Everyone makes a mistake now and again, especially when they
are talking about predictions of the future. For someone watching
the Wright Brothers first hop in 1903, it wouldn't have taken too
much imagination to see that maybe airplanes could fly between
cities. Or maybe even carry some mail. But predicting baggage
carousels, stewardesses, jetways, and airplanes that have wingspans
twice the length of that first flight would have been almost
impossible, even for a Jules Verne or George Orwell.
But we don't have to get that extreme. Just ordinary,
everyday, bad predictions are enough for us. Most of these are
just too short sighted, and some are just stupid. It just goes to
show that 'the best authority' isn't always the most reliable at
predicting the future. Things happen in too strange a way for
that. But it makes life fun. In some cases, the companies that
made these decisions walked away from millions (or billions) of
dollars in the long run. But would we have made the same decision
in their case? Who knows, and that's the fun of it!
Anyway, here are the best of the worst predictions ever
Bad Quotes from Famous People
- "Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons."
Popular Mechanics Magazine, 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
- "But what ... is it good for?"
Engineer at the Advanced Computing Systems Division of
IBM, 1968, commenting on the microchip.
- "There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their
Ken Olson, president, chairman and founder of Digital
Equipment Corp., 1977
- "640K ought to be enough for anybody."
Widely Attributed to Bill Gates, 1981
- "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.
- "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.
- "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
- "Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?"
H.M. Warner, Warner Brothers, 1927.
- "We hope that Professor Langley will not put his substantial
greatness as a scientist in further peril by continuing to
waste his time, and the money involved, in further airship
New York Times editorial, December 10, 1903 - exactly
one week before the Wright Brothers first flight at
- "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.
- "We don't like their sound, and guitar music is on the way
Decca Recording Co. rejecting the Beatles, 1962.
- "In my humble opinion, the picture will be a colossal flop.
It lacks the dazzle, charm, wit, imagination and broad
audience appeal of 'Star Wars'."
Movie reviewer William Flanagan on the release of
"Close Encounters of the Third Kind", before it made a
few hundred million dollars.
- "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 3-M "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
- "I see no reason why 1931 should not be an extremely good
Alfred P. Sloan, on the Depression. (1931 was the year
unemployment exceeded 25%.)
- "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. (In all fairness, the Times
did print a retraction - July 17, 1969, just before the
first moon landing.)
- "No mere machine can replace a reliable and honest clerk."
Remington Manufacturing on their decision not to
acquire the rights to the typewriter.
- "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
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.
- "Stocks have reached what looks like a permanently high
Irving Fisher, Professor of Economics, Yale University,
- "Airplanes are interesting toys but of no military value."
Marechal Ferdinand Foch, Professor of Strategy, Ecole
Superieure de Guerre. (French War College)
- "Everything that can be invented has been invented."
Charles H. Duell, Commissioner, U.S. Office of Patents,
- "Louis Pasteur's theory of germs is ridiculous fiction."
Pierre Pachet, Professor of Physiology at Toulouse,
- "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.
© 1996 by Bill Becwar. All Rights Reserved.