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Invention Facts

"They" Said It Couldn't Be Done!

Introduce a new idea and the world beats a path to your door, right? Not really. In the words of Mark Twain, "The man with a new idea is a crank until the idea succeeds." For every person who is open to innovation and change, there are probably a thousand who would vote in favor of the status quo. If you think great ideas are welcomed with open arms, think again.

  • New Jersey farmers rejected the first successful cast iron plow in 1797. They believed the cast iron would poison the land and stimulate weeds.

  • With the advent of railroads one prominent citizen proclaimed they would create the need for more insane asylums to house all those who were driven mad by the noise and terrified by the size of the trains!

  • Trains fared no better in Europe. German "experts" predicted that if passenger trains traveled faster than 15 mph, the passengers would get nosebleeds.

  • When George Westinghouse tried to interest Commodore Vanderbilt to invest in his new air brakes for trains, he was rebuffed. "I have not time to waste on fools," proclaimed the wealthy Vanderbilt.

  • Robert Fulton was a bit luckier in attracting investors who provided funds to build his steamboat. The investors had one stipulation, though. They demanded that their names be secret lest the world laugh at them for being part of such a foolhardy project.

  • In 1881 New York women refused to learn how to type. They were afraid that the strain of typing would be too much for them!

  • Stock salesman Joshua Coppersmith was arrested in Boston for trying to peddle telephone stock. He was considered a shyster for selling worthless stock in an impossibility; intelligent people knew it was impossible to send a voice over a wire.

  • In the mid-1800s farmers tore down miles of telegraph wire fearful that the new fangled invention would disturb the weather and ruin crops.

  • When G.G. Hubbard learned of his future son-in-law's invention, he called it "only a toy." His daughter was engaged to a young man named Alexander Graham Bell.

  • Robert Goddard's theory that rockets could operate in outer space met with a lot of criticism. The New York Times printed derisive comments about Goddard's concepts. The day after Apollo 11 left earth orbit for the moon, the Times published an apology to Goddard.

  • Darryl F. Zanuck of 20th Century Fox thought TV was just a passing fancy. In 1946, he said, "Video won't be able to hold any market after the first six months. People will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night."

  • Thomas Edison invented lots of things but he didn't invent the radio. In 1922 he declared that "the radio craze will die out in time."

  • Chester Carlson was a patent agent who tired of having to make multiple copies of patent applications using the only duplication method available at the time: carbon paper. In 1959 he came up with a new copying system and took it to IBM for evaluation. The "experts" at IBM determined potential sales to be only 5,000 units because people wouldn't want to use a bulky machine when they had carbon paper. Carlson's invention was the xerography process, the company founded on the system is Xerox.

  • In 1943 another of IBM's experts, Thomas J. Watson, predicted that "there is a world market for about five computers."


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