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Prognostications

At the end of every December, when Father Time’s odometer is ready to click in another year, experts seem compelled to forecast what the coming year will brings. economists read their econometric entrails and predict hard times or happy days accordingly; psychics announce that this is the year the San Andreas fault will pitch California into the sea. Well, before you believe any of this year’s predictions, consider these vintage prognostications:

  • Octave Chanute, aviation pioneer, in 1904: “The [flying] machine will eventually be fast; they will be used in sport, but they are not to be thought of as commercial carriers.”
  • The Literary Digest, 1889: “The ordinary ‘horseless carriage’ is at present a luxury for the wealthy; and although its price will probably fall in the future, it will never come into as common use as the bicycle.”
  • Thomas Edison, on electricity in the home: “Just as certain as death, [George] Westinghouse will kill a customer within six months after he puts in a system of any size.”
  • Lt. Joseph C. Ives, Corps of Topographical Engineers, 1861, on the Grand Canyon: “[It] is, of course, altogether valueless…Ours has been the first, and will doubtless be the last, party of whites to visit this profitless locality.”
  • Science Digest, August 1948: “Landing and moving around on the moon offer so many serious problems for human beings that it may take science another 200 years to lick them.”
  • Physicist and mathematician Lord Kelvin (1824-1907), who seemed to have a corner on the wrongheaded one-liner in his day: “X rays are a hoax.” “Aircraft flight is impossible.” “Radio has no future.” - Paul Dickson, The Future File, Rawson Associates, Reader’s Digest, January, 1996, p. 90.
  • “Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible.” - Lord Kelvin, President Royal Society
  • “Everything that can be invented has been invented.” - Charles H. Duell, Director of U.S. Patent Office, 1899
  • “Sensible and responsible women do not want to vote.” - Grover Cleveland, 1905
  • “There is no likelihood man can ever tap the power of the atom.” - Robert Milikan, Nobel Laureate in Physics, 1923
  • “Who the heck wants to hear actors talk?” Harry M. Warner, Warner Bros. Pictures, 1927, quoted in Bits & Pieces, March 30, 1995, pp. 9-10
  • 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 about five computers. - Thomas J. Watson, 1943, Chairman of the Board of IBM
  • We don’t think the Beatles will do anything in their market. Guitar groups are on their way out. Recording company expert, 1962

Sources unknown