Our Daily Bleg: Did I.B.M. Really See a World Market “For About Five Computers”?
As has now become Thursday custom, we’ve posted below a bleg from Fred Shapiro, editor of the Yale Book of Quotations. This is easily my favorite so far. I hope you all can help him out. (As always, feel free to send us your own bleg requests here.)
Our Daily Bleg
by Fred R. Shapiro
Last week I blegged, seeking information for the next edition of The Yale Book of Quotations, about Bill Gates’s undoubtedly apocryphal quotation, “640K ought to be enough for anybody.” Today I continue with legendary computer sayings.
Thomas J. Watson Jr. of I.B.M. is said to have opined in 1943 that, “I think there is a world market for about five computers.”
The Yale Book of Quotations quotes an I.B.M. source that this “… is a misunderstanding of remarks made at I.B.M.’s annual stockholders meeting on April 28, 1953. In referring specifically and only to the I.B.M. 701 Electronic Data Processing Machine … Thomas Watson, Jr., told stockholders that ‘I.B.M. had developed a paper plan for such a machine and took this paper plan across the country to some 20 concerns that we thought could use such a machine. … As a result of our trip, on which we expected to get orders for five machines, we came home with orders for 18.'”
The earliest attested record of the alleged “world market” quote found by The Yale Book of Quotations was in a 1981 book, Facts and Fallacies: A Book of Definitive Mistakes and Misguided Predictions. Can anyone point me to any pre-1981 versions?
Also, the Gates and Watson quotes both appear to be examples of famous wrong predictions that are in fact apocryphal later inventions put into the mouth of the supposed authors. Can anyone suggest examples of famous wrong predictions — from technology, politics, or any other field — that actually were said by the supposed authors?