What they used to think -- some provocative historical quotes


…for a man to infect a family in the morning with smallpox and to pray to God in the evening against the disease is blasphemy; that the smallpox is “a judgment of God on the sins of people,” and that “to avert it is but to provoke him more”; that inoculation is “an encroachment on the prerogatives of Jehovah, whose right it is to wound and smite.” --contemporary reaction to inoculation experiments by American physician Dr. Zabdiel Boylston, circa 1720

Smallpox is a visitation from God; but the cowpox is produced by presumptuous man; the former was what Heaven ordained, the latter is, perhaps, a daring violation our of holy religion. -- A physician’s reaction to Dr. Edward Jenner’s experiments in developing a vaccine for smallpox, 1796

 The abolishment of pain in surgery is a chimera.  IT is absurd to go on seeking it today. “Knife” and “pain” are two words in surgery that must forever be associated in the consciousness of the patient.  To this compulsory combination we shall have to adjust ourselves.  --Alfred Velpeu, decrying the use of anesthesia, 1839

 There cannot always be fresh fields of conquest by the knife; there must be portions of the human frame that will ever remain sacred from its intrusions, at least in the surgeon’s hands.  That we have already, if not quite, reached these final limits, there can be little question.  The abdomen, the chest, and the brain will be forever shut from the intrusion of the wise and humane surgeon. -- Sir John Eric Ericksen, Surgeon-Extraordinary to Queen Victoria, 1873



…What was this telegraph to do?  Would it transmit letters and newspapers?  And besides, the telegraph might be made very mischievous, and secret information thereafter communicated to the prejudice of merchants. -- Senator George McDuffie, on an amendment to allocate funds to construct a telegraph line between Baltimore and New York City, 1845

 The operation of the telegraph between Washington and Baltimore had not satisfied [me] that under any rate of postage that could be adopted, its revenues could be made equal to its expenditures. -- Postmaster General Cave Johnson, when Samuel Morse tried to sell the rights to the telegraph to the U.S. Post Office (date unknown)

 The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value.  Who would pay for a message sent to nobody in particular? --associates of RCA chairman David Sarnoff, in response to his suggestion that the corporation invest in radio technology, circa 1920

De Forest has said in many newspapers and over his signature that it would be possible to transmit human voice across the Atlantic before many years.  Based on these absurd and deliberately misleading statements, the misguided public…has persuaded to purchase stock in his company… -- Prosecutor in the 1913 stock fraud trial of Lee De Frost [De Forest was acquitted, but the judge advised him to get a “common garden variety of job and stick to it”]



 I think there is a world market for maybe five computers. --Thomas Watson, chairman of the board, 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. -- editor of business books, Prentice Hall publishers, 1957

 But what…is it [a microchip] good for? -- engineer at the Advanced Computing Systems Division of IBM, 1968

 There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home. -- Ken Olson, founder of Digital Equipment Corp., 1972



Drill for oil?  You mean drill into the ground to try and find oil?  You’re crazy. --workers who Edwin L. Drake tried to hire on his project to drill for oil in Titusville, Pennsylvania, 1859

It was declared that its formation would prevent cows grazing and hens laying.  The poisoned air from the locomotives would kill birds as they flew over them, and render the preservation of pheasants and foxes no longer possible.  Householders adjoining the projected line were told that their houses would be burnt up by the fire thrown from the engine-chimneys, while the air around would be polluted by clouds of smoke.  There would no longer be any use for horses, and if railways extended, the species would become extinguished, and oats and hay unsalable commodities.  Traveling by road would be rendered highly dangerous, and country inns would be ruined.  Boilers would burst and blow passengers to atoms.  But there was always this consolation to wind up  with—that the weight of the locomotive would completely prevent its moving, and that railways, even if made, could never be worked by steam-power! -- pamphlets opposing the use of railroads in Britain, 1823