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A Collection of Clangers


The experts don't always get it right

Some more consolation for the oft-rejected innovator and creative genius.

  (The provenance of all these quotes has not been checked)


'The Americans may have need of the telephone but we do not.  We have plenty of messenger boys.'  Sir William Preece, chief engineer of the General Post Office in Britain

'It must be accepted as a principle that the rifle, effective as it is, cannot replace the effect produced by the speed of the horse, the magnetism of the charge and the terror of cold steel.' British Cavalry Training Manual, 1907

'It does not meet the fundamental technical requirements of a motorcar.' Lord Rootes, on taking the Volkswagen factory and designs as war reparations in 1946. Over the next 58 years more than 21 million Volkswagen Beetles were sold.

‘Everything that can be invented has been invented.’ Charles Duell, Commissioner US Patent Office 1899

‘This “telephone” has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us.’ Western Union internal memo, 1876

‘Drill for Oil? You mean drill in the ground to try and find oil? You're crazy.’ Response reported by Edwin Drake as he tried to hire workmen who knew oil just bubbled out of the ground in 1895

‘Professor Goddard does not know the relation between action and reaction and the need to have something better than a vacuum against which to react. He seems to lack the basic knowledge ladled out daily in high schools.’ New York Times editorial about Robert Goddard the 'father of US rocketry', 1921

‘Airplanes are interesting toys but of no military value.’ Marechal Foch, Professor of Strategy, at the French War Studies College

‘No flying machine will ever fly from New York to Paris.’ Orville Wright


‘I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.’ Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1949

‘Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons.’ Popular Mechanics, 1949

‘I have travelled 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.’ So next time your book is rejected recall the advice of the editor in charge of business books for Prentice Hall, 1957

‘There is no reason why anybody would want a computer in their home.’ Ken Olson, founder of DEC 1977

‘640K ought to be enough for anybody.’ Bill Gates in 1981 justifying the limit on memory size built into the original PC operating software at a time when top end machines had 64k

‘$100 million dollars is way too much to pay for Microsoft.’ IBM decide not to take over the company they had paid to write the operating software for the PC, 1982

‘But what ... is it good for?’ Engineer at the Advanced Computing Systems Division of IBM commenting on the microchip, 1968

‘So we went to Atari and said, 'Hey, we've got this amazing thing, even built with some of your parts, and what do you think about funding us? Or we'll give it to you. We just want to do it. Pay our salary, we'll come work for you.' And they said, 'No.' So then we went to Hewlett-Packard, and they said, 'Hey, we don't need you. You haven't got through college yet.’ Steve Jobs, founder of Apple Computer Inc, tries to get Atari and HP interested in the desktop computer he and Steve Wozniak had built (Apple are now better known for Mac

The time when computers were toys for bright boys and had names like Apple, Tangerine or Pet are history. Apple evolved into Mac or Macintosh after a brief flirtation with the lovely Lisa. The original company name lives on in the website title for the Mac. Downloads



'There will be 1 million Aids cases in Britain by the end of 1991.'  World Health Organisation report, July 1989.  By March 1994 there had only been 9,000 cases.

‘Louis Pasteur's theory of germs is ridiculous fiction.’ Pierre Pachet, Professor of Physiology at Toulouse, 1872


‘Radio has no future. Heavier than air machines are impossible. X-rays will prove to be a hoax.’ Lord Kelvin, President of the Royal Society,1895. He was, at that time, the world's best known physicist

‘The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to nobody in particular?’ David Sarnoff's associates in response to his urgings for investment in the radio in the 1920s

‘We don't like their sound and guitar music is on the way out.’ Decca records rejects the Beatles,1962

‘Who ….. wants to hear actors talk?’ HM Warner, Warner Brothers, 1927

‘I'm just glad it'll be Clark Gable who's falling on his face and not Gary Cooper.’ Gary Cooper, on his decision not to take the leading role in Gone with the Wind’

Sheer Bad Luck

'I'm going because I want to avoid all the violence in the streets.'  Mrs Elizabeth McClelland in 1970 on emigrating from Belfast to New Zealand.  In February 1972 she died in Christchurch as a result of being hit on the head with a placard demanding civil rights in Ulster.

But take heart

‘If I had thought about it, I wouldn't have done the experiment’ Spencer Silver, whose work produced the not very sticky adhesive which Art Fry used in 1974 on 3-M "Post-It" Notepads

‘The physician can bury his mistakes, but the architect can only advise his client to plant vines.’ Frank Lloyd Wright New York Times magazine, 1953

The apocryphal tale is told of the civil servant who ran the Department of Innovations.

  • At his retirement dinner the minister praised him for never wasting a penny of pubic money on silly ideas, and wondered what his secret was. The outgoing Civil Servant obliged.
  • ‘The formula is simple. You just say “No”. However brilliant it might seem, I still say “No”. If somebody had come to me with the idea of a wheel I would have sent them away. Mine is a win-win-win situation.
  • 'If the idea is rubbish, it will fail and I will be proved right. 
  • 'If the idea is great and I kill it, nobody will ever hear of it, so again, I am vindicated.
  • 'Occasionally, an idea succeeds in spite of my early rejection. In this case the trick is to offer them plenty of support. They are so grateful they never mention the earlier rejection.’

Some Rotten Rejections