I mention Kikolaus Copernicus (1473-1543), who shattered the World-picture when he postulated the sun as the centre of the circular orbits of the planets; or Johannes Kepler (1571-1630), who proved the accuracy of the heliocentric World-picture; and Giordano Bruno (1548-1600), who was bold enough to assert that there were many worlds; and too Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) who finally dislodged the World from the central point of the universe.
The “opposition party” will claim that these great men were persecuted by the curia only on religious grounds, although scholars have known for a long time that the vast majority of contemporary scientists too rejected the revolutionary new ideas.
On 26 October 1861,the merchant and later private teacher Johann Philipp Reis (1834-1874) introduced the first telephone at a session of the Physikalische Verein in Leipzig, and in 1864 at the Congress of Natural Scientists at Frankfurt.
He could not yet transmit coherent sentences but he could show clear proof of the possibilities of his invention. He was ignored. Reis found no understanding among scientists.
When Karl Kramarsch published the History of Technology in Munich in 1872, it contained neither Rees’s name nor the word “telephone” which he had coined. He and his invention have been so completely forgotten that they were not even mentioned. Perhaps the name of Reis would never again have figured in the book of great inventors if Alexander Graham Bell (1847-1922) had not produced an improved version of the Reisian apparatus in 1872,and claimed the idea of the telephone as his own. No one at the time remembered the self-taught man from the village in Hesse, and two years later Reis died destitute. His invention had been of no use to him. Yet with a royalty of only a couple of pence on each telephone he might have become one of the richest men of all ages.
The fact that the law of the conservation of energy (the first law of thermodynamics) was undisputable proved in 1845 by the little ship’s doctor Robert Mayer (1814-1878), sent the scientific world crazy.
The Augustinian monk Gregor Johann Mendel (1822-1884) had proved the inheritance of simple characteristics in his small botanical garden behind the Augustinian monastery at Bruno and published the results. He had done this by years of experiments in the hybridization of peas and beans. The academicians, finding the field free, took the opportunity to denigrate him.
Not until 1900 were the “Mendelian Laws”, tempered in an inferno of criticism, scorn and suppression, generally and definitively recognized as being right.
Even such a successful and recognized inventor as Thomas Alva Edison (1847-1931) in whose name 2.500 patents were registered all over the world, had an experience with scientists that is worth telling
Antoine Laurent Lavoisier (1743-1794) who died on the guillotine is a classical example of the fact that no one is immune from scientific error.
In 1814 the English engineer George Stephenson (1781-1848) built the first steam driven locomotive. Although it had already been used successfully in the Killingworth coalmines, Stephenson received warnings from academician, and even politicians took seven years to grasp the possibilities of his invention. When Stephenson put before Parliament a plan to build railway lines, they laughed him to scorn, and shouted him down in the good old parliamentary way. He has to listen to objections that sound ridiculous to us today.
Herman Oberth (1894-1954), now the undisputed “father of space travel”, In 1917 Oberth designed a rocket 25 meters long and 5 meters in diameter, with a payload of ten tons. When Oberth published his realistic yet prophetic book “Rockets to Planetary Space” in 1923 and amplified it in 1929 with “Ways to Spaceship Travel”, the books were not worth serious appraisal in the view of his critics. And Sir Harold Spencer Jones (1890-1960), director of Greenwich Observatory, declared in 1957: “ Man will never set foot on the moon or on Mars”, but twelve years later, on 20 July 1969, Apollo 11 landed on the moon.