The tradition of christening a new ship by breaking a bottle of champagne (or other alcohol) over it is a time-honored one. The U.S. has done it since the launch of the USS Constitution in 1797, but the practice was taken from the Brits, who borrowed the concept from the ancient Greeks among others.

After so many centuries, you'd think that we would have the practice down—but as First Lady Bess Truman found out in 1945, practice doesn't necessarily make perfect. Bess was supposed to christen a pair of new ambulance planes for the Army and Navy, but when she tried to break a bottle of bubbly on the nose of the Army plane, it refused to break. Someone had forgotten to score the glass on the bottles ahead of time, which, it turns out, is the secret to a successful smash.

When it came time for the Navy ambulance plane to be christened, they came up with a crafty solution to the seemingly unbreakable bottle—positioning a hammer under the plane's nose, where Bess duly aimed.

 
The crowd members weren't the only ones who got a kick out of the bungled bottle—the president was also entertained. "They showed me pictures of you trying to break that champagne bottle on the plane," he wrote to her. "They are very good. They caught the navy with the hammer redhanded."

The first bottle never did smash—you can still view the stubborn, sturdy thing at the Harry S. Truman Library in Independence, Missouri.

Stacy Conradt