The people who dare to think outside of society's traditional box - presenting their innovative ideas, unparalleled discoveries, and hypothetical scenarios that question commonly accepted collective narratives - often change the world with their inventions and philosophical hypotheses. Without courageous people who dare to challenge the norm, voice their dreams, or speak out against injustices, society would fail to progress.
Unfortunately for these individuals, the world they live in is often not quite ready for the ideas of their forward-thinking minds. These people are often labeled as "crazy," and aren't recognized for their genius or bravery until much later. Sometimes, their well-earned recognition isn't even received in their lifetimes, as information corroborating their inventions or ideas doesn't come to light until decades (or even centuries) after their passing.
This list features some of history's most fearless whistleblowers, scientists, military strategists, and political progressives who were mocked and ridiculed during their time - but eventually proven right.
- 1181 VOTES
Despite Heavy Ridicule, William Seward Persuaded The US Senate To Purchase Alaska At 2¢ Per Acre
In the mid-18th century, Russia claimed modern-day Alaska's Indigenous lands as its own, including those of the Inuit. However, by the 1850s, the country was exhausted and in massive debt from its loss in the Crimean War. No more than a few hundred Russians ever lived in the remote area at a time, the fur trade was dwindling, and the monarchy feared the US or Great Britain would try to conquer the territory. Recognizing a possible opportunity for profit, Russia began negotiating Alaska's purchase with the US to gain a step ahead of its losses.
While the outbreak of the Civil War caused the negotiations to halt between the two countries, expansionist senator (and the secretary of state to both Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson) William H. Seward kept his eyes on the icy land mass. A few months after the Civil War's end, Seward signed a secret treaty with Eduard Andreevich Stoeckl, the Russian minister to the US, stating that the US would purchase Alaska for $7.2 million. According to Seward, Americans got a good bargain: at around 2 cents per acre, the US had gained 586,000 miles of territory.
Unfortunately for Seward, the public didn't agree. As he threw elaborate parties in hopes of wooing over possible voters into purchasing the land, senators mocked his efforts, and the press reported that Alaska wouldn't even be profitable as a gift.
Still, the purchase that would become commonly known as "Seward's Folly" was completed on March 30, 1867. Despite the doubts of many, the land proved profitable in gold, oil, and natural resources and is now a thriving travel destination for tourists.
- 2157 VOTES
Major General 'Billy' Mitchell Predicted The Need For Aircraft Defense And America's Eventual War With Japan In The 1920s
William “Billy” Mitchell first enlisted in the US Army in 1898 to fight in the Spanish-American War. When he was transferred to Virginia in 1916 to serve as the commander of Army Aviation, Mitchell had already become the youngest officer to ever serve on the general staff. However, by the time he determined he wanted to be a pilot, he was 38 and considered too old to be trained by the military.
Undeterred, Mitchell paid for his own flight lessons, which he attended after working hours. His perseverance eventually paid off when the US declared war on Germany in 1917; he was promoted to the position of brigadier general and placed in charge of the American aerial combat units stationed in France. There, he commanded the first-ever aerial attack over enemy lines, proving that the 1,481 airplanes in his command were capable of causing chaos and destruction to grounded military units.
Despite Mitchell's success, he reverted to his permanent rank as colonel once he returned from WWI. The headstrong pilot didn't give up his stance that the US required its own air force and continued publicly arguing with his superiors over the benefits of having a solid aerial unit. His ongoing battle with the military even landed him a quoted statement in The New York Times, where Mitchell admonished:
The United States had produced practically no aerial war equipment since the armistice and consequently, is not capable of meeting any first class power in the air today, as foreign countries had continued development of wartime equipment.
He was eventually court-marshaled and relieved of his duties for his open ridiculing of the military in 1925. Mitchell continued to fight for a more vigorous aerial military defense, claiming that a war between the US and Japan was imminent until he passed in 1936 - just five years before the aerial attack on Pearl Harbor would prove that he had been correct all along.
- 3150 VOTES
Alfred Wegener Was Ridiculed For Proposing The Theory Of Continental Drift In 1911
After studying a report in 1911 that described multiple plants and fossils found on completely opposite continents, German meteorologist and geologist and geophysicist Alfred Wegener began hypothesizing what would cause the phenomenon. At the time, the most widely accepted theory among scientific circles was that ancient land bridges once connected continents before the oceans overtook them.
However, as Wegener considered how the shapes of different continents - like South America and Africa - mysteriously fit together like jigsaw puzzle pieces, he proposed an alternative narrative. Instead of ancient sunken land bridges, he believed all continents had once been a single land mass.
As he continued exploring the idea, Wegener realized many of the fossils and plants found on different continents appeared to share borders if they were moved together. The Appalachian Mountains of North America also fit neatly into the Scottish Highlands, further cementing Wegener's belief that around 300 million years ago, a single continent (Pangaea or Pangea) began breaking apart and following movements of the earth's tectonic plates.
Describing the event as "continental drift," Wegener published his theory. While scientists recognized he was the first person to compile evidence from many scientific fields to express his hypothesis, his lack of evidence for how Pangea split caused experts to ridicule Wegener's ideas. They proved that tidal forces could not possibly be moving through the oceanic crusts, and that continents couldn't move as quickly as Wegener suggested, so his ideas were almost entirely discarded.
Continental drift didn't become widely accepted as scientific fact until the 1950s and '60s as geologists began exploring the ocean floor.
- 4185 VOTES
FBI Agent John O’Neill Hunted Al-Qaeda And Bin Laden In The 1990s, Then Perished In The 9/11 Attacks
As appointed chief of the FBI's counter-terrorism section, John P. O'Neill began alerting the government about the dangers of Al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden in 1995. While other counterterrorism agents felt that their work was unnecessary, O'Neill took his appointment seriously. After only a few days on the job that February, he assembled a team that successfully captured Ramzi Yousef, a terrorist allegedly responsible for a February 1993 truck-bomb incident at the World Trade Center.
As bin Laden's name continued to surface on terroristic bomb financing donor lists, O'Neill was the first to recognize that the funder was most likely the leader of the terrorist cell. Despite O'Neill's warnings, the agency hesitated to act on any intelligence leads regarding bin Laden or Al-Qaeda.
Even after terrorist Jamal Ahmed al-Fadl warned the FBI and CIA in 1998 that bin Laden was planning attacks on American soil, the organizations continued to dismiss O'Neill's constantly growing evidence that supported Fadl's confessions. They also refused to put Al-Qaeda on a list of terrorist organizations. O'Neill persisted, believing the terrorist groups had established training sites within US borders and that the threat of catastrophic destruction loomed over the new millennium. For the most part, his warnings were ignored.
As he dove further into his investigative efforts, O'Neill moved to New York to take over the state's National Security Division. There, he worked in an operational manner that allowed him to personally follow the leads he uncovered as he established himself among the city's social and political elite.
A little more than a year before the 9/11 attacks, O'Neill's briefcase was stolen during an FBI pre-retirement conference in Orlando, FL. The thieves took a Montblanc pen, a silver cigar cutter, and a lighter - but left the highly classified papers detailing a counterterrorism case in New York. Officials found no fingerprints on the evidence.
In July of 2001, O'Neill learned of a job opening as the chief of security for the World Trade Center- a position that paid more than twice what he made as a government agent. When his long-term friend and ABC journalist Christopher Isham joked that he was at least safe from Al-Qaeda trying to bomb the building again, O'Neill retorted:
They’ll probably try to finish the job.
On the morning of September 11, 2001, O'Neill made calls to numerous loved ones as he helped set up the command center in the north tower. He was last seen entering the tunnel toward the second tower as he remained loyal to the mission to which he had dedicated his life - despite the government's lack of support.