We tend to remember geniuses for, well, their genius. And rightly so. After all, where would the world be without Edison’s light bulb, the Wright Brothers' airplane or Larry Flynt’s Scratch ‘n Sniff Centerfold? But for every brilliant idea these geniuses had, there was also an ugly, awful one stuffed in their closets. And we here at Guyism think it’s time that we examine some of these particularly heinous brainfarts. Whether they were just coming up with dumb inventions or whether they were coming up with theories that threatened the whole world, the one thing these seven geniuses have in common is that they were all brilliant people who had terrible ideas.
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It’s no wonder that Thomas Edison eventually stumbled onto a few good ideas because all he seemed to do was sit around his lab and think up whatever crazy shit he could. Probably the worst idea he ever had was to found a concrete company with the aim of making, well, virtually anything you can think of out of the stuff. Seriously, the dude built whole houses completely out of concrete. He even built pianos. Yes, pianos. Of course, concrete was expensive as hell back then, and let’s face it, who in the hell wants a concrete piano? And so it wasn’t long before Edison was out of business and back in his lab thinking up weird shit like ghostbusting machines and probably huffing glue or something. You try explaining where these idiotic ideas came from.
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Steve Jobs unquestionably helped to revolutionize the technological landscape of the world but if it was all up to him, the whole thing might have fallen apart before it even began. After returning to Apple after seemingly being vanquished once and for all by Bill Gates and Microsoft in the mid ‘90s, Jobs quickly tilted things back in his favor with the iMac. But Jobs supposedly hated the term “iMac” and wanted to call the new computer the “MacMan,” which... uh, nobody’s going to buy something called the MacMan, dude. Jobs had be talked out of this colossally stupid idea, which is good because if he would have gotten his way, the MacMan likely never would have caught on – at least not to the extent that it did, which also means the iPod, the iPad and the iPhone wouldn’t have happened and Steve Jobs would just be a footnote in history. The MacMan… Jesus.
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When he wasn’t busy flying kites or balling old ladies (seriously, look up some of Franklin’s personal letters, the dude was a perv) Ben Franklin apparently had a lot of time on his hands. How else do you explain his idea to reform the English alphabet? I mean, who does that? Basically, the plan involved eliminating redundant letters – such as getting rid of the letter “c” since for hard sounds we already have “k,” and for soft sounds we have “s” – but the whole thing was just one big logistical headache. I mean, who wants to have to learn an entirely new alphabet and phonetic system? Sure, it might sound simpler, but it really isn’t. The end result is an almost illegible mess. Naturally, the good people of the 18th century told Franklin to go screw and from the gist of his many letters, that’s exactly what he did.
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William Jennings Bryan was one of the most progressive figures of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a tireless advocate for reform and by all accounts a brilliant orator who helped advance the cause of the common man in the face of powerful special interests. He was also a devout Christian who helped lead the crusade against Charles Darwin, going so far as to serve as the lead prosecutor in the absurd and embarrassing Scopes Monkey Trial, in which a Tennessee school teacher was convicted of daring to teach kids about evolution. During the trial, he basically acted like a lunatic, arguing the most absurd bullshit he could think of, at one point complaining that evolution claimed that human beings were descended “not even from American monkeys, but from old world monkeys.” And this dude was a leading progressive! No matter what else he did in his life – and he did some truly good and amazing things – his involvement in this farce will always stain his reputation.
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Gandhi’s revolutionary approach to civil disobedience, an approach that favored passive non-violence, helped to change the world, giving disenfranchised people the world over a powerful weapon to use against their oppressors. But Gandhi took things a little too far when he doubled down on his famed philosophy and said that the Jews should just passively accept their fate at the hands of Hitler and that stepping in and stopping the maniac wasn’t a good idea because apparently the ideology of pacifism is more important than the lives of six million human beings. Don’t get me wrong, Gandhi deserves all the credit in the world for advancing the causes of peace and human dignity, but there is a big difference between passively accepting a cop spraying you with a fire-hose with quiet dignity and grace and just sitting there stone-faced while some crazy Nazi tries to feed you into an oven. Passive civil disobedience doesn’t really work when the other side refuses to even acknowledge your right to, you know, not be murdered.
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At least Gandhi’s pacifism in the face of monstrous evil came from a noble and pure place that just wanted everyone to live in peace. Not Henry Ford’s though. Starting in the early ‘20s, Ford published a series of anti-Semitic articles, which when placed in one volume came to be known as “The International Jew: the World’s Foremost Problem.” This was widely reproduced in Germany in the following years and… you see where I’m going with this? Yeah. Anyway, Ford was the only American to be mentioned in Hitler’s Mein Kampf, and Hitler told the Detroit News that he viewed Ford as an inspiration and that he kept a picture of the auto giant on his desk. Hitler also said that he revered Henry Ford and said that “I shall do my best to put his theories into practice in Germany.” Yikes!
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Tesla is world famous as a brilliant inventor, and especially for his designing of the modern AC electrical supply system. Like Edison, without Tesla, the world today would be a very, very different place. But what people might not know is that Tesla was also pretty much insane, the definition of a mad scientist, half supergenius/half Bond villain. He was constantly coming up with crazy inventions that benefited no one and threatened to destroy the world. He was basically Walter Bishop from Fringe. Amongst his worst ideas was an earthquake machine, a steam-powered mechanical oscillator, only seven inches long which, when tested, nearly destroyed Tesla’s office. But even more ridiculous than the earthquake machine was Tesla’s death ray. Yes, the man invented a goddamn death ray. The weapon, invented in the 1930’s, was a particle beam capable of completely destroying anything it was pointed at. Tesla tried to get the military to bite on the idea, but even the military thought it was a bad idea and so the weapon itself was never built, and thankfully the plans for the death ray were never found after his death. A death ray! Come on.
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