The Rushmore Report – 15 Worst Predictions of All Time

There is an old saying that goes, “Predicting the future is easy; getting it right is the hard part.” As we look back on American history, we find all sorts of Nostradamus-wannabes who tried to predict how the future of technology would play out. Below are 15 such predictions that are among the worst predictions ever made.

1876: “The Americans have need of the telephone, but we do not. We have plenty of messenger boys.” (William Preece, British Post Office)

1876: “This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication.” (William Orton, President of Western Union)

1889: “Fooling around with alternating current (AC) is just a waste of time. Nobody will use it. Ever.” (Thomas Edison)

1903: “The horse is here to stay; the automobile is only a novelty – a fad.” (President of the Michigan Savings Bank advising Henry Ford’s lawyer, Horace Rackham, to not invest in the Ford Motor Company)

1921: “The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to no one in particular?” (Multiple sources)

1946: “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 Zanuck, 20th Century Fox)

1955: “Nuclear powered vacuum cleaners will probably be a reality within ten years.” (Alex Lewyt, President of the Lewyt Vacuum Cleaner Company)

1959: “Before man reaches the moon, your mail will be delivered within hours from New York to Australia by guided missiles. We stand on the threshold of rocket mail.” (Arthur Summerfield, U.S. Postmaster General)

1961: “There is practically no chance communications space satellites will be used to provide better telephone, telegraph, television, or radio service inside the United States.” (T.A.M. Craven, Federal Communications Commission commissioner)

1966: “Remote shopping, while entirely feasible, will flop.” (Time Magazine)

1981: “Cellular phones will absolutely not replace local wire systems.” (Marty Cooper, inventor)

1995: “I predict the Internet will soon go spectacularly supernova and in 1996 catastrophically collapse.” (Robert Metcalfe, founder of 3Com)

2005: “There’s just not that many videos I want to watch.” (Steve Chen, CTO and co-founder of YouTube, explaining why his venture would have little success)

2006: “Everyone’s always asking me when Apple will come out with a cell phone. My answer is, ‘Probably never.'” (David Pogue, The New York Times)

2007: “There’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share.” (Steve Ballmer, Microsoft CEO)

About the Author

Robert J. Szczerba is a contributor to Forbes.

Predictions from 100 Years Ago

No more rats or mosquitoes. A ride to the city for 1 cent. Political corruption – gone. Housekeeping reduced to “fun, a real joyful picnic.” Those are just some of the predictions made 100 years ago. Ladies Home Journal said there would be no more mice, house flies, or roaches by the year 2000. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle said work would be “reduced to a minimum by machinery. Nobody will lack an automobile or air yacht.” British scientist William Thompson declared, “Radio has no future. Flying machines are impossible. X-rays will prove to be a hoax.” Even H. G. Wells missed it, claiming submarines would “do nothing but suffocate their crews and flounder at sea.” It was predicted that phones would allow Americans to one day talk to people on Mars, and the letters C, Q, and X would be eliminated from our alphabet.

But they got a few things right, including the prediction of a snowmobile (“automobile on snow”), cars that would replace horse-drawn buggies, a population explosion, and modern conveniences expedited by electricity. It is hard to predict things 100 years out. The weatherman is doing good to predict tomorrow’s rain. But there was one guy who turned out to be a prophet. His name was John Bates Clark. He was a well-known author, cited as an optimist. But despite his optimism of an easier lifestyle and modern conveniences, Clark thought that “progress might weaken individual morality. Wealth and whiz-bang gadgets at home might spur sore temptations of materialism, isolation, and loss of community.”

Give Mr. Clark an A+ for prognostication. He nailed it. His words could have been taken from today’s headlines. But we are slow learners. Most Christians continue to seek God’s hand more than his heart. We want his blessings more than we want him. Every moment of every day he hears the same old prayer: “Please God, give me ________.” He is longing to hear this prayer: “Just a closer walk with Thee. Grant it Jesus, is my plea. Daily walking close to Thee. Let it be, Lord, let it be.” Do you know where that song comes from? It is from the African American community of the South in pre-Civil War days. This song is a product of slavery. But they did not pray for freedom. They prayed for holiness. With all the modern conveniences of life, we continue to seek more. I wonder what our Christian ancestors would say to us if they could see us now. We feel persecuted if the AC goes out at church. Divorce, immorality, and pornography are almost as rampant among professed believers as with the general population. Mr. Clark was right 100 years ago. The enslaved believers of the Old South prayed for a closer walk with their Lord. The refined believers of today pray for more stuff. And we call this “progress.”