Murphy’s Laws
and other treats

Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons.

Popular Mechanics, 1949

We don’t like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out.

Decca Recording Co. rejecting the Beatles, 1962.

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.

Although we are living in what may be termed the steam era
and our Navy is a steam navy, I have in his work wholly excluded
the consideration of steam power, as, owing to the great cost
of coal and the impossibility of providing stowage for it
except to a limited extent, the application of steam power for
ordinary purposes must be strictly auxiliary and subordinate
and its employment in general service the exception rather than
the rule.

Manual of Seamanship
Captain Alston, RN

Even considering the improvements possible…the gas
turbine could hardly be considered a feasible application
to airplanes because of the difficulties of complying
with the stringent weight requirements.

US National Academy Of Science

The Soviet Union is not now nor will it be in the next decade
in the throes of a true systemic crisis, for it boasts enormous
unused reserves of political and social stability.

Sovietologist Seweryn Bailer
Columbia University, 1982

People have been talking about a 3,000 mile high-angle
rocket shot from one continent to another, carrying an
atomic bomb and so directed as to be a precise weapon…
I think we can leave that out of our thinking.

Dr. Vannevar Bush

I’m just glad it’ll be Clark Gable who’s falling on his face
and not Gary Cooper.

Gary Cooper on his decision not to take the leading role in
“Gone With The Wind.”

Contrasting this modest effort [of Seymour Cray in his
laboratory to build the CDC 6600] with 34 people including
the janitor with our vast development activities,
I fail to understand why we have lost our industry leadership
position by letting someone else offer the world’s most
powerful computer.

Thomas J. Watson, IBM President, 1965

It seems Mr. Watson has answered his own question.

Seymour Cray

Nobody now fears that a Japanese fleet could deal an
unexpected blow at our Pacific possessions… Radio
makes surprise impossible.

Josephus Daniels

I could whip all the Indians on the Continent with the 7th Cavalry.
George Armstrong Custer

June 25, 1876

Drill for oil? You mean drill into the ground to try and find oil?
You’re crazy.

Drillers who Edwin L. Drake tried to
enlist to his project to
drill for oil in 1859.

Everything that can be invented has been invented.
Charles H. Duell

U.S. Commissioner for Patents

Fooling around with alternating current is a waste of time.
Nobody will use it, ever.

Thomas Edison

There is not the slightest indication that nuclear energy
will be obtainable.

Albert Einstein

The advancement of the arts, from year to year, taxes our
credulity and seems to presage the arrival of that period
when human improvement must end.

Henry Elsworth
US Patent Office, 1844

The abdomen, the chest, and the brain will forever be shut from the
intrusion of the wise and humane surgeon.
Sir John Eric Ericksen

Surgeon-Extraordinary to
Queen Victoria 1873

A cookie store is a bad idea. Besides, the market research
reports say America likes crispy cookies, not soft and chewy
cookies like you make.

Response to Debbi Fields’ idea of starting
Mrs. Fields’ Cookies.

Stocks have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau.

Irving Fisher
Professor of Economics
Yale University, 1929

Airplanes are interesting toys but of no military value.

Marechal Ferdinand Foch
Professor of Strategy
Ecole Superieure de Guerre

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 De Forest

640K ought to be enough for anybody.

Bill Gates, 1981

The Americans are good about making fancy cars and refrigerators,
but that doesn’t mean they are any good at making aircraft.
They are bluffing. They are excellent at bluffing.

Hermann Goering

The actual building of roads devoted to motor cars is not
for the near future, in spite of many rumours to that effect.

Harper’s Weekly

That’s an amazing invention (the telephone) but who would
ever want to use one of them?

President Rutherford B. Hayes

Inventions have long since reached their limit, and I see
no hope for future improvements.

Julius Frontenus
10 A.D.

By 1960 work will be limited to three hours a day.
John Langdon-Davies

A Short History of the Future

Abundant new raw materials will (by 1960) make food, clothing
and other necessities universally obtainable.

John Langdon-Davies
A Short History of the Future 1936

By 1975 parents will have ceased to bring up their children in
private family units.

John Langdon-Davies
A Short History of the Future 1936

By 1975 sexual feeling and marriage will have nothing to do with
each other.

John Langdon-Davies
A Short History of the Future 1936

Crime will be considered a disease after 1985 and will cease to
exist by AD 2000.

John Langdon-Davies
A Short History of the Future 1936

Democracy will be dead by 1950.

John Langdon-Davies
A Short History of the Future 1936

There will be no war in western Europe for the next five years.

John Langdon-Davies
A Short History of the Future 1936

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, of course, come into as common use
as the bicycle.

Literary Digest

Landing and moving about on the moon offers so many serious problems
for human beings that it may take science another 200 years to
lick them.

Science Digest

Rail travel at high speed is not possible because passengers,
unable to breathe, would die of asphyxia.

Dr. Dionysus Lardner

I do not believe in the commercial possibility of induced

J.B.S. Haldane

The aeroplane is the invention of the devil and will never
play any part in such a serious business as the defence
of a nation.

Sir Sam Hughes
(Canadian Minister of Defence)

But what … is it good for?

Engineer at the Advanced Computing Systems Division of IBM,
commenting on the microchip. (1968)


X-rays will prove to be a hoax.

Lord Kelvin

Radio has no future.

Lord Kelvin

Heavier than air flying machines are impossible.

Lord Kelvin

Television won’t matter in your lifetime or mine.

R.S. Lambert
(Canadian Broadcaster)

Everyone acquainted with the subject (Edison’s light bulb) will
recognize it as a conspicuous failure.

Henry Morton, President
Stevens Institute of Technology, 1879

No one will ever be able to measure nerve impulse speed.
Johannes Muller

German Physiologist

It would appear that we have reached the limits of what it is
possible to achieve with computer technology, although one
should be careful with such statements, as they tend to sound
pretty silly in 5 years.

John Von Neumann (ca. 1949)


Flight by machines heavier than air is impractical and
insignificant, if not utterly impossible.

Simon Newcomb

Ariel flight is one of that class of problems with which man
will never be able to cope.

Simon Newcomb

There is no reason for any individual to have a computer
in their home.

Ken Olson
President Digital Equipment Corp.

Louis Pasteur’s theory of germs is ridiculous fiction.

Pierre Pachet
Professor of Physiology
Toulouse, 1872


A popular fantasy is to suppose that flying machines
could be used to drop dynamite on the enemy in time
of war.

William Henry Pickering

The resistance of air increases as the square of the speed
and works as the cube [of speed]…. It is clear that with
our present devices there is no hope of aircraft competing for
racing speed with either our locomotives or automobiles.

William Henry Pickering

I have traveled the length and breadth of this country and talked
with the best people, and I can assure you that data processing is a
fad that won’t last out the year.

The editor in charge of business books for Prentice Hall, 1957


What can be more palpably absurd than the prospect held out
of locomotives travelling twice the speed of stagecoaches?

Quartely Review

Our boys are not going to be sent into foreign wars.

Franklin D. Roosevelt
October 30, 1940

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 transformations of these atoms is
talking moonshine.

Ernest Rutherford

It can be taken for granted that before 1980 ships, aircraft,
locomotives and even automobiles will be atomically fueled.

David Sarnoff

The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value.
Who would pay for a message sent to nobody in particular?

David Sarnoff’s associates
in response to his urgings for
investment in the radio in the 1920s.

Those in the U.S. who think the Soviet Union is on the verge
of collapse … are only kidding themselves.

Historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr.

The director of Military Aeronautics of France has decided
to discontinue the purchase of monoplanes, their place to
be filled entirely with bi-planes. This decision practically
sounds the death knell of the monoplane as a military instrunent.

Scientific American

That the automobile has reached the limit of its development
is suggested by the fact that during the last year no
improvements of a radical nature have been introduced.

Scientific American

They couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance!

Major General John Sedgwick
Spotsylvania Courthouse
May 1864

The most convincing examinations of the problem of
overpopulation hold that we humans have by this time
become a weight on the earth, that the fruits of nature
are hardly sufficient for our needs, and that a general
scarcity of provisions exists, which carries with it
dissatisfaction and protests, given that the earth is
no more able to guarantee the sustenance of all.

Quintus Septimus Florens Tertullianus (A.D. 200)

Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys which distract our
attention from serious things. We are in great haste to construct
a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas,
it may be, have nothing important to communicate.

Henry David Thoreau

As a method of sending a missile to the higher, and even to the
highest parts of the eartth’s atmospheric envelope, Professor
Goddard’s rocket is a practical and therefore promising device.
It is when one considers the multiple-charge rocket as a traveler
to the moon that one begins to doubt…for after the rocket quits
our air and really starts on its journey, its flight would
neither be accelerated nor maintained by the explosion of the
charges it then might have left. Professor Goddard, with his
“chair” at Clark College and countenancing of the Smithsonian
Institution, does not know the relation of action to re-action,
and the need to have something better than a vacuum against
which to react…. Of course he only seems to lack the
knowledge ladled out daily in high schools.

New York Times editorial

Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?

H.M. Warner, Warner Brothers, 1927.

I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.

Thomas Watson, Chairman of IBM, 1943

I must confess that my imagination, in spite even of spurring,
refuses to see any sort of submarine doing anything but
suffocating its crew and foundering at sea.

H.G. Wells

As far as sinking a ship with a bomb is concerned,
you just can’t do it.

Rear Admiral Clark Woodward

Space travel is utter bilge.

Richard Woolley
Astronomer Royal

The concept is interesting and well-formed, but in order to
earn better than a `C,’ the idea must be feasible.

A Yale University management
professor in response
to Fred Smith’s paper proposing
reliable overnight delivery service.
(Smith went on to found Federal Express Corp.)