Bad Predictions About Great Inventions

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In 1899, Charles Howard Duell, the Commissioner of Patents, was quoted as saying, "Everything that can be invented has been invented." And of course, we now know that to be so far from the truth. However, it was only an urban legend that Duell ever made that bad prediction.

In fact, Duell stated that in his opinion, all previous advances in the various lines of invention will appear totally insignificant when compared with those which the 20th century would witness. A middle-aged Duell even wished that he could live his life over again to see the wonders which were to come.

Explore some of the worst predictions regarding some of the greatest inventions.


Tables of Apple Mac products on display at the Apple Store in London

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In 1977, Ken Olson the founder of Digital Equipment Corp (DEC) was quoted as saying, "There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home." Years earlier in 1943, Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, stated, "I think there is a world market for maybe five computers." Nobody seemed able to foretell that someday computers would be everywhere. But that was hardly surprising since computers used to be as big as your house. In a 1949 issue of Popular Mechanics it was written, "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." Only 1.5 tons...


airplane in flight
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In 1901 aviation pioneer, Wilbur Wright made the infamous quote, "Man will not fly for 50 years." Wilbur Wright said this right after an aviation attempt made by the Wright Brothers failed. Two years later in 1903, the Wright Brothers did indeed fly in their first successful flight, the first manned airplane flight ever made.

In 1904, Marechal Ferdinand Foch, Professor of Strategy, Ecole Superieure de Guerre stated that "Airplanes are interesting toys but of no military value." Today, aircraft are heavily used in modern warfare.

"The Americans are good about making fancy cars and refrigerators, but that doesn't mean they are any good at making aircraft." This was a statement made in 1942 at the height of WW2, by the Commander-in-Chief of the Luftwaffe (German airforce), Hermann Goering. Well, we all know that Goering was on the losing side of that war ​and that today the aviation industry is strong in the United States.


Close-Up Of Telephone On Pink Background

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In 1876, a cash-strapped Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the first successful telephone offered to sell his telephone patent to Western Union for $100,000. While considering Bell's offer, which Western Union turned down, officials who reviewed the offer wrote the following recommendations.

"We do not see that this device will be ever capable of sending recognizable speech over a distance of several miles. Hubbard and Bell want to install one of their telephone devices in every city. The idea is idiotic on the face of it. Furthermore, why would any person want to use this ungainly and impractical device when he can send a messenger to the telegraph office and have a clear written message sent to any large city in the United States?.. ignoring the obvious limitations of his device, which is hardly more than a toy. This device is inherently of no use to us. We do not recommend its purchase."


Energy Efficient Lightbulb
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In 1878, a British Parliamentary Committee made the following comments about the lightbulb, "good enough for our transatlantic friends [Americans] but unworthy of the attention of practical or scientific men."

And apparently, there were scientific men of that time period that agreed with the British Parliament. When German-born English engineer and inventor, William Siemens heard about Edison's lightbulb in 1880, he remarked, "such startling announcements as these should be deprecated as being unworthy of science and mischievous to its true progress." Scientist and president of the Stevens Institute of Technology, Henry Morton stated that "Everyone acquainted with the subject [Edison's lightbulb] will recognize it as a conspicuous failure."


old Radio
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American, Lee De Forest was an inventor that worked on early radio technology. De Forest's work made AM radio with tunable radio stations possible. De Forest decided to capitalize on radio technology and promoted the spreading of the technology.

Today, we all know what radio is and have listened to a radio station. However, in 1913 a U.S. District Attorney began prosecution of DeForest for selling stock fraudulently through the mail for his Radio Telephone Company. The District Attorney stated that "Lee DeForest has said in many newspapers and over his signature that it would be possible to transmit the human voice across the Atlantic before many years. Based on these absurd and deliberately misleading statements, the misguided public has been persuaded to purchase stock in his company."


Woman shopping for a television set
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Considering the bad prediction given about Lee De Forest and the radio, it is surprising to learn that Lee De Forest, in turn, gave a bad prediction about television. In 1926, Lee De Forest had the following to say about the future of television, "While theoretically and technically television may be feasible, commercially and financially it is an impossibility, a development of which we need waste little time dreaming."

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Bellis, Mary. "Bad Predictions About Great Inventions." ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, Bellis, Mary. (2020, August 28). Bad Predictions About Great Inventions. Retrieved from Bellis, Mary. "Bad Predictions About Great Inventions." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 3, 2023).