It'll Never Work!
Quotes from many sources. A particularly good source
of quotes on this theme is:
The Experts Speak:
The Definitive Compendium of Authoritative Misinformation
by Christopher Cerf and Victor Navasky (Pantheon Books, 1984).
This started out as a list of negative and pessimistic comments about new
ideas, but, to provide some balance, I've begun to add a few overly
enthusiastic and optimistic comments.
For all predictions do to this belong: That either they are right, or they
are wrong. - John Tulley's Almanac for 1688.
- In my own time there have been inventions of this sort,
transparent windows, tubes for diffusing warmth equally through all
parts of a building, short-hand which has been carried to such a
pitch of perfection that a writer can keep pace with the most rapid
speaker. But the inventing of such things is drudgery for the
lowest slaves; philosophy lies deeper...
- - Roman poet Lucius Annaeus Seneca (4 B.C.E.-65 C.E.)
- I also lay aside all ideas of any new works or engines of war, the invention of which long-ago reached its limit, and in which I see no hope for further improvement...
- - Sextus Julius Frontinus, governor of Britania, 84 C.E.
- People give ear to an upstart astrologer who strove to show
that the earth revolves, not the heavens or the firmament, the sun
and the moon... Whoever wishes to appear clever must devise some
new system, which of all systems is of course the very best. This
fool wishes to reverse the entire science of astronomy; but the
sacred scripture tells us [Joshua 10:13] that Joshua commanded the
sun to stand still, not the earth.
- - Martin Luther (1483-1546) [Criticizing Copernicus' heliocentric theory of planetary motion.]
- Animals, which move, have limbs and muscles. The earth does
not have limbs and muscles; therefore it does not move.
- - Scipio Chiaramonti [Professor of philosophy and
mathematics at University of Pisa, arguing against the heliocentrc system, 1633]
- Mathematics is inadequate to describe the universe, since
mathematics is an abstraction from natural phenomena. Also,
mathematics may predict things which don't exist, or are impossible
- - Ludovico delle Colombe [Criticizing Galileo
- Just as in the microcosm there are seven `windows' in the head
(two nostrils, two eyes, two ears, and a mouth), so in the
macrocosm God has placed two beneficent stars (Jupiter, Venus), two
maleficent stars (Mars, Saturn), two luminaries (sun and moon), and
one indifferent star (Mercury). The seven days of the week follow
from these. Finally, since ancient times the alchemists had made
each of the seven metals correspond to one of the planets; gold to
the sun, silver to the moon, copper to Venus, quicksilver to
Mercury, iron to Mars, tin to Jupiter, lead to Saturn.
From these and many other similar phenomena of nature such as the
seven metals, etc., which it were tedious to enumerate, we gather
that the number of planets is necessarily seven... Besides, the
Jews and other ancient nations as well as modern Europeans, have
adopted the division of the week into seven days, and have named
them from the seven planets; now if we increase the number of
planets, this whole system falls to the ground... Moreover, the
satellites are invisible to the naked eye and therefore can have
no influence on the earth, and therefore would be useless, and
therefore do not exist.
- - Francesco Sizzi, astronomer at Florence. [Arguing against
Galileo's 1610 announcement of his discovery of four moons of Jupiter.]
- It is difficult to deal with an author whose mind is filled
with a medium of so fickle and vibratory a nature...; We now
dismiss...the feeble lucubrations of this author, in which we have
searched without success for some traces of learning, acuteness,
and ingenuity, that might compensate his evident deficiency in the
powers of solid thinking...
- - Henry Brougham. [Criticizing Thomas Young's wave theory
- Don't go West young man. (Advice to Columbus.)
I. A Voyage to Asia would require three years.
II. The western Ocean is infinite and perhaps unnavigable.
III. If he reached the Antipodes he could not get back.
IV There are no Antipodes because the greater part of the globe is
covered with water, and because St. Augustine said so.
V. Of the five zones, only three are habitable.
VI. So many centuries after the Creation,
it is unlikely that anyone could find hitherto unknown lands of any value.
- - Report of the committee organized in 1486 by King Ferdinand and
Queen Isabella of Spain to study Columbus' plans to find a shorter route
THE INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION
- The abolishment of pain in surgery is a chimera. It is absurd
to go on seeking it...
Knife and pain are two words in surgery that must forever
be associated in the consciousness of the patient.
- - Dr. Alfred Velpeau (1839), French surgeon
- Men might as well project a voyage to the Moon as attempt
to employ steam navigation against the stormy North Atlantic Ocean.
- - Dr. Dionysus Lardner (1793-1859), Professor of Natural
Philosophy and Astronomy at University College, London.
- There is a young madman proposing to light the streets of
Londonwith what do you supposewith smoke!
- - Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832) [On a proposal to light
cities with gaslight.]
The Kölonische Zeitung [Köln, Germany, 28 March 1819] listed six
grave reasons against street lighting, including these:
- Theological: It is an intervention in God's order, which makes
- Medical: It will be easier for people to be in the streets at
night, afflicting them with colds...
- Philosophical-moral: Morality deteriorates through street
lighting. Artificial lighting drives out fear of the dark, which
keeps the weak from sinning...
- [W]hen the Paris Exhibition closes electric light will close
with it and no more be heard of.
- - Erasmus Wilson (1878) Professor at Oxford University
- They will never try to steal the phonograph because it has no
- - Thomas Edison (1847-1931). (He later revised that
- This `telephone' has too many shortcomings to be seriously
considered as a practical form of communication. The device is
inherently of no value to us.
- - Western Union internal memo, 1878
- What use could this company make of an electrical toy?
- - Western Union president William Orton, responding to an
offer from Alexander Graham Bell to sell his telephone company to
Western Union for $100,000.
- Well informed people know it is impossible to transmit the
voice over wires and that were it possible to do so, the thing
would be of no practical value.
- - Editorial in the Boston Post (1865)
- Radio has no future.
- - Lord Kelvin (1824-1907), British mathematician and
physicist, ca. 1897.
- While theoretically and technically television may be feasible,
commercially and financially I consider it an impossibility,
a development of which we need waste little time dreaming.
- - Lee DeForest, 1926 (American radio pioneer and inventor
of the vacuum tube.)
- [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.
- - Darryl F. Zanuck, head of 20th Century-Fox, 1946.
- What can be more palpably absurd than the prospect held out of
locomotives traveling twice as fast as stagecoaches?
- - The Quarterly Review, England (March 1825)
- ...transport by railroad car would result in the emasculation
of our troops and would deprive them of the option of the great
marches which have played such an important role in the triumph of
- - Dominique Francois Arago (1786-1853)
- In Bavaria the Royal College of Doctors, having been
consulted, declared that railroads, if they were constructed,
would cause the greatest deterioration in the health of the public,
because such rapid movement would cause brain trouble among
travelers, and vertigo among those who looked at moving trains. For
this last reason it was recommended that all tracks be enclosed by
high board fences raised above the height of the cars and engines.
- Rail travel at high speed is not possible because passengers,
unable to breathe, would die of asphyxia.
- - Dr. Dionysus Lardner (1793-1859), Professor of Natural
Philosophy and Astronomy at University College, London.
- A new source of power... called gasoline has been produced by
a Boston engineer. Instead of burning the fuel under a boiler, it
is exploded inside the cylinder of an engine.
The dangers are obvious. Stores of gasoline in the hands of people
interested primarily in profit would constitute a fire and
explosive hazard of the first rank. Horseless carriages propelled
by gasoline might attain speeds of 14 or even 20 miles per hour.
The menace to our people of vehicles of this type hurtling through
our streets and along our roads and poisoning the atmosphere would
call for prompt legislative action even if the military and
economic implications were not so overwhelming... [T]he cost of
producing [gasoline] is far beyond the financial capacity of
private industry... In addition the development of this new power
may displace the use of horses, which would wreck our agriculture.
- - U. S. Congressional Record, 1875.
- The horse is here to stay, but the automobile is only a
- - Advice from a president of the Michigan Savings Bank
to Henry Ford's lawyer Horace Rackham. Rackham ignored the advice
and invested $5000 in Ford stock, selling it later for $12.5
- That the automobile has practically reached the limit of
its development is suggested by the fact that during the past
year no improvements of a radical nature have been introduced.
- - Scientific American, Jan. 2, 1909.
- Automobiles will start to decline almost as soon as the last shot is
fired in World War II. The name of Igor Sikorsky will be as well known as
Henry Ford's, for his helicopter will all but replace the horseless
carriage as the new means of popular transportation. Instead of a car in
every garage, there will be a helicopter.... These 'copters' will be so
safe and will cost so little to produce that small models will be made for
teenage youngsters. These tiny 'copters, when school lets out, will fill
the sky as the bicycles of our youth filled the prewar roads.
- - Harry Bruno, aviation publicist, 1943.
- There is no likelihood man can ever tap the power of the atom.
The glib supposition of utilizing atomic energy when our coal has
run out is a completely unscientific Utopian dream, a childish
bug-a-boo. Nature has introduced a few fool-proof devices into the
great majority of elements that constitute the bulk of the world,
and they have no energy to give up in the process of
- - Robert A. Millikan (1863-1953) [1928 speech to the
Chemists' Club (New York)]
- ...any one who expects a source of power from the transformation
of these atoms is talking moonshine...
- - Ernest Rutherford (1871-1937) 
- 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.
- That 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 Leahy. [Advice to President Truman, when
asked his opinion of the atomic bomb project.]
- There is little doubt that the most significant event affecting energy
is the advent of nuclear power...a few decades hence, energy may be
freejust like the unmetered air....
- - John von Neumann, scientist and member of the Atomic Energy
IT'LL NEVER FLY
- It would fill the world with innumerable immoralities and give
such occasion for intrigues as people can not meet with. You would
have a couple of lovers make a midnight assignation upon the top
of the monument and see the cupola of St. Paul's covered with both
sexes like the outside of a pigeon house. Nothing would be more
frequent than to see a beau flying in at a garret window or a
gallant giving chase to his mistress like a hawk after a lark.
- - Joseph Addison. [Concerns about where manned flight might
- Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible.
- - Lord Kelvin (1824-1907), ca. 1895, British mathematician and
- ...no possible combination of known substances, known forms of
machinery, and known forms of force, can be united in a practical
machine by which man shall fly long distances through the air...
- - Simon Newcomb (1835-1909), astronomer, head of the
U. S. Naval Observatory.
- I confess that in 1901 I said to my brother Orville that man
would not fly for fifty years. Two years later we ourselves made
flights. This demonstration of my impotence as a prophet gave me
such a shock that ever since I have distrusted myself and avoided
- - Wilbur Wright (1867-1912) [In a speech to the Aero Club
of France (Nov 5, 1908)]
- Airplanes are interesting toys but of no military value.
- - Marshal Ferdinand Foch, French military strategist, 1911.
He was later a World War I commander.
ROCKETRY AND SPACE FLIGHT
- There has been a great deal said about a 3000 miles high angle
rocket. In my opinion such a thing is impossible for many years.
The people who have been writing these things that annoy me have
been talking about a 3000 mile high-angle rocket shot from one
continent to another, carrying an atomic bomb and so directed as
to be a precise weapon which would land exactly on a certain
target, such as a city.
I say, technically, I don't think anyone in the world knows how to
do such a thing, and I feel confident that it will not be done for
a very long period of time to come... I think we can leave that
out of our thinking. I wish the American public would leave that
out of their thinking.
- - Vanevar Bush, director of our Office of Scientific
Research and Development during World War II.
- This foolish idea of shooting at the moon is an example of the
absurd length to which vicious specialization will carry scientists
working in thought-tight compartments. Let us critically examine
the proposal. For a projectile entirely to escape the gravitation
of earth, it needs a velocity of 7 miles a second. The thermal
energy of a gramme at this speed is 15,180 calories... The energy
of our most violent explosive--nitroglycerine--is less than 1,500
calories per gramme. Consequently, even had the explosive nothing
to carry, it has only one-tenth of the energy necessary to escape
the earth... Hence the proposition appears to be basically
- - W. A. Bickerton, Professor of Physics and Chemistry at
Canterbury College (Christchurch, New Zealand), 1926.
- There is not in sight any source of energy that would be a fair
start toward that which would be necessary to get us beyond the
gravitative control of the earth.
- - Forest Ray Moulton (1872-1952), astronomer, 1935.
- 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 (1873-1961) (American radio pioneer and inventor of
the vacuum tube.) Feb 25, 1957.
- Space travel is utter bilge.
- - Dr. Richard van der Reit Wooley, Astronomer Royal, space advisor
to the British government, 1956. (Sputnik orbited the earth the following
- Computers in the future may...perhaps only weigh 1.5 tons.
- - Popular Mechanics, 1949.
- There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in their
- - Kenneth Olsen, president and founder of Digital Equipment Corp.,
- If the world should blow itself up, the last audible voice would be
that of an expert saying it can't be done.
- - Peter Ustinov
- It is difficult to say what is impossible, for the dream of
yesterday is the hope of today and the reality of tomorrow.
- - Robert Goddard (1882-1945)
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ö is o umlaut.
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