Predicting the future is never easy, but these leaders of industry, science, military, and technology missed the mark spectacularly.
Computers and the Internet
“We will never make a 32-bit operating system.” — Bill Gates, 1989.
"Almost all of the many predictions now being made about 1996 hinge on the Internet's continuing exponential growth. But I predict the Internet will soon go spectacularly supernova and in 1996 catastrophically collapse." — Robert Metcalfe, founder of 3Com, 1995.
"Everyone's always asking me when Apple will come out with a cell phone. My answer is, 'Probably never.'" — David Pogue, The New York Times, 2006.
“There’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share.” — Steve Ballmer, Microsoft CEO, 2007.
"I'd shut [Apple] down and give the money back to the shareholders." - Michael Dell, 1997.
"Spam will be a thing of the past in two years' time." - Bill Gates, 2004.
“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, 1878.
“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.
"Before man reaches the moon, your mail will be delivered within hours from New York to Australia by guided missiles. We stand on the threshold of rocket mail." — Arthur Summerfield, U.S. Postmaster General, 1959.
“There is practically no chance communications space satellites will be used to provide better telephone, telegraph, television, or radio service inside the United States.” — T. Craven, FCC Commissioner, 1961.
“How, 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, on learning about the steamboat, 1800s.
“Dear Mr. President: The canal system of this country is being threatened by a new form of transportation known as ‘railroads’ … As you may well know, Mr. President, ‘railroad’ carriages are pulled at the enormous speed of 15 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 and future President, 1830.
“Rail travel at high speed is not possible because passengers, unable to breathe, would die of asphyxia.” — Dr. Dionysys Larder, Professor, University College London.
“Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible.” — Lord Kelvin, 1895.
“The horse is here to stay but the automobile is only a novelty – a fad.” — The president [PDF] of Michigan Savings Bank counseling an acquaintance, Horace Rackham, against putting money into Ford Motor Co., 1903.
“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 DeForest, 1926
“I must confess that my imagination refuses to see any sort of submarine doing anything but suffocating its crew and floundering at sea.” — HG Wells, 1901.
“The idea that cavalry will be replaced by these iron coaches is absurd. It is little short of treasonous.” — Comment to Field Marshal Haig by an aide-de-camp, while watching a demonstration of a working tank, 1916.
“This is the biggest fool thing we have ever done. The bomb will never go off, and I speak as an expert in explosives.” — Admiral William D. Leahy, Chief of Staff to the Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy during World War II, advising President Truman on the atomic bomb, 1945.
“The cinema is little more than a fad. It’s canned drama. What audiences really want to see is flesh and blood on the stage.” — Charlie Chaplin, 1916.
“The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to no one in particular?” — Response to David Sarnoff, who was seeking investment for commercial radio, 1921.
“TV will never be a serious competitor for radio because people must sit and keep their eyes glued on a screen; the average American family hasn’t time for it.” New York Times editorial, 1939.
“[Television] won’t be able to hold on to any market it captures after the first six months. People will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night.” — Film producer Darryl Zanuck, 20th Century Fox, 1946.
“Fooling around with alternating current is just a waste of time. Nobody will use it, ever.” — Thomas Edison, 1889.
“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 …” — U.S. District Attorney, prosecuting American inventor Lee DeForest for fraud for selling stock in his Radio Telephone Company, 1913.
“The energy produced by the breaking down of 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.” — Ernest Rutherford, who first split the atom.
“There is not the slightest indication that nuclear energy will ever be obtainable. It would mean that the atom would have to be shattered at will.” — Albert Einstein, 1932