Predictions Stifled

Ever been discouraged to devise a new idea only to find stiff resistance?  Don’t get too discouraged you are in good company.  Welcome to the club.  Following is a compilation of less than noble statements and stories of inhospitable and even hostile reactions to the new and never tried before.


“Inventions have already reached their limit long ago. I see no hope for improvements in the future”

– Julius Frontenus, 10 AD


“Everything that could be invented has been already invented.”

– Charles H. Duell, Commissioner, U.S. Office of Patents, 1899


“What could be more absurd than the prospect of locomotives traveling twice the speed of stagecoaches?”

– Quarterly Review, 1825


“Landing and moving about on the moon offers so many serious problems for humans, that it may take science another 200 years to even lick them.”

– Science Digest, 1948


“I must confess that my imagination refuses to see any sort of submarine doing anything but suffocating its crew and sinking to the bottom of the ocean.”

– H. G. Wells, 1901


“I take it for granted that before year 1980, all ships, airplanes, trains and automobiles will be nuclearly fueled.”

– David Sarnoff, 1955


“Stock prices have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau.”

– Irving Fisher, October 1929, three days before the stock market crash


“Democracy will be dead by 1950.”

– John Langdon-Davies, 1936


“It will be years – surely not in my time – before a woman becomes Prime Minister.”

– Margaret Thatcher, 1969, first woman Prime Minister of England


“The coming of the wireless era will make war impossible. There will be no wars anymore.”

– Guglielmo Marconi, 1912


“Rail travel at high speeds is not possible, because passengers, unable to breathe, would asphyxiate.”

– Dyonisius Lardner, 1828


“There is no likelihood man can ever tap the power of the atom.”

– Robert Millikan, physicist and Nobel Prize winner, 1923


“You will be home before the leaves have fallen from the trees.”

– Kaiser Wilhelm II to German troops, August 1914


“Rock n’ roll will be gone by June.”

– Verify magazine, 1955


“A rocket will never be able to leave the Earth’s atmosphere.”

– NY Times, 1936


“I predict the internet will soon go spectacularly supernova and in 1996 catastrophically collapse.”

– Robert Metcalfe, inventor of Ethernet, 1996


“The horse is here to stay but the automobile is only a novelty – a fad.”

– The president of the Michigan Savings Bank, 1903

(also attributed to Field Marshal Haig, 1916)


“This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication.  The device is inherently of no value to us.”

– William Orton, president of Western Union, 1876


“Fooling around with alternating current is just a waste of time. Nobody will use it, ever.”

– Thomas Alva Edison, 1889


“Television won’t last. It’s a flash in the pan.”

– Mary Somerville, pioneer of radio broadcasting, 1948


“Y2K is a crisis without precedent in human history.”

– Byte magazine editor Edmund DeJesus, 1998


“Next Christmas the iPod will be dead, finished, gone, kaput.”

– Alan Sugar, 2005


“Using Twitter for literate communication is about as likely as firing up a CB radio and hearing some guy recite The Illiad.”

– Bruce Sterling in The New York Times, 2007


“There is no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance.”

– Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, 2007


“The proposition that the Earth is not the center of the world and immovable but that it moves, and also with a diurnal motion, is equally absurd and false philosophically and theologically. It will never be proven that Earth moves.”

– Papal Inquisition to Galileo, 1633


“The most important fundamental laws and facts of physical science have all been discovered, and are so firmly established that the possibility of their ever being supplanted in consequence of new experimental discoveries is incredibly remote.”

– 1907 Nobel Prize winner Albert Abraham Michelson, 1890


“That so-called space travel is utter bilge.”

– Astronomer Richard Wooley, 1956


“Anyone who expects some source of power from the transformation of the atom is talking moonshine.”

– Ernest Rutherford, 1934


“Medicinal applications of radiation will be slowly removed from the hands of professionals. Doctors will only write you a prescription, and then you will go to radiologist’s shop just near drugstore where you will be then given appropriate radiation treatment. Radiation is the ultimate cure to all illnesses.”

J. B. S. Haldane, 1943


“Atomic energy might be as good as our present-day explosives, but it is very unlikely to produce anything more dangerous.”

Winston Churchill, 1939


“The radio waves that I discovered are of no use whatsoever.”

– Heinrich Hertz, 1887


“War is a relic of barbarism, probably destined to become as obsolete as dueling.”

William Thompson, lord Kelvin, 1907


“The escape from pain in surgical operations is only a fantasy… Knife and pain are two words which will be always inseparable in the minds of patients.”

– Alfred-Armand-Louis-Marie Velpeau, 1839


“These so-called X-rays are only a deliberate hoax.”

– William Thompson, lord Kelvin, 1895


“Cars will cost as little as $200. People will have two-month vacation. They will care little for possessions. The happiest people will live in one-factory villages.”

Predictions for 1960 by General Motors, 1939


“The cinema is only a little more than a fad. It’s canned drama. Actuall, what audiences really want to see is flesh and blood on the stage.”

Charlie Chaplin, 1916


“No one will pay money to get from Berlin to Potsdam by train in one hour when he can ride his horse there in one day for free.”

King William I of Prussia, 1864


It is unknowable how long the Iraq War will last. It could last six days, six weeks. I doubt six months.

– Donald Rumsfeld, 2003


“The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to nobody in particular?”

– David Sarnoff’s associates in response to his urgings for investment in the radio in the 1920s


“But what … is it good for?”

– Engineer at the Advanced Computing Systems Division of IBM, 1968, commenting on the microchip


“Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons.”

Popular Mechanics, Forecasting the relentless march of science, 1949


“I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.”

– Thomas Watson, Chairman of IBM, 1943


“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


“There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.”

– Ken Olson, President, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corp., 1977


“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

(Smith went on to found Federal Express Corp.)


“Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?”

– H.M. Warner, Warner Brothers, 1927


“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 in “Gone With The Wind”


“A cookie store is a bad idea. Besides, the market research reports say America likes crispy cookies, not soft and chewy cookies like you make.”

– Response to Debbi Fields’ idea of starting Mrs. Fields’ Cookies


“We don’t like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out.”

– Decca Recording Co., Rejecting the Beatles, 1962


“Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible.”

– Lord Kelvin, President Royal Society, 1895


“If I had thought about it, I wouldn’t have done the experiment. The literature was full of examples that said you can’t do this.”

– Spencer Silver, On the work that led to the unique adhesives for 3M Post-It Notepads.


“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.


“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 daily in high schools.”

– 1921 New York Times Editorial about Robert Goddard’s revolutionary rocket work.


“You want to have consistent and uniform muscle development across all of your muscles? It can’t be done. It’s just a fact of life.  You just have to accept inconsistent muscle development as an unalterable condition of weight training.”

– Response to Arthur Jones, who solved the “unsolvable” problem by inventing Nautilus.


“Drill for oil? You mean drill into the ground to try and find oil?  You’re crazy.”

– Drillers who Edwin L. Drake tried to enlist to his project to drill for oil in 1859


“Airplanes are interesting toys but of no military value.”

– Marechal Ferdinand Foch, Professor of Strategy, Ecole Superieure de Guerre


“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


“640K ought to be enough for anybody.”

Bill Gates, 1981


“See, we wasted another draft pick on that kid from North Carolina”

– Steve Minor, disgruntled Chicago Bulls fan after Michal Jordan sprained his ankle 14 games into his rookie season



Without tradition, art is a flock of sheep without a shepherd. Without innovation, it is a corpse.

Winston Churchill


It’s seldom possible to predict innovation, it’s frequently possible to predict improvement.

Brian Clark



The following letter was sent to President Andrew Jackson from New York State Governor Martin Van Buren on January 31, 1829:

Dear President Jackson:

The canal system of this country is being threatened by the spread of a new form of transportation known as ‘railroads.’ The federal government must preserve the canals for the following reasons:

One. If canal boats are supplanted by ‘railroads,’ serious unemployment will result. Captains, cooks, drivers, hostlers, repairmen and lock tenders will be left without means of livelihood, not to mention the numerous farmers now employed in growing hay for the horses.

Two. Boat builders would suffer and towline, whip and harness makers would be left destitute.

Three. Canal boats are absolutely essential to the defense of the United States. In the event of the expected trouble with England, the Erie Canal would be the only means by which we could ever move the supplies so vital to waging modern war.

As you may well know, Mr. President, ‘railroad’ carriages are pulled at the enormous speed of fifteen miles per hour by ‘engines’ which, in addition to endangering life and limb of passengers, roar and snort their way through the countryside, setting fire to crops, scaring the livestock and frightening women and children.

The Almighty certainly never intended that people should travel at such breakneck speed.

Martin Van Buren

Governor of New York


(but please note its dubious origins are in dispute)


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