Famously Wrong Predictions From the Past

Predicting the future can be a daunting, if not a sometimes embarrassing occupation. I have already posted on this topic a few times because as a writer of historical fiction I think it adds something when characters look ahead and wonder what the world will be like in one hundred or two hundred years.

Unfortunately, not all of us can be accurate prognosticators. Even the geniuses and giants of science and industry have faltered from time to time.

Here are a few examples:

“Theoretically, television may be feasible, but I consider it an impossibility–a development which we should waste little time dreaming about.”-Lee de Forest, 1926, inventor of the cathode ray tube

 “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.”–Thomas J. Watson, 1943, Chairman of the Board of IBM

“It doesn’t matter what he does, he will never amount to anything.”-Albert Einstein’s teacher to his father, 1895

“It will be years – not in my time – before a woman will become Prime Minister.” —Margaret Thatcher, 1974

                             Margaret Thatcher

“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 internal memo, 1876

“We don’t like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out.” –Decca Recording Co. rejecting the Beatles, 1962 

“Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?”-H. M. Warner, Warner Brothers, 1927, pooh-poohing the idea of sound in film. 

“640K ought to be enough for anybody.”-Bill Gates, 1981 

“Louis Pasteur’s theory of germs is ridiculous fiction.” –Pierre Pachet, Professor of Physiology at Toulouse, 1872 

“Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons.” –Popular Mechanics, forecasting the relentless march of science, 1946

“We don’t need you. You haven’t got through college yet.” — Hewlett-Packard’s rejection of Steve Jobs, who went on to found Apple Computers 

“Airplanes are interesting toys, but they have no military value.”-Marshal Ferdinand Foch in 1911

                          Marshal Foch

“With over 50 foreign cars already on sale here, the Japanese auto industry isn’t likely to carve out a big slice of the U.S. market.”-Business Week, 1958 

“Whatever happens, the U.S. Navy is not going to be caught napping.” –Frank Knox, U.S. Secretary of the Navy, on December 4, 1941, three days before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. 

Stocks have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau.” –Irving Fisher, Professor of Economics, Yale University, October 16, 1929, thirteen days before the “Black Tuesday” stock market crash and the beginning of the Great Depression.

   Then, there these gaffes from the past:

King George II said in 1773 that the American colonies had little stomach for revolution.

An official of the White Star Line, speaking of the firm’s newly built flagship, the Titanic, launched in 1912, declared that the ship was unsinkable.

In 1939 The New York Times said the problem of TV was that people had to glue their eyes to a screen, and that the average American wouldn’t have time for it.

An English astronomy professor said in the early 19th century that air travel at high speed would be impossible because passengers would suffocate.

Someone once said that an optimist is someone who thinks the future is uncertain.

But I always liked this variously ascribed quote:

“The future isn’t what it used to be.”

Amen, brother.




About Ronald E. Yates

Ronald E. Yates is an award-winning author of historical fiction and action/adventure novels, including the popular and highly-acclaimed Finding Billy Battles trilogy. Read More About Ron Here