7 Reasons They Were Very Wrong
It’s the 3rd of December and, to save you wondering why that’s significant and making you worry that you’ve forgotten your birthday or Easter or something, we’ll tell you. On this day, in 1929, U.S. President, Herbert Hoover, delivered the first State of the Union Address since the Wall Street Crash to Congress. But this wasn’t your run of the mill State of the Union Address where nothing much of interest gets said. Well, it was, but in the middle of all of the traditional consciousness-bothering guff, Herbert Hoover said something so obviously, epically and unarguably wrong that he has inspired us to bring you seven of our favourite examples of wrongness.
1. Herbert Hoover. “While the crash only took place six months ago, I am convinced that we have now passed the worst and with continuity of effort we shall rapidly recover.” And following those fine, rousing, confident words, America and the rest of the world plunged into The Great Depression, which saw American production fall by 46%, foreign trade fall by 70%, unemployment rocket by 607% and shanty-towns filled with the homeless spring up around every major U.S. city. They called them Hoovervilles.
2. Dr Dionysius Lardner. “Rail travel at high speed is not possible, because passengers, unable to breathe, would die of asphyxia.” The professor of Natural Philosophy and Astronomy at University College London was wrong on two levels here. One; trains don’t actually reach high-speed in this country because there is always a poxy cow on the line, and two; if passengers unable to breathe did get on a train, they would already be dead.
3. Glenn McGrath. The great Australian bowler predicted Ashes whitewashes in 2005, 2009 & 2010/11. With England on the receiving end. He was wrong. The fact that he got it right in 2006/7 is more a testament to infinite monkey theorem than to any logical analysis*. And to the fact that England were rubbish.**
4. Sir William Preece. The chief engineer of the British Post Office said in 1876, “The Americans have need of the telephone, but we do not. We have plenty of messenger boys.” So in Victorian Britain, not all boys were up chimneys or in the workhouse; they were carrying messages which, according to Sir William Preece, is the ideal way to have a chat with your mother who lives a hundred and fifty miles away. “Hello Mother, how are you?”, you would write, before summoning one of the multitudinous boys to bear your message to her. And when he returned, breathlessly, a mere fortnight later with the reply, “Fine, thank you,” you would send him straight back again with a note inscribed, “And how’s Father?”. In the Preecian vision of the future of communication, Americans could have a ten-minute-long conversation with their mothers while the British would have a forty-two-week-long one which would cost the lives of approximately nine urchins. Perhaps to make his idea more marketable to the communications industry he considered the slogan: The future’s bright, the future’s boys. Or perhaps not.
5. Newsweek, In an issue looking into the future of travel, Newsweek magazine carried this prediction of popular holiday destinations for the late 1960s. “And for the tourist who really wants to get away from it all, safaris in Vietnam.” Erm…yeah. Now Newsweek weren’t totally wrong here. Vietnam did receive a massive influx of American tourists with rifles in the late 1960s, it’s just that they weren’t there to safari. Or to sit by the pool.
6. Lord Kelvin. In 1883, the President of the Royal Society, said, “X-Rays will prove to be a hoax”. To this day, I bet he wishes he had said the ‘X-Files’. It’s a shame though really, because if X-Rays were a hoax then that cracked fibula I suffered could also have been a hoax. As would be the inevitable snapped fibula. And all the surgery. In fact, my whole life would have been a hoax. But it’s not. Because X-Rays are real. And so am I.***
7. Major General John Sedgewick. While directing artillery placements, Sedgewick and his corps came under fire from Confederate sharpshooters about a thousand yards away. As his officers and men ducked and scurried away, General Sedgewick loftily dismissed the notion of taking cover saying, “What? Men dodging this way for single bullets? What will you do when they open fire along the whole line? I am ashamed of you. They couldn’t hit an elephant at this dist…”. They were his last words.
*Glen McGrath is an infinite monkey. You heard it here first.
**Except Ian Bell.
***Jonathan Lee is real. You heard it here first.