Top 10 Historical Predictions That Turned Out to be False
VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton
Only time will tell… Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we're counting down our picks for the top 10 historical predictions that turned out to be false.
For this list, we're looking at prophecies, guesses or projections that were made in history, that turned out to be painfully, painfully false. These include some of the worst future forecasts by notable individuals regarding significant historic events, be it the end of the world, medicine, science, war or politics. We're also taking into account who supposedly made the prediction, because if it's someone who should've known better, it makes the fail that much worse.
Only time will tell… Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 historical predictions that turned out to be false.
For this list, we’re looking at prophecies, guesses or projections that were made in history, that turned out to be painfully, painfully false. These include some of the worst future forecasts by notable individuals regarding significant historic events, be it the end if the world, medicine, science, war or politics. We’re also taking into account who supposedly made the prediction, because if it’s someone who should’ve known better, it makes the fail that much worse.
#10: “This book shouldn’t shock anyone’s religious sensibilities”
- Charles Darwin, on “On the Origin of Species” (1859)
Science versus religion, evolution versus creationism: it’s an ongoing debate that may never truly be settled. But Charles Darwin really rocked the boat. His groundbreaking book suggested all beings were descended from the same ancestors, scientifically describing the theory of evolution. To say he saw “no good reason why the views given in this volume should shock the religious sensibilities of anyone” was a pipe dream. Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species” not only presented mankind with another point of view on life and existence; it also challenged religious beliefs. Shocking? Definitely.
#9: “I have no faith in aerial navigation other than ballooning”
- William Thomson, The Lord Kelvin (1896)
Air travel has received plenty of scrutiny over the years, but one of the most famous cynics was the late mathematical physicist the Lord Kelvin. He actually replied to an invitation from the Royal Aeronautical Society to join their ranks by saying “I have not the smallest molecule of faith in aerial navigation other than ballooning or of expectation of good results from any of the trials we hear of.” As we all know, aircrafts have become incredibly important to world travel. So, this one was proven most definitely false.
#8: “There is no likelihood man can ever tap the power of the atom”
- Robert Millikan, winner of the Nobel Prize for Physics (1923)
Although the atom was split back in 1917, harnessing its energy was a different thing altogether. With many brainboxes working on the ins and outs of it, one physicist, Robert Millikan, claimed that man would never fully harness its power. Well, it may have been a scattered timeline of progression, with the first nuclear bomb test in 1945 and the first nuclear power station in 1954, but it was finally accomplished. And voila, electricity on demand and Nobel Prize winner was taken down a peg.
#7: “I do not foresee ‘spaceships’ to the moon or Mars”
- Dr. Lee de Forest, an American inventor (1950s)
Space exploration: a subject packed with interesting foreshadowing. The general consensus in the early-20th-century was that man might never reach the moon. But De Forest took that thought further, saying that “To place a man in a multi-stage rocket and project him into the controlling gravitational field of the moon […]—all that constitutes a wild dream worthy of Jules Verne. I am bold enough to say that such a man-made voyage will never occur regardless of all future advances.” This theory was, of course, smashed to smithereens following the space race and a subsequent moon landing in 1969.
#6: “Stock prices have reached a permanently high plateau”
- Irving Fisher, an American economist (1929)
The stock market is unpredictable; so, the last thing you wanna do is bet your reputation on whether it’s going to thrive or plummet. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what economist Irving Fisher did in October 1929. He claimed the market had “reached what looked like a permanently high plateau.” Three-days later, the stock market famously crashed, leading to the Great Depression. It was a while before people listened to Fisher’s two cents again. And it was a while before he had two cents again, as he lost his fortune in the crash.
#5: “There will not be a woman prime minister in my time”
- Margaret Thatcher, the UK’s first female PM (1970)
Even in her political career, Thatcher was tapped as a potential United Kingdom Prime Minister – but not if you asked her. Famous for her ballsy attitude, the Iron Lady was determined to make her views known on the topic, saying “there will not be a woman prime minister in my lifetime – the male population is too prejudiced.” Well, this was proven wrong in 1979 when a woman finally took office – and it was none other than Thatcher herself. We bet she was happy to be wrong.
#4: “You will be home before the leaves fall from the trees”
- Kaiser Wilhelm II, to German soldiers in WWI (1914)
Rallying troops to boost morale is one thing. But be careful of making promises. Someone should have told that to Kaiser Wilhelm II before he spoke to his troops in 1914. Suggesting that the First World War would be over before the end of the autumn months, the German Emperor must have had hopes high among his soldiers. Who could know the war would last another four years? Not the Kaiser, that’s for sure.
#3: “It is time to close the book on infectious diseases”
- William H. Stewart, Surgeon General of the U.S. (1969)
It’s with great dismay that we deny the truth of this quote. Credited to Surgeon General William H. Stewart – though he claims never to have said it – the quote suggests that all infection had been eradicated from the U.S. for good by the late-1960s. Of course, that’s slightly more out-there than professor Pierre Pachet’s 1872 speculation that “Louis Pasteur’s theory of germs is ridiculous fiction.” Not only are germs not endangered, they seem to be getting stronger and resistant to antibiotics, while many infections – such as AIDS – arose in the years since this hypothesis was made.
#2: “Democracy will be dead by 1950”
- John Langdon-Davies, British journalist (1936)
This little ditty comes from British journalist and author John Langdon-Davies. A famed war correspondent, Langdon-Davies was prone to comment on fascism and war – but his statement about the imminent death of democracy is one prophecy that really stands out. In his 1936 book “A Short History of the Future,” the author states that, in a battle between dictatorships and democracies, the totalitarian regimes are going to win – plain and simple. Of course, 1950 came and went and democracy was as strong as ever.
Before we reveal our number one prediction fail in history, here are a few honorable mentions:
- “Don’t worry, there’s no hurricane on the way!”
- Weatherman Michael Fish, hours before the Great Storm (1987)
- “In order to earn better than a ‘C,’ the idea must be feasible”
- Yale University professor, on the concept for FedEx (1960s)
- “The concept of e-commerce is baloney; no online database will replace your daily newspaper”
- Clifford Stoll, Internet early adopter (1995)
- “Drill for oil? You mean drill into the ground to try and find oil? You’re crazy”
- Workers whom Edwin Drake attempted to hire (1859)
- “The device is inherently of no value to us”
- Western Union, on the telephone (1876)
#1: “December 21st, 2012 will mark the end of the world”
- Conspiracy theorists interpreting the Mayan calendar (unknown)
Throughout history, many people have prophesized the end of the world [Harold Camping]. And, when someone says the world will end on a specific date, people listen – especially if the source is a 5,000-year-old Mesoamerican calendar. Said Mayan Long Count calendar suggested that a big change would befall the Earth on December 21st, 2012. And, while some interpreted that in a positive way; glass half-empty folks thought it spelled the end of civilization as we know it. With the date looming, people in many Mesoamerican countries got together for festive commemorations. The apocalypse was a no-show.
Do you agree with our list? Which historical forecasts do you think were way off the mark? For more head scratching top 10s published every day, be sure to subscribe to WatchMojo.com.