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In Hindsight

"Man plans, God laughs." (old Jewish proverb)

The future is not predetermined; far from it. Although clues in the present can help us anticipate the future, the human factor often makes fools of those who too confidently make predictions. The following are just a few examples of experts who were sure about their pessimistic predictions.

In 1927, film producer Harry Warner said, "Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?" 

In 1905, Grover Cleveland said, "Sensible and responsible women do not want to vote." 

In the 1830s, Dionysius Lardner, author of The Steam Engine Explained and Illustrated, said, "Rail travel at high speeds is not possible because passengers, unable to breathe, would die of asphyxia." 

When told of Robert Fulton's steamboat, Napoleon said, "What, 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."

On the eve of World War II, Admiral Clark Woodward said, "As far as sinking a ship with a bomb is concerned, it can never be done."

Thomas Edison said, "Just as certain as death, George Westinghouse will kill a customer within six months after he puts in an electric system of any size," and "the phonograph has no commercial value at all."

"This telephone has too many shortcomings to be considered as a means of communication," said the president of Western Union in 1876. "The device is of inherently no value to us."

The president of Michigan Savings Banks advised Henry Ford's lawyer not to invest in the Ford Motor Company because, he said, "The horse is here to stay, the automobile is a novelty."

In 1921, radio pioneer David Sarnoff said, "The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to nobody in particular?"

In 1926, Lee DeForest, inventor of the vacuum tube, said, "While theoretically and technically television may be feasible, commercially and financially I consider it an impossibility."

"Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible," said Lord Kelvin, president of the British Royal Society and one of the nineteenth century's greatest experts on thermodynamics.

"A rocket will never be able to leave the earth's atmosphere," stated the New York Times in 1936.

"Space travel is utter bilge," said a British astronomer in 1956. 

"There is no likelihood man can ever tap the power of the atom," said Nobel Prize-winning physicist Robert Milliken in 1923.

"Taking the best left-handed pitcher in baseball and converting him into a right fielder is one of the dumbest things I ever heard," said Tris Speaker in 1919. He was talking about Babe Ruth.

In 1929, Yale economist Irving Fisher said, "Stock prices have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau." Two weeks later, the stock market crashed.

MGM executive Irving Thalberg had this for Louis B. Mayer regarding Gone With the Wind: "Forget it, Louie, no Civil War picture ever made a nickel."

The director of Blue Book Modeling Agency advised Marilyn Monroe in 1944, "You better learn secretarial work or else get married."

"You ain't going nowhere, son. You ought to go back to driving a truck," said Jim Denny, manager of the Grand Ole Opry, in firing Elvis Presley after a performance in 1954.

"We don't like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out anyway," said the president of Decca Records, rejecting the Beatles in 1962.

Darryl Zanuck observed, in 1946, "Television won't last because people will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night."

The chairman of IBM said, "I think there is a world market for about five computers," in 1943.

"There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home," said the president of Digital Electronic Corporation in 1977.

"We will bury you," predicted Nikita Kruschev in 1958.

Visionary designer Buckminster Fuller said, in 1966, "By 2000, politics will simply fade away. We will not see any political parties."

Social scientist David Riesman declared, in 1967, "If anything remains more or less unchanged, it will be the role of women."