misjudgments of history – prominent inventions and their doubters

Sometimes doubt your idea? Get to hear things like “What good is that going to do” or “This will never catch on”? Don’t let that stop you from continuing your development. It is true that there are inventions that actually do not catch on. But history is also full of misjudgments by thoroughly knowledgeable contemporaries about inventions that later became international successes.

Edison’s light bulb was initially underestimated


Thomas Alva Edison illuminated the Avenue de l’Opera and the Place de l’Opera with electric light for the first time at the World’s Fair in Paris in 1878. But what said Oxford professor Erasmus Wilson to this? “When the Paris World’s Fair is over, the electric light will go out and we’ll never hear about it again”. And when Edison applied for a patent for his variant of the light bulb in the U.S. in late 1879, he had to read in the newspaper: “Anyone familiar with it will recognize that Mr. Edison’s light bulb is a clear failure” – by, of all people, Henry Morton, himself a scientist and then president of Stevens Institute of Technology, one of the oldest technical universities in the U.S. But it was Edison’s version that made mass production and the use of electric light in everyday life possible – after many had already tried their hand at it beforehand.

The automobile – a success with many forefathers

Automobile patent

The invention of the automobile was also by no means immediately recognized as a success by everyone. In 1903, for example, the president of the Michigan Savings Bank advised Henry Ford’s lawyer against investing in Ford’s automobile company: “The horse will always exist. Cars are only a passing fad.” A similar quote is also attributed to Kaiser Wilhelm II, but this is probably not true. That even the pioneers of the automobile could not have imagined what would become of it is shown by Gottlieb Daimler’s statement in 1901 that the worldwide demand for motor vehicles would not exceed one million – “if only for lack of available chauffeurs”.”

The history of the automobile, of course, would never have been possible without the Invention of the wheel previously. And here we see that an idea also needs the right environment to become a success. The wheel is said to have been used already by ancient American peoples as the Maya’s and the Aztecs but they did not use it as a means of transportation. Presumably this was because there were no suitable draft animals. And the Persian-Arabian-Berber cultural region is intended to Transport of goods on wheels have even given up again. Because it was not necessary to maintain roads for transportation by camel.

The car would also have been nothing without the Internal combustion engine. As recently as 1806, the Russian Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg: “Petroleum is a useless secretion of the earth – a sticky liquid that stinks and cannot be used in any way.” Products from it were mostly used for lighting – Canadian physician and geologist Abraham Gesner filed a patent in 1855, which is considered the beginning of petroleum processing.

Flying – impossible?

Wright brothers airplane invention

Many learned contemporaries were also skeptical about the airplane. William Thompson, the first Baron Kelvin and himself a physicist, did not think heavier-than-air flying machines were possible. He had not the slightest belief “in any other kind of aviation than that by balloon,” he is quoted as saying. The Canadian-American mathematician Simon Newcomb was of the same opinion: “Flying through the air with machines is absolutely impossible”. They had to be proven wrong by the brothers Wilbur and Orville Wright. The latter were not misled by the distinguished scientists and reported their Flying Machine 1903 to Patent to. The rest is history.

Talking actors undesirable?

Sound film

Even the modern entertainment industry knows such misjudgments. The successful director D.W. Griffith, who co-founded United Artists with Charlie Chaplin and others, published an article in 1924 outlining a vision of cinematography 100 years from now. Talking actors were not one of them. And Harry Warner was certainly open to music from a tape instead of a live orchestra. This would save the cinemas a lot of money. But “who wants to hear actors talk”, he is reported to have said. The Warner Brothers took a chance and invested in the new technology – they presented a film about a jazz singer, whom you can then also hear singing. And Griffith later made sound films himself.

The Development of the talkies is of many technical stages of development coined. Among the pioneers were the Swede Sven Berglund, the Polish engineer Jozef Tykocinski-Tykociner, and the German sound engineers Hans Vogt, Joseph Massolle, and Joseph Benedict Engl. The laboratory of the latter three, who jointly developed the process as “Tri-Ergon”, was located in Babelsberger Strabe in Berlin. The fact that a sound film poses different challenges for actors is another story.

The calculator for the school bag

In times of the smartphone, the format and performance of the first pocket calculator may seem a bit meager. But the integrated circuit on a semiconductor that the young physicist Jack Kilby designed in 1958 is considered the basis for the microchip.

Pocket calculator

His employer Texas Instruments could not really get to grips with it for a long time. Together with colleagues Kilby therefore designed the first pocket calculator and presented the “Cal Tech” to the principal in 1967. It is said to have been the size of a dictionary and weighed a kilo, but it could be powered by batteries.

The Texas Instruments boss didn’t see the potential at first, but made mass production possible at a Japanese company. First In 1972, Texas Instruments went on the market with its own pocket calculators. Today, almost every schoolchild probably remembers “his” model. And Kilby, together with two others, received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2000 for the development of the integrated circuit.

Almost at the same time as Jack Kilby, the physicist Robert Noyce came up with a similar idea. There were therefore legal and patent disputes. Later he founded the company Intel with a partner. He was not considered for the Nobel Prize in 2000 because he had already died in 1990.

Who needs a computer at home?

early personal computer

Also the first computer were known to be much bigger, but nowhere near as powerful as today’s examples, which severely limited their use. “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers”, Thomas Watson is said to have, head of IBM, still said in 1943, even if this is not documented in writing. And his ambition was certainly greater – and rightly so, as history shows. “There is no reason why anyone should have a computer at home”, is quoted Ken Olsen, founder of Digital Equipment, in 1977. His collaborators, however, already had plans for it. Another prominent misjudgement comes from Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer: The iPhone will not sell very well.

The dowel, the do-it-yourselfer’s best friend

But it doesn’t always have to be electronics. In 1958, the Swabian Artur Fischer invented the Expansion anchors and had the model patented. Because no one believed him, he is even said to have a Car screwed to the wall Have.

Dowel Invention

Today, any minimally talented amateur craftsman can use it to securely fasten pictures, shelves or lamps to the wall. There is no Nobel Prize for this kind of thing, but there is steady commercial success. Fischer marketed his inventions in his own company, and the small, cheap plastic part made him rich thanks to the mass sold.

So whatever you’re working on: Don’t be discouraged. In the history of innovation, there have often been misjudgments and false estimates – later prominent inventions had their doubters. However, history also shows that often Similar ideas at the same time came up. The application for a patent was often an important step in later being able to derive a financial benefit from the invention.

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