Historical People Who Weren’t Believed (But Turned Out To Be Right All Along)

In the past, some facts that are common knowledge today may have seemed beyond belief, such as the argument that the Earth is round. At the time, some of these radical claims were widely denied, only to turn out to be true over time. Learn about some of the people who proposed ideas or announced discoveries in the past that made them the subject of endless mockery. In the end, they all turned out to be right.

Nicolaus Copernicus Proposed That The Earth Revolved Around The Sun

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Imagno/Getty Images

Nicolaus Copernicus was an astronomer, mathematician, and a devout member of the Catholic Church during the Renaissance. Despite his religious beliefs, he was still a man of science and came up with his revolutionary model of the universe in which the Sun was at the center instead of the Earth.

This went against the common belief at the time since God would obviously make Earth at the center. After he died in 1543, his ideas were posthumously criticized for years to come by the church, even being considered heretical. However, it was the church that turned out to be wrong.

Nobody Believed John Colter About Yellowstone

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MPI/Getty Images
MPI/Getty Images

John Colter was one of the members of the famous Lewis and Clark Expedition between 1804 and 1806. However, he also did a fair amount of exploring on his own, with some of his most notable time out in the wilderness being during the winter of 1807 and 1808.

During that time, Colter explored the region that is today Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, making him the first European to have reached the area. Upon returning from his adventures, he reported the geysers and hot pools he had seen. Few people believed him, even referring to it jokingly as “Colter’s Hell.”

Ludwig Boltzmann First Proclaimed The Existence Of Atoms

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Imagno/Getty Images

Although most people are aware of atoms and their function today, they were unknown to exist until the early 20th century. While this may have been groundbreaking to the scientific community at the time, this was old news to Ludwig Boltzmann, an Austrian physicist who had proposed their existence just a few years prior.

Unfortunately, Boltzmann was ostracized for his discovery because of the science behind his findings. In 1906, Boltzmann took his own life after being forced to resign from his position due to mental symptoms that today would be diagnosed as bipolar disorder.

William H. Seward Had A Hunch About Alaska

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Henry Guttmann Collection/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Back in the 1860s, former U.S. Secretary of State William H. Seward was firm in his belief that the United States was destined to grow as far west as possible. He further demonstrated his zeal when he purchased Alaska from the Russians for $7.2 million.

Many people were unhappy with this purchase, claiming that it was a downright waste of money. Of course, everyone went back on their remarks when it was discovered that Alaska was rich with gold just a few years later.

FBI Agent John O’Neill Tried To Warn The Nation About Al-Qaeda

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Tim Boyle/Getty Images

Following the bombings at the World Trade Center in New York City in 1993, FBI agent John O’Neill began investigating who was behind it. His research led him to discover a then-small group known as al-Qaeda, which O’Neill came to conclude was planning a major attack on the United States.

Because al-Qaeda was so unknown, O’Neill was not taken seriously, and he left the FBI and took a job as head of security at the World Trade Center. Unfortunately, O’Neill would lose his life during the 9/11 attack by al-Qaeda, which he had tried to warn the government about.

Alfred Wegener Described Continental Drift Decades Before It Was Believed By Geologists

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Imagno/Getty Images

Alfred Wegener was a meteorologist, polar researcher, and geophysicist who is considered one of the pioneers of polar research, among several other achievements. He is also the first person to consider the idea of continental drift back in 1912, with the claim that continents have the ability to shift across the globe.

Unfortunately, there was not enough evidence to back his hypothesis at the time. It was rejected within the community until finally being accepted more than twenty years after his death in the 1950s.

Roger Boisjoly Knew The Challenger Launch Would Fail

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Denver Post via Getty Images
Denver Post via Getty Images

Roger Boisjoly was a rocket engineer for a company that NASA was in a contract with. During their work on the Challenger, Boijoly noticed that the booster rockets on the ship had rubber seals that could fail depending on the temperature.

Since the Challenger was scheduled for a winter launch, Boisjoly was aware that it would be too cold for the seals to hold. He repeatedly begged NASA to delay the launch. Of course, nobody listened to him and the launch ended in a tragic catastrophe because the seals failed.

George Washington Made His Opinions On Political Parties Clear

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Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Considering all that George Washington managed to accomplish, one would think that people would heed his warnings. During his presidency, he remained nonpartisan, and upon leaving the office, warned that political parties “[serve] always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection.”

Over the years, Washington’s words have only rung more true with each new presidential election.

John Yudkin Saw The Dangers Of Sugar

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Joanna Spence/CC BY 4.0/Wikipedia Commons
Joanna Spence/CC BY 4.0/Wikipedia Commons

The Department of Nutrition’s founding Professor at Queen Elizabeth College, London, John Yudkin was a respected physiologist and nutritionist. In the 1950s, he demonstrated a correlation between sugar consumption and ailments such as diabetes, dental cavities, heart attacks, and more.

Yet, his theory was largely ignored, as he was unable to incorporate possible confounding factors in his testing. However, his beliefs were eventually shown to be true, and his work Pure, White, and Deadly was finally published in 1972. His research has become increasingly popular ever since.

Doctor Ignaz Semmelweis Suggested Washing Hands Before Delivering Babies

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ullstein bild/ullstein bild via Getty Images

In 1847, Hungarian physician Ignaz Semmelweis proposed that if doctors were to wash their hands with chlorinated lime solutions before delivering a baby that it would drastically decrease the newborn mortality rate. He published his research in Etiology, Concept, and Prophylaxis of Childbed Fever.

His suggestion was rejected by the medical community after being unable to provide scientific evidence, with some doctors even being offended at the idea of washing their hands. In 1865, Semmelweis suffered a nervous breakdown and was admitted into an insane asylum where he died 14 days later, likely as a result of the beatings that he endured.

NASA Owes A Lot To Robert H. Goddard

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Bettmann/Getty Images

Back in the early 1900s, Robert H. Goddard created the world’s first liquid-fueled rocket. He and his team launched 34 rockets as high as 1.6 miles and as fast as 550 mph. Although today Goddard is considered one of the godfathers of space travel, he received very little support for what he believed was possible during most of his research.

Not only did his fellow academics believe that rocket research wasn’t an appropriate endeavor for a physics professor, but the media ridiculed him for his theories of space flight. However, by the beginning of the Space Age, he was considered a pioneer.

Giordano Bruno Proposed That The Universe Was Infinite

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Stock Montage/Getty Images

During the 16th century, Giordano Bruno was a friar, mathematician, poet, philosopher, and cosmetologist. An admirer of Copernicus, he expanded on his model of the universe, adding that the stars were also suns that were surrounded by their own planets.

This gave way to his theory that other planets could sustain life and that the universe is infinite with no center. Because this went against everything the church taught, he was tried for heresy by the Roman Inquisition and found guilty. He was burned at the stake in 1600 for his ideas.

Ernest Hemingway Wasn’t Completely Paranoid

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Bettmann/Getty Images

Although Ernest Hemingway may have shocked the world when he took his own life in 1961, he’d been exhibiting some strange behavior leading up to his death. For some time, Hemingway was convinced that the FBI was monitoring him.

However, it turns out that was exactly what was happening. The FBI had kept an open file on him since World War II, had an agent in Havana, Cuba monitoring him during the 1950s, and even knew that he was at the Mayo Clinic in 1961.

Alan Turing Was Silenced For Being In A Relationship With Another Man

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Dickson Lee/South China Morning Post via Getty Images

During the 20th century, Alan Turing was one of the unsung heroes of the time. Not only did his mastery of codes and algorithms help shorten the length of World War II, but also gave the Allies an upper hand. Today, he is also credited with creating the first model of the general-purpose computer and had groundbreaking theories on the evolution of artificial intelligence.

However, many of his ideas and accomplishments weren’t recognized during his lifetime. Sadly, homosexual acts were crimes in the UK at the time and Turing was prosecuted for “gross indecency” in 1952. He was chemically castrated and barred from continuing his important work. Alan Turing died of cyanide poisoning in 1954.

David Bernays And Charles Sawyer Tried To Save A Village

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Expreso/Patrick ESCUDERO/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images
Expreso/Patrick ESCUDERO/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

While exploring Mount Huascaran in Peru in 1962, American scientists David Bernays and Charles Sawyer noticed that there was loose bedrock lying beneath a glacier. With the knowledge that the region was also prone to earthquakes, they urged the nearby town of Yungay, Peru, to take action to avoid their town from being destroyed by a potential avalanche.

The government was annoyed with Bernays and Sawyer for creating unrest and ordered the two to go back on their warnings or face prison. The two scientists then fled the country, and in 1970, an avalanche killed nearly the entire town of 20,000 residents.

Pythagoras Thought The World Was Round Thousands Of Years Before Anyone Else

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Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Although many people think that Christopher Columbus’ travels are what led to the theory that the world isn’t flat, that’s not the case. The Greek mathematician and philosopher Pythagoras actually came up with the concept more than 1,000 years before.

He was unsuccessful at convincing his contemporaries of his theories, with the majority of the world not able to even conceive of such an idea until the late Middle Ages.

Alexander Fleming Gave Caution After The Introduction Of Penicillin

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Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Alexander Fleming is one of the most celebrated men in medicine after he discovered penicillin, the world’s first antibiotic. However, upon the drug’s release and winning the Nobel Prize for Medicine, Fleming also warned about the power of microbes and the limitations of antibiotics.

He announced that microbes can eventually become resistant to antibiotics after they are exposed to them, which mostly fell onto deaf ears. Although he could not predict diseases, if people had taken him more seriously, some illnesses could have been less catastrophic.

Harry Markopolos Was Onto Bernie Madoff

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Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Long before Bernie Madoff’s massive Ponzi scheme was revealed to the public, financial analyst Harry Markopolos was already on the case. At the time, he was working for a company competing with Madoff’s and was charged with discovering the investment advisor’s secret to success. He accidentally uncovered how it all might have been a lie after noticing the numbers didn’t match up.

Markopolos took his findings to the SEC in 2001 and contacted journalists, but nobody seemed interested in the story. It was finally proven that Markopolos was right in 2008 when everything came crashing down for Madoff.

Allan Lichtman Predicted Trump Would Win The Presidency

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Tom Williams/Roll Call/Getty Images

Back when Donald Trump first announced that he was running for president and many Americans didn’t take it seriously, Allan Lichtman was the only political historian that predicted his election in 2016.

He had predicted the winner of the popular vote for every president in the last 30 years, and while Trump didn’t win the popular vote, he still won the election. Over the years, Lichtman has devised a particular system for his prediction, which relies on a series of 13 true/false statements. If more than six are answered false, the candidate will lose the election.

Kotoku Wamura’s Wall Paid Off In The End

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By Sed – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0/Wikipedia Commons
By Sed – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0/Wikipedia Commons

Having experienced the horror of a tsunami in his youth, as the mayor of the Japanese city of Fudai in the 1970s, Kotoku Wamura wanted to make sure the same fate did not befall upon his own city.

He commissioned a massive wall to be built around the city to prevent a tsunami from destroying it. The entire project cost around $25 million, which made him less than popular with his city’s citizens. However, when a tsunami struck Japan in 2011, Fudai was safe behind its walls.