White elephant

related topics
{god, call, give}
{specie, animal, plant}
{son, year, death}
{rate, high, increase}
{black, white, people}
{law, state, case}

A white elephant is an idiom for a valuable possession of which its owner cannot dispose and whose cost (particularly cost of upkeep) is out of proportion to its usefulness or worth.



The term derives from the sacred white elephants kept by Southeast Asian monarchs in Burma, Thailand[1], Laos and Cambodia. To possess a white elephant was regarded (and is still regarded in Thailand and Burma) as a sign that the monarch reigned with justice and power, and that the kingdom was blessed with peace and prosperity. The tradition derives from tales which associate a white elephant with the birth of the Buddha, as his mother was reputed to have dreamed of a white elephant presenting her with a lotus flower, a symbol of wisdom and purity, on the eve of giving birth.[2] Because the animals were considered sacred and laws protected them from labor, receiving a gift of a white elephant from a monarch was simultaneously both a blessing and a curse: a blessing because the animal was sacred and a sign of the monarch's favour, and a curse because the animal had to be retained and could not be put to much practical use, at least to offset the cost of maintaining it.

The Order of the White Elephant consists of eight grades of medals issued by the government of Thailand.

Examples of alleged white elephant projects

  • The U.S. Navy's Alaska-class cruisers were described as "white elephants" because the "tactical and strategic concepts that inspired them were completely outmoded" by the time they were commissioned – the Japanese heavy cruisers that they were designed to hunt down had already been destroyed.[3]
  • The U.S. Navy's Seawolf-class submarine was designed to combat the then-threat of large numbers of advanced Soviet ballistic missile and attack submarines in a deep ocean environment. Initially planned for 29 and then 12, only three were built at a cost of over $2.5 billion each. The three were extensively retrofitted for their new, shallow-water missions with the most expensive boat retrofit costing $887 million.
  • Bristol Brabazon, an airliner built by the Bristol Aeroplane Company in 1949 to fly a large number of passengers on transatlantic routes from England to the United States.[4]
  • Concorde, a supersonic transport built by Aérospatiale and British Aircraft Corporation, intended for high-speed intercontinental passenger travel. Only fourteen production aircraft were built, though it was planned that development costs were to be amortized over hundreds of units:[5] the British and French governments incurred large losses as no aircraft could be sold on commercial terms.[6] Concorde flew the transatlantic route for over two decades, and it did at least make a big operating profit for British Airways.[7]
  • SS Great Eastern, a ship designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel. She was the largest ship ever built at the time of her launch in 1858, and had the capacity to carry 4,000 passengers around the world without refuelling, but was not a commercial success. Her hold was later gutted and converted to lay the successful 1865 transatlantic telegraph cable, an impossible task for a smaller vessel.[8]
  • The Thai aircraft carrier HTMS Chakri Nareubet has been criticized as having been built for nationalist reasons rather than applicable military uses. It has spent little time at sea since being commissioned in 1997 (the year of the Asian Economic Crisis) due to her high operating costs.[9] However, the ship has participated in training activities, and in disaster relief after the 2004 tsunami. Ironically, the Royal Thai Navy ensign actually features a white elephant.
  • Hughes H-4 Hercules (or "Spruce Goose"), often called Howard Hughes' white elephant before and during the Senate War Investigating Committee. Hughes' associate Noah Dietrich called it a "plywood white elephant".[10]
  • Lambert-St. Louis International Airport runway 11/29 was conceived on the basis of traffic projections made in the 1980s and 1990s that warned of impending strains on the airport and the national air traffic system as a result of predicted growth in traffic at the airport.[11] The $1 billion runway expansion was designed in part to allow for simultaneous operations on parallel runways in bad weather. Construction began in 1998, and continued even after traffic at the airport declined following the 9/11 attacks, the purchase of Trans World Airlines by American Airlines in April 2001, and subsequent cuts in flights to the airport by American Airlines in 2003.[12][13] The project required the relocation of seven major roads and the demolition of approximately 2,000 homes in Bridgeton, Missouri.[14][15] Intended to provide superfluous extra capacity for flight operations at the airport, use of the runway is shunned by fuel-conscious pilots and airlines due to its distance from the terminals.[16] Even one of the airport commissioners, John Krekeler, deemed the project a "white elephant".[17]
  • The Millennium Dome in London, built at a cost of hundreds of millions of pounds in Greenwich in London to celebrate the millennium, was commonly termed a white elephant.[18][19] The exhibition it initially housed was less successful than hoped and the widely criticised building struggled to find a role after the event. It is now The O2, an arena and entertainment centre.
  • The Palace of the Parliament in Bucharest, Romania. Built by dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu as the world's second largest building (second to The Pentagon). After the 1989 overthrow the cost of demolishing the palace was higher than the cost of finishing it.
  • Christ's Hospital railway station was constructed in 1902 to accommodate Christ's Hospital school, a large independent school which had relocated from London to the West Sussex countryside. The station had seven platforms and a magnificent terminal building, and cost £30,000 to build, an enormous sum of money for 1902. It was envisaged that the station would be busy due to the 850 pupils regularly using it, and also the foreseen westward expansion of the nearby town of Horsham. It was also the meeting point of three separate railway lines. However, the railway company failed to realise that the school is a boarding school, as a result of which the station is only used by large numbers of pupils a handful of times per year; and the development of Horsham did not materialise. Two of the railway lines also closed down in the 1960 as a result of the Beeching Axe, and the station now has two remaining platforms (one northbound to London Victoria, one southbound to Portsmouth), and one train per hour in each direction.
  • Montréal-Mirabel International Airport is North America's largest airport, but has been abandoned as a passenger airport.[20]
  • The Philadelphia Athletics baseball team was referred to as a "white elephant" by rival New York Giants manager John McGraw prior to their meeting in the 1905 World Series. Although the Athletics lost that series, in defiance they adopted an elephant as an alternate team logo and eventually as a full-fledged mascot.
  • Olympic Stadium in Montreal cost about C$1.61 billion. Since the departure of the Montreal Expos baseball team in 2004, it has had no main tenant. The debt from the stadium wasn't paid in full until December 2006.[21] Because of the financial disaster in which it left Montreal, it was nicknamed "The Big Owe", "Uh-O", and "The Big Mistake".[citation needed]
  • Osborne House, East Cowes, Isle of Wight, England, was one of Queen Victoria's favourite royal residences. She died there on January 22, 1901. In her will, she asked that it be kept in the Royal Family, but none of her family wanted it, so Edward VII gave Osborne to the nation. With the exception of Princess Louise and Princess Beatrice, who each retained houses on the estate, the rest of the royal family saw Osborne as something of an inaccessible white elephant.
  • The Ryugyong Hotel in Pyongyang, North Korea, designed as the world's tallest hotel, began construction in 1987. Due to financial difficulties, construction ceased prematurely in 1992. Since then, the structure has remained as a massive concrete hulk, unfit for habitation.[22] Construction resumed in April 2008.
  • Ada programming language, commissioned by the United States Department of Defense (DoD). It was designed to be a single, standard language, particularly suitable for embedded and real-time systems. The DoD mandated the use of Ada for many software projects in 1987, but removed the requirement in 1997. It is still used in many countries, especially for safety-critical systems such as air traffic control and subways. It came to be known as the "Green Elephant" for the color code used to keep contract selection unbiased. It became irrelevant for commercial applications, barely surviving the wave of new free and successful tools such as C++ and Java.[23]
  • Several incomplete or badly functioning dams, such as the Bujagali dam (Uganda)[24] and Epupa dam (Angola).[25] Most were constructed by foreign companies in the interest of foreign aid.[26] Although the buildings do not meet expectations, if construction is completed or restarted, they could still provide a contribution to the local population.[27]
  • In 1907, author Henry James described the mansions in Newport, Rhode Island as being "white elephants" and "witless dreams" because they were summer homes for the wealthy and were unoccupied for most of the year. Thorstein Veblen invented the term conspicuous consumption to describe the mansions.[28]
  • In "Hills Like White Elephants", a short story by Ernest Hemingway, an unborn child is viewed as a white elephant.
  • Refinería del Pacífico, an oil refinery to be built in Ecuador (scheduled for 2013), has been described as a white elephant because it will cost more than $12 billion and will need crude oil not extracted as of 2010.[29] It has been suggested that this crude oil will come from the Yasuni National Park.[30]
  • The Cambridgeshire Guided Busway (CGB), a £160+ million public transit project in East Anglia, United Kingdom whose immense construction costs far exceed even the most optimistic projections of revenue. Because the 50,000 tons of concrete used to build the busway is itself white, the project is particularly often referred to as a white elephant.[31][32][33][34][35][36][37][38]
  • Brisbane, Australia's Clem Jones Tunnel. The operating company Rivercity motorways posted a 1.67bn loss in 2010, largely due to overly optimistic traffic projections. Despite cutting tolls by up to 50% traffic volumes are less than half of the projected 60,000 vehicles a day. [39]
  • The stadiums built in South Africa for the 2010 FIFA World Cup have been dubbed "white elephants", citing a massive misappropriation of national funds to provide a spectacle for the sporting event that might have been directed toward the country's staggering poverty.[40][41][42][43]
  • Shanghai Maglev Train or Shanghai Transrapid. The journey was designed to connect Shanghai Pudong International Airport quickly (approximately 7 mins train ride) to the outskirts of central Shanghai where passengers could interchange for their final destinations in the city centre. Due to the proprietary technology the Maglev Trains couldn't be incorporated into the Shanghai Metro and became a "train to nowhere" as its final stop is another 20 mins connection to the city centre via the Shanghai Metro.

Full article ▸

related documents
Lí Ban
Xerxes I of Persia
Bodb Derg
Death (Tarot card)
Huh (god)
Quaoar (mythology)