Famous Opinions

An updated version of our prior look at famous opinions:

"Man will never reach the moon regardless of all future scientific  advances."
-Dr. Lee DeForest, "Father of Radio & Grandfather of Television."

"The  Atomic bomb will never go off. I speak as an expert in explosives."
-Admiral William Leahy, US Atomic Bomb Project

"There is no likelihood man can ever tap the power of the atom."
-Robert Millikan, Nobel Prize in Physics, 1923

"Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons."
-Popular Mechanics, forecasting the relentless march of science, 1949

"I think there is a world market for maybe five computers ."
-Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943

"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

"But what is it good for?"
-Engineer at the Advanced ComputingSystems Division of IBM, 1968, commenting on the microchip.

"640K ought to be enough for anybody."
-Bill Gates, 1981

"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

"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.

"The concept is interesting and well-formed, but in order to earn better than a ‘C,’ the idea must be feasible,"
Yale University management professor in response to Fred Smith’s paper
proposing reliable overnight delivery service. (Smith went on to found
Federal Express Corp.)

"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."

"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.

"We don’t like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out,"
-Decca Recording Co. rejecting the Beatles, 1962.

"Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible,"
-Lord Kelvin, president, Royal Society, 1895.

"If I had thought about it, I wouldn’t have done the experiment.
The literature was full of examples that said you can’t do this,"
-Spencer Silver on the work that led to the unique adhesives for 3-M "Post-It" Notepads.

"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.

"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, France.

"Everything that can be invented has been invented,"
-Charles H. Duell, Commissioner, US Office of Patents, 1899.

"The super computer is technologically impossible. It would take
all of the water that flows over Niagara Falls to cool the heat
generated by the number of vacuum tubes required."
-Professor of Electrical Engineering, New York University

"I don’t know what use any one could find for a machine that would
make copies of documents. It certainly couldn’t be a feasible business
by itself."
-the head of IBM, refusing to back the idea, forcing the inventor to found Xerox.

"Louis Pasteur’s theory of germs is ridiculous fiction."
-Pierre Pachet, Professor of Physiology at Toulouse, 1872

"The abdomen, the chest, and the brain will forever be shut from the intrusion of the wise and humane surgeon,"
-Sir John Eric Ericksen, British surgeon, appointed Surgeon-Extraordinary to Queen Victoria 1873.

And last but not least…

"There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home."
-Ken Olson, president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corp., 1977

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What's been said:

Discussions found on the web:
  1. S Pearman commented on May 6

    “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers .”
    -Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943

    Have heard this one more than once. But wasn’t it more or less true considering what constituted a computer at the time?

  2. Sailorman commented on May 6

    I believe the quote from IBM about Xerox said that Xerography could never compete with the mimeograph machine; its copies were too expensive. From TJ Watson’s autobiography – he listed this as his worst mistake.

  3. John F. commented on May 6

    I’d say the chances are about 50-50 that humanity will be extinct or nearly extinct within 50 years. Weapons of mass destruction, disease, I mean this global warming is scaring the living daylights out of me.

    -Ted Turner

  4. Zmetro.com commented on May 6

    Famous Opinions

    Summarized by Barry Ritholtz:”Man will never reach the moon regardless of all future scientific advances.” -Dr. Lee DeForest, “Father of Radio & Grandfather of Television.” “The Atomic bomb will never go off. I speak as an expert in explosives.” -Admir…

  5. a commented on May 6

    about half of these are myths or taken out of context.

  6. Winston Munn commented on May 6

    I think you forgot a couple:

    Henry Kissinger: “Peace is at hand.”
    George Bush: “I’m a uniter, not a divider.”

  7. Nugget commented on May 6

    The Bill Gates attribution is a particularly persistent myth that has no basis in reality. Gates never said that or anything even remotely similar.

    “I’ve said some stupid things and some wrong things, but not that. No one involved in computers would ever say that a certain amount of memory is enough for all time.”

    “Meanwhile, I keep bumping into that silly quotation attributed to me that says 640K of memory is enough. There’s never a citation; the quotation just floats like a rumor, repeated again and again.”

    — Bill Gates
    January 1996 Interview with Bloomberg Business News.

  8. Craig commented on May 6

    Lesson: Ignore whatever experts from IBM say.

  9. S commented on May 6

    Those quotes seem to illustrate what one of my econ profs was fond of saying:

    “Supply creates its own demand”.

    Kudlow is surely smiling.

  10. RW commented on May 6

    I’d guess a number of those quotes are apocryphal but in their general inability to foresee the implications of change — a talent apparently reserved to Cult of the Man Cow members — most of them do remind me of an epigram, phrased as a rhetorical question: “Is it possible to imagine something that we do not already know?”*

    *There are multiple layers to this but I’ve never been able to find a source and so am probably paraphrasing.

  11. George L. Roman commented on May 6

    “Everything that can be invented has been invented,”
    -Charles H. Duell, Commissioner, US Office of Patents, 1899.

    This used to be one of my favorite quotes, until I found out it is bogus:


  12. Rich commented on May 6

    For those of us who are old enough to remember mimeograph machines, taking in the scent from a mimeographed copy of a test or other hand out in school was one of life’s simple pleasures.

  13. Frankie commented on May 6

    “I did not have sex with that woman”…

    “It depends what your definition of IS is”

    Guess who?

  14. wtf commented on May 6

    “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.”

    “We will, in fact, be greeted as liberators.”

  15. John Thompson commented on May 6

    This was great. Thanks Barry!
    Warren Buffet’s quote in WSJ last week:
    “The leverage in ’29 market a picnic in comparison to today’s market” (Not exact quote, got the free RSS feed and it disappeared)

  16. Robert Cote commented on May 6

    Foregoing the usual Chamberlin “Peace in our time” stuff I’d like to point out that DOS and all the early incarnations of Windows while Gates was part of the process did incorporate a 640k universe in their structure. Gates’ protestations aside he lived the reality of that quote for more than a decade. Made billions doing it and now seems intent on rewriting history.

  17. Winston Munn commented on May 6

    A somewhat interesting debate is at what point do politician’s statements move from the realm of campaign promises and rhetoric into purposeful deception and lies.

    Of course, I have simple solution: make “breech of the public trust” a capital offense, and make lobbying a felony. But that would never work as then we might actually have to elect a federal government that works “for the people” instead of for special interest groups, which would send the markets down and bond yields up.

    Goldman Sachs would never allow that to happen.

  18. Larry Nusbaum commented on May 6

    The Red Sox win the World Series.

  19. Larry Nusbaum commented on May 6

    “… a serious depression seems improbable; [we expect] recovery of business next spring, with further improvement in the fall.”
    – HES, November 10, 1929

    “The end of the decline of the Stock Market will probably not be long, only a few more days at most.”
    – Irving Fisher, Professor of Economics at Yale University, November 14, 1929

    “In most of the cities and towns of this country, this Wall Street panic will have no effect.”
    – Paul Block (President of the Block newspaper chain), editorial, November 15, 1929

    “Financial storm definitely passed.”
    – Bernard Baruch, cablegram to Winston Churchill, November 15, 1929

  20. Larry Nusbaum commented on May 6

    “While the crash only took place six months ago, I am convinced we have now passed through the worst — and with continued unity of effort we shall rapidly recover. There has been no significant bank or industrial failure. That danger, too, is safely behind us.”
    – Herbert Hoover, President of the United States, May 1, 1930

    “…by May or June the spring recovery forecast in our letters of last December and November should clearly be apparent…”
    – HES May 17, 1930

    “Gentleman, you have come sixty days too late. The depression is over.”
    – Herbert Hoover, responding to a delegation requesting a public works program to help speed the recovery, June 1930

    “… the outlook is favorable…”
    – HES Apr 19, 1930 (Harvard)

  21. anon commented on May 6

    The Ken Olsen quote, “There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home,” is understandable in context.:

    Digital Equipment Corporation was an engineer’s computer company. They had a policy to never redesign a component if there was one in the parts inventory that met the requirements for a new project. In an attempt to create a small computer, DEC used a single-chip implementation of the PDP-11 (internally known as Jaws-11) mated with an existing (heavy) power supply, all enclosed in a bulky cabinet/desk that DEC used for its WPS-8 word processing system.

    When the system was done, Ken Olsen asked for one to be delivered to his home. It wouldn’t fit through any of the doors. It was after this event that Olsen made his statement.

    As famous as that quote is, I don’t think anyone at DEC at the time believed it, not even Ken Olsen. There were a few projects at DEC at the time that were working to make smaller computers, though it is true that none of them targetted a home market, preferring instead to target smaller businesses.

    It is unfortunate that DEC didn’t try to target the home market and fumbled its attempts to make a small computer for business. We would have had real operating systems on our personal computers about 20 years earlier…. of course, when Microsoft got around to creating a real operating system (Win NT), it hired away a team from DEC to build it.

  22. John commented on May 6

    A couple of commenters have already noted that some of these quotes are bogus.

    I talked personally with Charles Basshe (sp?) IBM’s offical historian. He told me there is no record anywhere of Watson’s saying that there is no need for more than five (or six, or ten, or twelve, depending on whose version of this story you hear) computers.

    I daresay many if not most of the quotes “proving” shortsightedness amongst people who should have known better are bogus. But if they didn’t say it, they should have.

    Si non è vero, è ben trovato.

  23. Winston Munn commented on May 6

    How could we forget this from Donald Luskin?

    “So the spending has been there all along, extraction or no extraction. That takes a major threat off the table–the consumer isn’t going to poop out just because home prices aren’t rising anymore.”

  24. Eric commented on May 6

    “I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy.” — John Adams

  25. Rich commented on May 6

    “I did not have sex with that woman”…

    “It depends what your definition of IS is”

    Guess who?

    Posted by: Frankie | May 6, 2007 11:43:36 AM

    As people of your ilk repeatedly told us after Bush stole the 2000 election:

    Get over it.

    Oh wait, you can’t. You’re obsessed with the Clenis.

  26. yoshi commented on May 6

    @Robert Cote

    You can blame IBM for both the 640k issue and Gate’s billions. But regardless of your opinion of Gates – there is no proof that he said it. Besides there are dozens upon dozens of stupid things that Gates have said over the years to more than make up for not saying this statement.

    (typed from a laptop with 3gigs of memory)

  27. Granville commented on May 6

    Sub prime loans do not pose a problem

    warren bufett

  28. Robert Prevost commented on May 7

    Worry more about the illeagal aliens comming into the country than the ones that are already here. Get rid on the lobbist and
    and the pork.

    Fred Thomas, maybe a president canadate,
    Posted sometine in May 2007

  29. Peter Gwynne commented on May 7

    famous, or infamous

    “sea levels will rise 20 feet”


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