Many brilliant scientists, thinkers and inventors at the height of their careers were considered crackpots - or worse, liars. These visionaries, later credited with some of mankind's most whopping discoveries, got none of the fame and glory they deserved. Instead, most were scoffed at, and some even had their ideas stolen by peers! However, history has been kinder to the following 9 individuals, whose genius was vindicated in the decades that followed.
Hand-washing: Ignaz Semmelweis
The man who first suggested that surgeons who wash their hands lose far fewer patients than those who don't, died unhappily in a mental asylum. Ignaz Semmelweis, a doctor at Vienna General Hospital, ran afoul of his colleagues who were outraged by his insinuation that they were responsible for their patients' deaths because they didn't wash their hands after handling cadavers. Eventually, they cast Semmelweis out for his hand-washing theory – today a matter of protocol for medical practitioners. Semmelweis eventually died, forlorn and dejected, in a mental asylum in 1865.
Heredity and evolution: Gregor Mendel
There is a reason why Gregor Mendel is called The Father of Genetics. In the 19th century, the Austrian monk's experiments on pea plants made him believe that the traits of an organism depend on the 'dominant' and 'recessive' traits of its parents. Mendel's findings on heredity came as a surprise to many, because until then (and despite his findings, for a long time after) it was felt that offspring inherit the traits of both parents in equal proportion. His laws of segregation and independent assortment were not accepted until the early 1900s, well after Mendel's death in 1884.
Continental drift: Alfred Wegener
In 1912, German meteorologist Alfred Wegener hypothesised that all the continents were once part of a super-continent (Pangaea). Over millions of years, he said, the continents broke and drifted away from each other to form the land-masses we know today. Wegener cited similarities in land formations, flora and fauna as evidence of his claim, but other experts of the time rejected his views, stating that the oceanic crust was too firm for continents to move around. The fact that Wegener served Germany in World War I didn't endear him to American critics either. Wegener died in 1930, and it would take another three decades for continental drift to be accepted as plausible.
FM radio: Edwin Armstrong
The invention of the regenerative circuit in 1914 by Edwin Armstrong was one giant leap for communications. Until then, static-filled AM radio was the norm. Then, Armstrong discovered a way to amplify sound and cut out static in radio waves. By altering the radio waves, Armstrong had discovered FM, or frequency modulation, radio. But the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) couldn't allow Armstrong to walk away with his new invention and all the glory it would attract. The RCA lobbied to get his FM frequency moved to a spectrum that would make it obsolete. He also got into a legal battle with RCA over unlicensed usage of FM technology. The crushing financial burden the lawsuit brought on forced Armstrong to eventually jump to his death in 1954.
Modern rocketry: Robert Goddard
As a boy, Robert Goddard was up in a cherry tree when he had a flash of inspiration – what if a device was built that could fly all the way to Mars? From that moment, his life goals changed forever. By 1914, Goddard had patents for liquid and solid-fuelled rockets (at the time, gunpowder was used for propulsion). Since he got very little support for his ideas both from the government and media, he paid for his experiments from his own pocket. In 1926, Goddard successfully tested the first rocket using liquid fuel and between 1926 and 1941, his team tested 35 rockets of varying types, sizes and designs. Despite that, the impact of his work was only fully acknowledged at the beginning of the US space programme in the 1960s.
Alternating current and more: Nikola Tesla
Nikola Tesla was reportedly born during a lightning storm – an omen that might explain his lifetime fascination with energy. Dissatisfied with the direct-current motors used at the time, Tesla conceived the principle of motors using alternating currents (AC). But when Thomas Edison, whom he was assisting, stiffed Tesla out of $50,000 promised to the latter for improving Edison's DC motors, Tesla quit his job. With help from an investor, Tesla designed his own revolutionary AC power systems, including the first induction motor and hydroelectric power plant. He also developed the Tesla Coil, and is considered to be a pioneer of X-ray imaging, radio, lighting, radars, oscillators and much more. However, following the closure of his Wardenclyffe experiment – aimed at providing free, unlimited wireless energy throughout the world – due to funding shortages, Tesla spent his last days in penury and isolation until his death in 1943.
Dark matter: Fritz Zwicky
In the early 1930s, Fritz Zwicky, an astrophysicist at Caltech, discovered that the gravitational pull of galaxies could not be accounted for by their observable mass. His conclusion: 'dark' matter is the mystery mass that fills in the gaps. For this, and for his other theories related to supernovae, neutron stars and more, Zwicky was considered cuckoo by many astronomer colleagues – not least because he had zero tolerance for those he considered fools. Over the years, science proved Zwicky right; today, NASA believes that around 27% of the universe is made up of dark matter.
The Chandrasekhar Limit: Subramanyan Chandrasekhar
The son of Brahmin parents from Madras, Subramanyan Chandrasekhar went to war with Sir Arthur Eddington, one of the greatest physicists of the time, over the stellar structure of white dwarfs (i.e. extinguished stars). In 1931, Chandrasekhar's calculations showed that a white dwarf that crosses a certain mass (1.44 times the sun's mass), would collapse into what was later dubbed a black hole. That limit was known as the Chandrasekhar Limit, and Sir Eddington rubbished it completely, saying such a thing couldn't happen to enormous stars. Eventually, a disillusioned Chandrasekhar left Cambridge University and moved to Chicago. He was proven right in 1972 (Sir Eddington passed away in 1944), and was awarded the Nobel Prize 11 years later.
Discovery of stomach ulcer-causing bacteria: Barry Marshall and Robin Warren
For decades, doctors believed that stomach ulcers and gastritis were caused by mental stress or diet. But Drs. Barry Marshall and Robin Warren established that they are actually caused by a bacteria strain, Helicobacter pylori, and can be cured only with antibiotics. Since their theory flew in the face of decades of conventional wisdom, and because their initial tests on pigs failed to yield results, no one believed them. So, in 1984, Marshall put his own life on the line for medical science. He swallowed a liquid mixture teeming with H.pylori bacteria, which promptly went on to colonise his stomach and gave him acute gastritis. Eventually cured with the help of antibiotics, Marshall, along with Warren, went on to win the 2005 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.
The above ideas and inventions were not immediately accepted, but thanks to them, humanity and science took giant leaps forward. A modern example of innovation in the construction sector is KEF Infra, which is helping India fast-forward its growth and deliver valuable projects in essential sectors such as education, healthcare and business parks, to people at record speed through its breakthrough offsite manufacturing technology. Click here to read more about them.Suggest a correction