Bad Predictions People Have Made

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  • Inventions have long since reached their limit, and I see no hope for future improvements. – Julius Frontenus, 10 A.D.
  • So many centuries after the Creation it is unlikely that anyone could find hitherto unknown lands of any value. – Committee advising King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain regarding a proposal by Christopher Columbus, 1486
  • What, sir, would you make a ship sail against the wind and currents by lighting a bonfire under her deck? I pray you, excuse me, I have not the time to listen to such nonsense. – Napoleon Bonaparte when told of Robert Fulton’s steamboat, 1800
  • What can be more palpably absurd than the prospect held out of locomotives traveling twice as fast as stagecoaches? – The Quarterly Review, 1825
  • Rail travel at high speeds is not possible because passengers, unable to breathe, would die of asphyxia. – Dionysius Lardner, Professor of Natural Philosophy and Astronomy at University College in London, 1830
  • We may determine [celestial bodies’] forms, their distances, their sizes, and their motions—but we can never know anything of their chemical composition; and much less, that of organized beings living on their surface. – Philosopher Auguste Comte, 1835
  • I watched his countenance closely, to see if he was not deranged … and I was assured by other senators after he left the room that they had no confidence in it. – U.S. Senator Smith of Indiana, after witnessing a demonstration of Samuel Morse’s telegraph, 1842
  • No one will ever be able to measure nerve impulse speed. – Johannes Muller, physiologist, 1846
  • Although we are living in what may be termed the steam era and our Navy is a steam navy, I have in this work wholly excluded the consideration of steam power, as, owing to the great cost of coal and the impossibility of providing stowage for it except to a limited extent, the application of steam power for ordinary purposes must be strictly auxiliary and subordinate and its employment in general service the exception rather than the rule. – Captain Alston, RN, Manual of Seamanship, 1859
  • Drill for oil? You mean drill into the ground to try and find oil? You’re crazy. – Workers Edwin L. Drake tried to enlist to his project to drill for oil in 1859
  • Ours has been the first, and doubtless to be the last, to visit this profitless locality. – Lt. Joseph Ives after visiting the Grand Canyon, 1861
  • No one will pay good money to get from Berlin to Potsdam in one hour when he can ride his horse there in one day for free. – King William I of Prussia on hearing of the invention of trains, 1864
  • Why are you dodging like this? They couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance. – final words of Major General John Sedgwick, 1864
  • Well-informed people know it is impossible to transmit the voice over wires and that were it possible to do so, the thing would be of no practical value. – Boston Post, 1865
  • I see no good reasons why the views given in this volume should shock the religious sensibilities of anyone. – Charles Darwin on The Origin Of Species, 1869
  • Louis Pasteur’s theory of germs is ridiculous fiction. – Pierre Pachet, Professor of Physiology at Toulouse, 1872
  • The abdomen, the chest, and the brain will forever be shut from the intrusion of the wise and humane surgeon. – Sir John Eric Ericksen, British surgeon, appointed Surgeon–Extraordinary to Queen Victoria, 1873
  • The Americans have need of the telephone, but we do not. We have plenty of messenger boys. – Sir William Preece, Chief Engineer, British Post Office, 1876
  • This “telephone” has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us. – Western Union Co. internal memo, 1876
  • It is good enough for our transatlantic friends, but unworthy of the attention of practical or scientific men. – British Parliamentary Committee, referring to Edison’s light bulb, 1878
  • The Americans have need of the telephone, but we do not. We have plenty of messenger boys. — William Preece, Chief Engineer, British Post Office, 1878
  • When the Paris Exhibition [of 1878] closes, electric light will close with it and no more will be heard of it. – Oxford professor Erasmus Wilson, 1878
  • Such startling announcements as these should be deprecated as being unworthy of science and mischievous to its true progress. – Sir William Siemens, on Edison’s light bulb, 1880
  • Everyone acquainted with the subject will recognize it as a conspicuous failure. – Henry Morton, president of the Stevens Institute of Technology, on Edison’s light bulb, 1880
  • Fooling around with alternating currents is just a waste of time. Nobody will use it, ever.  It’s too dangerous. . . it could kill a man as quick as a bolt of lightning.  Direct current is safe. – Thomas Edison, 1880
  • Just as certain as death, [George] Westinghouse will kill a customer within six months after he puts in a system of any size. – Thomas Edison, 1887
  • We are probably at the limit of what we can know about astronomy. – Simon Newcomb, 1888
  • It seems as if we may also be forced to conclude that the supposed connexion between magnetic storms and sun-spots is unreal, and that the seeming agreement between periods has been a mere coincidence. – Lord William Thomson Kelvin, president of the Royal Society, 1892
  • No, it will make war impossible. – Hiram Maxim in response to the question “Will this gun not make war more terrible?” from scientist Havelock Ellis about his machine gun invention, 1893
  • Heavier–than–air flying machines are impossible. – Lord Kelvin, president, Royal Society, 1895
  • X-rays will prove to be a hoax. – Lord William Thomson Kelvin, president of the Royal Society, 1895
  • Radio has no future. – Lord William Thomson Kelvin, President of the Royal Society, 1897
  • The ordinary ‘horseless carriage’ is at present a luxury for the wealthy; and although its price will probably fall in the future, it will never, of course, come into as common use as the bicycle. – Literary Digest, 1899
  • I must confess that my imagination, in spite even of spurring, refuses to see any sort of submarine doing anything but suffocating its crew and foundering at sea. – H. G. Wells, 1901
  • I confess that in 1901 I said to my brother Orville that man would not fly for fifty years. – Wilbur Wright, 1908
  • Flight by machines heavier than air is unpractical and insignificant, if not utterly impossible. – Simon Newcomb, Canadian-born American astronomer, 1902
  • The actual building of roads devoted to motor cars is not for the near future, in spite of many rumours to that effect. – Harper’s Weekly, 1902
  • Aerial flight is one of that class of problems with which man will never be able to cope. – Simon Newcomb, 1903
  • The horse is here to stay but the automobile is only a novelty – a fad. – Michigan Savings Bank president advising Henry Ford’s lawyer not to invest in the Ford Motor Co., 1903
  • Movies are a fad. Audiences really want to see live actors on a stage. – Charlie Chaplin
  • A popular fantasy is to suppose that flying machines could be used to drop dynamite on the enemy in time of war. – William Henry Pickering, Director of Harvard College Observatory, 1908
  • By no possibility can the carriage of freight or passengers through mid-air compete with their carriage on the earth’s surface. The field, then, for aerial navigation is limited to military use and for sporting purposes. The former is doubtful, the latter is fairly certain. – Hugh Dryden, 1908
  • That the automobile has reached the limit of its development is suggested by the fact that during the last year no improvements of a radical nature have been introduced. – Scientific American, 1909
  • The [flying] machines will eventually be fast; they will be used in sport but they should not be thought of as commercial carriers. – Octave Chanute, 1910
  • The resistance of air increases as the square of the speed and works as the cube [of speed]…It is clear that with our present devices there is no hope of aircraft competing for racing speed with either our locomotives or automobiles. – William Henry Pickering, Director of Harvard College Observatory, 1910
  • Airplanes are interesting toys but of no military value. – Marshall Ferdinand Foch, Professor of Strategy, 1911
  • I can accept the theory of relativity as little as I can accept the existence of atoms and other such dogmas. – Ernst Mach, 1913
  • The aeroplane is the invention of the devil and will never play any part in such a serious business as the defence of a nation. – Sam Hughes, Canadian Minister of Defence, 1914
  • The director of Military Aeronautics of France has decided to discontinue the purchase of monoplanes, their place to be filled entirely with bi-planes.  This decision practically sounds the death knell of the monoplane as a military instrument. – Scientific American, 1915
  • The idea that cavalry will be replaced by these iron coaches is absurd. It is little short of treasonous. — Aide-de-camp to Field Marshal Haig at tank demonstration, 1916
  • Taking the best left-handed pitcher in baseball and converting him into a right fielder is one of the dumbest things I ever heard. – Tris Speaker, baseball expert, talking about Babe Ruth, 1919
  • The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to nobody in particular? – David Sarnoff’s associates evaluating his idea, 1920
  • Professor Goddard does not know the relation between action and reaction and the need to have something better than a vacuum against which to react. He seems to lack the basic knowledge ladled out in high schools. – New York Times editorial about Robert Goddard’s work, 1921
    • Further investigation and experimentation have confirmed the findings of Isaac Newton in the 17th century and it is now definitely established that a rocket can function in a vacuum as well as in an atmosphere. The Times regrets the error. – New York Times editorial about Robert Goddard’s work, 1969
  • The radio craze will die out in time. – Thomas Edison, 1922
  • Even now perhaps Italy might achieve economic independence by the expenditure of a few million pounds upon research on the lines indicated. I may add in parenthesis that, on thermodynamical grounds which I can hardly summarize shortly, I do not much believe in the commercial possibility of induced radio-activity.. – J. B. S. Haldane, 1923
  • So I repeat that while theoretically and technically television may be feasible, yet commercially and financially, I consider it an impossibility; a development of which we need not waste little time in dreaming. – Lee de Forest, 1926
  • This foolish idea of shooting at the moon is an example of the absurd length to which vicious specialization will carry scientists. To escape the Earth’s gravitation a projectile needs a velocity of 7 miles per second. The thermal energy at this speed is 15,180 calories [per gram]. Hence the proposition appears to be basically impossible. – A. W. Bickerton, 1926
  • This fellow Charles Lindbergh will never make it. He’s doomed. – Harry Guggenheim, millionaire aviation enthusiast, 1927
  • Who the hell wants to hear actors talk? – Harry M. Warner, Warner Brothers, 1927
  • Physics, as we know it, will be over in six months. – Max Born, 1928
  • There is no likelihood that man can ever tap the power of the atom. The glib supposition of utilizing atomic energy when our coal has run out is a completely unscientific Utopian dream, a childish bug-a-boo. – Robert Millikan, 1928
  • Stocks have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau. – Irving Fisher, Professor of Economics, Yale University, 1929
  • There is no hope for the fanciful idea of reaching the Moon because of insurmountable barriers to escaping the Earth’s gravity. – Forest Ray Moulton, astronomer, 1932
  • The energy produced by the atom is a very poor kind of thing. Anyone who expects a source of power from the transformation of these atoms is talking moonshine. – Ernst Rutherford, 1933
  • There will never be a bigger plane built. – A Boeing engineer, after the first flight of the Boeing 247 that held ten people, 1933
  • The star has to go on radiating and radiating and contracting and contracting until, I suppose, it gets down to a few km radius, when gravity becomes strong enough to hold in the radiation, and the star can at last find peace. … I think there should be a law of Nature to prevent a star from behaving in this absurd way! – Arthur Stanley Eddington on the Chandrasekhar limit, 1935
  • A rocket will never be able to leave the earth’s atmosphere. – The New York Times, 1936
  • Television won’t matter in your lifetime or mine. – R.S. Lambert, Canadian broadcaster, 1936
  • “Gone with the Wind” is going to be the biggest flop in history. I’m just glad it’ll be Clark Gable who’s falling on his face and not Gary Cooper. – Gary Cooper on his decision not to take the leading role, 1938
  • As far as sinking a ship with a bomb is concerned, you just can’t do it. – Rear Admiral Clark Woodward, 1939
  • Atomic energy might be as good as our present-day explosives, but it is unlikely to produce anything very much more dangerous. – Winston Churchill, 1939
  • Even considering the improvements possible…the gas turbine could hardly be considered a feasible application to airplanes because of the difficulties of complying with the stringent weight requirements. – Gas Turbine Committee of the U. S. National Academy Of Sciences, 1940
  • It is too far-fetched to be considered. – Editor of Scientific American, in a letter to Robert Goddard about Goddard’s idea of a rocket-accelerated airplane bomb, 1940
  • The Americans are good about making fancy cars and refrigerators, but that doesn’t mean they are any good at making aircraft. They are bluffing. They are excellent at bluffing. – Hermann Goering, Commander-in-Chief of the Luftwaffe, 1942
  • Since the 40-inch objective of the Yerkes refractor and the 200-inch mirror of the Palomar reflector have apparently reached the practical construction limits for telescopes of their respective types, it is extremely doubtful if a greater light-gathering eye of either kind will ever again be built. – A. Frederick Collins, 1942
  • I think there is a world market for maybe five computers. – Thomas J. Watson, Chairman of IBM, 1943
  • This is the biggest fool thing we’ve ever done – the bomb will never go off – and I speak as an expert on explosives. – Admiral William Leahy speaking to President Truman about the atom bomb, 1945
  • Television won’t last because people will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night. – Darryl Zanuck, 1946
  • Landing and moving about on the moon offers so many serious problems for human beings that it may take science another 200 years to lick them. – Science Digest, 1948
  • Where a calculator on the ENIAC is equipped with 18,000 vacuum tubes and weighs 30 tons, computers in the future may have only 1,000 vacuum tubes and weigh only 1.5 tons. – Popular Mechanics, 1949
  • Our children will enjoy in their homes electrical energy too cheap to meter. – Lewis L. Strauss, chairman of the US Atomic Energy Commission, 1954
  • If excessive smoking actually plays a role in the production of lung cancer, it seems to be a minor one. – W.C. Heuper, National Cancer Institute, 1954
  • It can be taken for granted that before 1980 ships, aircraft, locomotives and even automobiles will be atomically fueled. – David Sarnoff, 1955
  • It’ll be gone by June. – Variety Magazine on Rock n’ Roll, 1955
  • I am bold enough to say that a man-made Moon voyage will never occur regardless of all scientific advances. – Lee De Forest, 1957
  • I have traveled the length and breadth of this country and talked with the best people, and I can assure you that data processing is a fad that won’t last out the year. – The editor in charge of business books for Prentice Hall, 1957
  • To place a man in a multi-stage rocket and project him into the controlling gravitational field of the moon where the passengers can make scientific observations, perhaps land alive, and then return to earth-all that constitutes a wild dream worthy of Jules Verne. I am bold enough to say that such a man-made voyage will never occur regardless of all future advances. – Lee de Forest, 1957
  • We will bury you. – Nikita Kruschev, 1958
  • The world potential market for copying machines is 5000 at most. — IBM, to the eventual founders of Xerox, saying the photocopier had no market large enough to justify production, 1959
  • All this stuff about traveling around the universe in space suits – except for local exploration which I have not discussed – belongs back where it came from, on the cereal box. – Edward Purcell, Harvard radio astronomer, 1960
  • Transmission of documents via telephone wires is possible in principle, but the apparatus required is so expensive that it will never become a practical proposition. – Dennis Gabor, 1962
  • We don’t like their sound. We don’t think they will do anything in their market. Guitar groups are on their way out. – Decca Recording Co., declining to sign the Beatles, 1962
  • Reagan doesn’t have that presidential look. – United Artists executive after rejecting Reagan as lead in the film The Best Man, 1963
  • The concept is interesting and well-formed, but in order to earn better than a ’C,’ the idea must be feasible. – A Yale University management professor in response to Fred Smith’s paper proposing reliable overnight delivery service, 1966
  • And for the tourist who really wants to get away from it all, safaris in Vietnam – Newsweek, predicting popular holidays, 1966
  • With over fifteen types of foreign cars already on sale here, the Japanese auto industry isn’t likely to carve out a big share of the market for itself. – Business Week, 1968
  • It will be years – not in my time – before a woman will become Prime Minister. – Margaret Thatcher, 1974
  • So we went to Atari and said, “Hey, we’ve got this amazing thing, even built with some of your parts, and what do you think about funding us? Or we’ll give it to you. We just want to do it. Pay our salary, we’ll come work for you.” And they said, “No.” So then we went to Hewlett–Packard, and they said, “Hey, we don’t need you. You haven’t got through college yet.” – Apple Computer Inc. founder Steve Jobs on attempts to get Atari and HP interested in his and Steve Wozniak’s personal computer, 1976
  • There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home. – Ken Olson, President and founder of Digital Equipment Corp, 1977
  • Let me just be very clear that the Republican Party will select a nominee that will beat Bill Clinton. – Dan Quayle, 1995
  • It is unknowable how long [the Iraq War] will last. It could last six days, six weeks. I doubt six months. – Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, 2003