke
Marlboro Red cigarettes earned the nickname Cowboy Killers after five of the seven Marlboro Men died of smoking-related illnesses.
Introduced in 1969, Nerf balls were marketed as "the first indoor ball" and had the extremely catchy and not at all buzzkilling slogan "You can't hurt babies or old people."
You've Come a Wrong Way, Baby
BMW was forced to recall their female-voiced navigation system in the '90s after a bunch of German men complained that they wouldn't take directions from a "woman."
Did Nazi That Coming
In 2016, Microsoft introduced an AI chatbot to Twitter with the hopes of helping it improve its language skill. After less than twenty-four hours in Twitter's toxic mire, the bot was tweeting things like "I fucking hate feminists" and "Hitler was right." Unsurprisingly, the project was promptly canceled.
Almost Lost the Pharma
Insufferable Pharma Bro Martin Shkreli started his first hedge fund in 2006 and after just a year lost a $2.3 million lawsuit to Lehman Brothers. They failed to collect before going bankrupt in 2008.
Father Sold Separately
Barbie needed a friend, so Mattel introduced Midge in 1963. She landed with a thud, and was soon pulled off the shelves. She appeared back on the scene in the 1980s, fully pregnant, as part of the Happy Family line. Poor Midge couldn't catch a break, as some retailers refused to carry her because she was packaged separately from the baby's father.
I Think We're Getting Zipped Off
In 2007, the leading zipper brand YKK was fined 150 million euros for running four zipper price-fixing cartels.
Fast Food, Slow People
Because Americans suck at math and think that a third is less than a quarter, A&W's Third Pounder was unable to compete with McDonald's Quarter Pounder and was dropped from the menu.
Philip Morris published a report in 2001 saying that they saved the Czech government money because smokers often die before retiring. They then sued the Uruguayan government after it passed anti-smoking legislation, claiming that the restrictions would cause irreparable damage to the brand.
From the late 1970s to 1985, Bayer sold contaminated blood products to hospitals, causing twenty thousand people to contract HIV. After they found out, they pulled the products off the US and European shelves but continued to sell them in Asian and Latin American countries.
Reich Father, Reich Sons
Best known for their massive influence on American conservative politics, the Koch brothers inherited much of their initial wealth from their father, who helped establish oil refineries for the Nazis in the lead-up to World War II.
In 1990, PepsiCo briefly had the sixth-largest navy in the world after trading their products with the USSR for vodka and a small fleet of warships.
Compact, Yet Womby
In 2001, Honda was about to release a car called the Fitta (its tagline was "Small on the outside, big on the inside"), when it realized that fitta was a vulgar Swedish term for vagina.
New and Unproved
Cigarette company Philip Morris discovered the fire-safe cigarettes they introduced in 2002 were actually much more likely to cause fires. They responded by firing the scientist who ran the risk analysis testing.
Bet Your Bottom Dollar
In 1974, the owner of FedEx gambled the company's last $5,000 on blackjack and managed to save the company from bankruptcy.
Flying Their Freak Flags
All of the American flags at Disney's Magic Kingdom are missing a stripe or star so that they don't have to be taken down at night or in bad weather.
Skrilla in Manila
In 1993, Pepsi ran a contest in the Philippines giving the lucky person who found the number 349 under their Pepsi cap one million pesos ($40,000). They accidentally printed 800,000 winning caps, which led to riots, firebombs, and at least five deaths.
Skechers Shape Ups shoes claimed that they would help people lose weight and tone their butt muscles without having to go to a gym. They even had a real live chiropractor endorse them! Unfortunately, after it was discovered that the chiropractor was married to a Skechers marketing executive, the shoe company had to pay a $40 million class action lawsuit.
Chili Con Carnage
In 2004, the Mexican restaurant chain Chi-Chi's decided to close all their locations and file for bankruptcy after four customers died and another 660 fell ill from a Hepatitis A outbreak.
Get Rich or Lie Trying
After Coca-Cola was sued by a consumer protection agency for overstating the health benefits of Vitaminwater, they defended themselves with the argument that "no consumer could reasonably be misled into thinking Vitaminwater was a healthy beverage."
Don't Mess with Taxes
With businesses eager to take advantage of the state's tax loopholes, there is a drab, two-story building in Delaware that serves as the legal address to more than 285,000 US companies, including Coca-Cola, American Airlines, JPMorgan Chase, Ford, Apple, Google, and Walmart, to name a few.
Ice Ice Maybe
Ice cream company Breyers changed some of their recipes in the mid-2000s and included so many additives that they can no longer be labeled "ice cream" in the US and Canada.
An Offer They Shouldn't Refuse
In 2000, Netflix's founders were laughed out of Blockbuster's headquarters when they offered to sell the company for $50 million. Ten years later, Blockbuster filed for bankruptcy.
The Type A/B Personality Theory was invented by the cigarette industry in the 1950s to prove that coronary heart disease and cancer were symptoms of high-stress personality types rather than tobacco use.
For several months in 2013, one perk of working at McDonald's was access to a website that offered advice on how to stretch your paycheck with recommendations like: breaking food into smaller pieces to feel full, returning holiday gifts for cash, and getting a second job. The McResources website also suggested, "Stop complaining, as stress hormones rise by 15% after ten minutes of complaining."
Seeing the Light
The inventor of Keurig K-Cups regretted all the environmental waste from his invention so much that he left Keurig and started a solar panel company.
There are two beer companies called Budweiser-one in America and another in the Czech Republic. They have been fighting over the name since 1907.
Now with Extra Poison
In 1952, Kent cigarettes introduced a filter made from the latest cutting-edge technology: asbestos. You know, that toxic material that causes lung cancer.
Insult to Injury
As automobiles became more popular, there was a huge spike in pedestrian deaths and it outraged the public. The automobile industry successfully shifted the blame to the victims, asserting that they didn't know how to behave in traffic. In fact, the industry coined the term "jaywalking," with "jay" meaning hick or rube.
All US prison phone service is dominated by two private companies, Global Tel Link and Securus, who make billions of dollars a year. Due to their exclusive contracts, they can now charge inmates and their families $1 a minute, huge "connection" fees, and have lobbied against in-person visitation.
Avoiding Taxes by Design
Despite averaging $40 billion in global sales, Ikea is actually a nonprofit company "dedicated to furthering the advancement of architecture and interior design." Not coincidentally, the designation also gives them a 3.5 percent tax rate.
Start Making Cents
A bottle of Coke had been five cents since launching in 1886, and after more than seventy years they finally needed to raise the price. Coca-Cola lobbied the US Treasury to mint a 7.5-cent coin, since they felt a dime was too much to charge.
Advanced Tactical Security & Communications Ltd, a UK company, sold a fake bomb detector device to twenty countries in the middle East and Asia for $60,000 apiece. After Iraq spent $78 Million on them, it was revealed that the device was nothing more than a dowsing rod and the company owner went to jail for fraud.
Nonprofit Susan G. Komen for the Cure has sued hundreds of smaller nonprofits for using the words "for the cure" or the color pink.
When 1,300 miners went on strike in 1917, American mining company Phelps Dodge, along with the local sheriff and a two-thousand-strong deputized posse, kidnapped the miners and union organizers at gunpoint, loaded them into train cars, and dropped them two hundred miles away. They also had the town's phone and telegraph lines cut to prevent the story from getting out.
In 2012, Miss America claimed to make $45 million of scholarship money available to women annually, but in actuality only gave out $500,000.
Where There's Smoke, They're Fired
In 1993, Dateline NBC strapped model rocket engines to GM trucks so the trucks would explode on impact for a televised crash test. After GM sued, three producers were fired.
I Find Your Lack of Faith Disturbing
20th Century-Fox had so little confidence in Star Wars that they traded away all movie licensing and merchandising rights to director George Lucas in exchange for his $500,000 directorial payment. The deal made Lucas a billionaire.
Wurst Name Ever
Despite its name, the American fast-food chain Der Wienerschnitzel is about as authentically German as its food. They serve hot dogs and burgers, the masculine der is incorrect, and a missing space suggests that the food is made from people from Vienna.
Axe Body Spray marketed their product to horny, insecure young men, and it worked so well that they became the number one men's deodorant brand. The company took a step back from this approach after their brand gained a reputation as a spray used only by horny, insecure young men.
In 2010, Frito-Lay created an environmentally friendly, 100 percent compostable chip bag but had to stop using them after eighteen months because people complained that the bags were too noisy.
After being outed as gay in one of their stories, PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel funded Hulk Hogan's lawsuit against Gawker Media, which ultimately bankrupted it.
Seeping Through the Cracks
America's love affair with Procter & Gamble's fat substitute Olestra came to an abrupt end in the late '90s after it was found to cause anal leakage.
Fumbld the Bag
Social networking site Tumblr was bought by Yahoo! for $1.1 billion in 2013, banned adult content in 2018, and was sold to the owner of WordPress for $3 million in 2019.
Supply on the Side Economics
Engineer John Delorean helped develop some all-time classic American cars, including Pontiac's GTO and Grand Prix, and eventually went out on his own to work on his passion project: the Delorean, aka the bitchingest car in the Back to the Future cinematic universe. His new venture wasn't working out financially, though, and he resorted to some drastic measures to keep it funded. He was later arrested and charged with conspiracy to obtain and distribute fifty-five pounds of cocaine, valued at $24 million.
See What Condition My Roast Chicken Is In
Singer Kenny Rogers started a restaurant chain in 1991 called Kenny Rogers Roasters and went on an episode of Late Night with Conan O'Brien to promote it. On the episode, Kenny failed a blind taste test, choosing chicken from the NBC cafeteria rather than his own. A year later Kenny Rogers Roasters filed for bankruptcy.
You Gotta Fight for Your Right to Poultry
Before he became a beloved and enduring fast-food mascot, "Colonel" Harland Sanders tanked his law career by getting in a courthouse fistfight with his own client and wounded a rival business owner in a shootout.
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