Misjudgments in History - Prominent Inventions and Their Doubters
Do you sometimes doubt your ideas? Do you hear things like "What's the point?" or "That's never gonna happen"? Don't let these stop you from pursuing your development. While it is true is that there are inventions lacking success, many inventions have initially been misjudged and later enjoyed huge international success.
Edison's Underestimated Light bulb
Thomas Alva Edison first illuminated the Avenue de l'Opera and the Place de l'Opera with electric light for the 1878 World Exhibition in Paris. But what did Oxford Professor Erasmus Wilson say? "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 version of the light bulb in the USA at the end of 1879, he read in the newspaper: "Anyone who is familiar with it will recognize that Mr. Edison's light bulb is a clear failure." This was said by Henry Morton, a scientist and then-president of the Stevens Institute of Technology, one of the USA's oldest technical universities. Nevertheless, Edison's version made it into series production and the use of electric light in everyday life eventually became reality - despite many having tried tried it before.
The Automobile - A Success with many Forefathers
Even the invention of the automobile was not immediately accepted 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. "There will always be a horse. Cars are just a passing fad." The fact that even car pioneers couldn't imagine what motorized vehicles would turn into is shown by Gottlieb Daimler’s 1901 statement that the worldwide demand for motor vehicles would never exceed one million - "just for lack of available chauffeurs".
The history of the automobile would, of course, never have been possible without the invention of the wheel before it. And this shows that an idea also needs the right environment to be successful. The wheel is said to have been created by ancient American peoples like the Mayas and the Aztecs, but they did not use it as a means of transport. This was probably because there were no suitable draft animals. And the Persian-Arab-Berber cultural area is said to have even given up the transport of goods on wheels again. Because of transport with camels, it was not necessary to maintain roads.
Of course, the car would have been nothing without the combustion engine. As late as 1806, the Russian Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg ruled: "Petroleum is a useless secretion of the earth - a sticky liquid that smells and cannot be used in any way.” Products made of these were mostly used for lighting. Meanwhile, Canadian doctor and geologist Abraham Gesner applied for a patent in 1855, regarded as the beginning of oil refining processes.
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Flying - Impossible?
Many educated contemporaries were just as skeptical about airplanes. William Thompson, the first Baron Kelvin and himself a physicist, considered flying machines heavier than air to be impossible. He is quoted as not having the slightest belief "in a different kind of aviation than that with the balloon". A similar view was taken by the Canadian American mathematician Simon Newcomb: "Flying through the air with machines is absolutely impossible." Brothers Wilbur and Orville Wright taught them otherwise. The two were not misled by accomplished scientists and, despite opposing statements, applied their flying machine for patent in 1903. The rest is history.
Speaking Actors: Undesirable?
Another example can be found in the modern entertainment industry. The successful director D.W. Griffith, founder of United Artists together with Charlie Chaplin and other artists, published an article in 1924 formulating a vision of the film art 100 years in the future. Speaking actors wasn’t one of the visions. Similarly, Harry Warner was quite open-minded about music from tape instead of live orchestration of screenplays, as this would save cinemas a lot of money. But "who wants to hear actors talk?" he supposedly said. So Warner Brothers took the chance and invested in the new technology - shooting a film about a jazz singer who could be heard singing. Eventually, Griffith later made sound films himself.
The development of sound film is characterized by many technical stages. Its pioneers were the Swede Sven Berglund, the Polish engineer Józef Tykociński-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 Straße close to Berlin. That a sound film poses different challenges to actors is another story, though.
A Calculator for the Schoolbag
In times of smartphones, the format and performance of the first calculator may seem a bit meager. But the integrated circuit on a semiconductor, which the young physicist Jack Kilby designed in 1958, is regarded as the basis for the microchip. His employer, Texas Instruments, could not do anything with it for a long time. Together with his colleagues, Kilby designed the first calculator and presented the "Cal-Tech" to Texas Instruments' director in 1967. It is said to have had the format of a dictionary and weighed a kilo, but it could be powered by batteries.
At first, the head of Texas Instruments did not understand the potential, but agreed to series production at a Japanese company nonetheless. It was not until 1972 that Texas Instruments launched its own pocket calculators on the market. Today, almost every schoolchild probably remembers "his" model. In the year 2000, Kilby and two others received the Nobel Prize in Physics for the development of the integrated circuit.
At almost the same time as Jack Kilby, physicist Robert Noyce came up with a similar idea. Legal and patent disputes ensued. Later, Robert Noyce founded the company Intel together with a partner. Sadly, Noyce could not be considered for the year 2000 Nobel Prize, as he died in 1990.
Why you should protect your invention?
Alexander Graham Bell was undoubtedly an active inventor, but the telephone, which he patented in 1876, initially was not functional at all. There were three other inventors working on the same invention...
Who Needs a Computer at Home?
The first computers were much larger but way not as powerful as today's machines, and this limited their use hugely. "I think that there is a world market for perhaps five computers" Thomas Watson, head of IBM, is said to have said in 1943, even if this is not documented in writing. His ambition was certainly greater though - and rightly so, as history shows. "There is no reason why anyone should have a computer at home", Ken Olsen, founder of Digital Equipment, said in 1977. However, his employees already had different plans. Another prominent misjudgment, for instance, is the one from then Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer: “The iPhone will not sell very well.”
The Dowel, the Do-it-Yourself Enthusiast's Best Friend
It doesn't always have to be electronics. Swabian Artur Fischer invented the expansion dowel in 1958 and had the model patented. Because no one believed him, he is even said to have screwed a car to the wall. Today, any hobby craftsman with minimal talent can use dewels to securely fasten pictures, shelves, or lamps to a wall. There is no Nobel Prize for such items, but steady commercial success instead. Fischer marketed his inventions in his own company, and the small, cheap plastic part made him rich thanks to the mass he sold.
So whatever you're working on, don't loose your courage. History shows, however, that similar ideas often came up at the same time. In mostly all these cases, filing of a patent application was an important step to financially benefit from the invention.