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10.5. Who Needs Experts?


How To Invent (Almost) Anything > 10. Getting Past the Blocks > 10.5. Who Needs Experts?

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Many great inventions were produced by people who were not only outside the field of invention, but were not even scientists or engineers. The following table shows but a small fraction of such people:


Invention Inventor Occupation
Cotton gin Eli Whitney Lawyer
Fire extinguisher George Manby Army captain
Ballpoint pen Ladislao Biro Proof reader
Disposable razor King Camp Gilette Salesman
Powered flight Wright brothers Bicycle mechanics
Typewriter Christopher Scholes News editor


And just listen to what the experts have said:

  • 'The phonograph is not of any commercial value.' — Thomas Edison, 1880
  • 'The abdomen, the chest and the brain will forever be shut from the intrusion of the wise and humane surgeon.' — Sir John Eric Ericson, Surgeon to Queen Victoria, 1873
  • 'Stocks have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau.' — Irving Fisher, Professor of Economics, Yale, 1929, just before the Wall Street crash
  • '640K ought to be enough for anybody.' — Bill Gates, 1981
  • 'Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible.' — Lord Kelvin, President of Royal Society, 1895
  • 'That bomb will never go off, and I speak as an expert in explosives.' — Admiral William D. Leahy, 1945 on the atomic bomb
  • 'There is no likelihood man can ever tap the power of the atom.' — Robert Millikan, Nobel prize winner in physics, 1920
  • 'Flight by machines heavier than air is impractical and insignificant, if not utterly impossible.'
  • — Simon Newcomb, astronomer, 1902 (Wright brothers flew in 1903)
  • 'Louis Pasteur's theory of germs is a ridiculous fiction.' — Pierre Pachet, Professor Physiology, Toulouse, 1872

And, more than once, the invention experts have over-reached their mark:

  • 'Inventions reached their limit long ago and I see no hope for further development.' — Julius Sextus Frontinus, prominent Roman engineer, circa 40-103 AD
  • 'Everything that can be invented has been invented.' — Charles H. Duell, Commissioner, US Patent Office, in 1899

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