As many of you know, I have a fully-functioning time machine. I use it all the time to give people the heads-up on things like the Miami Dolphins’ 2015 Super Bowl win and so on (congrats to Super Bowl MVP Peyton Manning!) But I thought it’d be nice to really see what this thing could do, so I decided to pry the minds of some of history’s giants. Okay, maybe “giants” is a bit of a stretch…let’s say interesting footnotes to our societal timeline. Grand.
First up: Charles Holland Duell. Who is he? Only the most famous head of the United States Patent and Trademark Office EVAH!! Why is he famous? Because of something he said. A statement that seems ludicrous today, and incredibly short-sighted. He once recommended that the Patent Office be discontinued because “Everything that can be invented has been invented.” Dumbass.
Charles agreed to let me interview him in the office he used after he was chosen to sit on the U.S. Court of Appeals in DC. It was March 3rd, 1904 and as I entered, Judge Duell sat in a leatherbound chair, smoking a pipe and sipping brandy. I politely declined his offer of a drink and sat opposite him in a similar armchair to begin the interview.
ME: So, Your Honor. Do you mind if I address you in a more…familiar manner?
DUELL: Not at all.
ME: Can I call you Chuck? Or better, Chuckie? See, in the future there’s this awesome series of movies about a killer doll named Chuckie, and what happens is–
DUELL: You may call me Charles.
ME: Fair enough. Speaking of the future, do you know if you have a great grandson named Doug? Because he was my defensive partner when I played hockey in Evansville, and…well…you know. Same last name. Small world and all that.
At this point, Charles Duell glared at me in the way that only old judges with bald heads and white mustaches can glare. He re-lit his pipe and took a long drag. As he exhaled the blueish smoke, his eyes never so much as blinked. He was a tough customer, this Charles Holland Duell. And his middle name was a country, so I knew I was in for a challenge.
ME: Well, let’s get right to it. This quote of yours. What were you thinking when you said “Every–
DUELL: I never said that. I never said anything like that.
ME: But…the interwebs…
DUELL: The which?
ME: It’s…it’s this thing that allows computers and mobile devices to…share…um, you can look up, uh…stuff. I mean, it’s like…
More icy staring. I wondered how to explain Reddit or Wikipedia to someone that barely knew how steam engines worked. I decided to move on.
ME: So you’re saying that this quote that has been attributed to you for, what? Over a century? You never said that?
DUELL: Correct. I know of this ill-attributed “quote” [editor’s note: at this point, Charles Duell may have given the first-ever “finger-quotes” in American history] And if you would use your fancy Webnitron or what-have-you to do better research, you would realize that I actually implied quite the opposite.
Me: Oh. Okay, when I get Back to the Future, I’ll look that up. But…then, if not you…who? I mean, are you suggesting that perhaps someone completely made that statement up?
DUELL: Sir, you have a time-travel device. Certainly you’re not so vacant and insipid that you believe everything you read. You can read, can you not?
ME: Oh, I read good!
DUELL: But of course. Young man, if I may…
ME: Young? Dude, I’m forty-one years old!
DUELL: Wow…you look really good for forty-one! I bet you work out, huh?
ME: Oh, yeah! And you know the real secret? Clean living.
[editor’s note: none of the events from the last three lines ever happened. Ever.]
DUELL: The truth is, I was and continue to be impressed with the breadth of creativity this great nation has spawned. Here at the turn of the century, we marvel at splendid advances in the sciences and the arts. Would you like to hear something that I wrote a few years ago on the subject?
ME: Yes, sir!
Charles Duell then produced a folded piece of good parchment, put on a pair of rimless reading glasses, and read his statement in an authoritarian baritone.
DUELL: Ahem. In my opinion, all previous advances in the various lines of invention will appear totally insignificant when compared with those which the present century will witness. I almost wish that I might live my life over again to see the wonders which are at the threshold.
He folded the paper lovingly and placed it back inside his jacket. He then removed his glasses, took a long pull of brandy, and folded his hands in his lap.
DUELL: Have you any further questions?
ME: No, sir. And thank you for enlightening me.
Charles Holland Buell’s mouth hinted at a smile, and he stood and firmly clasped my hand with his. His hands were very warm, probably because the dude had spent all day chugging brandy.
DUELL: I envy you. The things you’ll get to see, the music you’ll hear, the wonderful Velodrome Racing advances you’ll witness. [editor’s note: Velodrome bicycle races were fucking HUGE in the 1900’s]
As I turned to leave, I considered how badly I’d probably messed up the space-time continuum already, but couldn’t help myself. I had to tell him.
ME: Your Honor, one piece of advice. In about eight years, say you happen to be in Europe for any reason, do NOT buy a ticket on a boat called the “Titanic.” Gonna sink, bigger’n shit. The White Star line will brand it as “unsinkable.” It ain’t.
DUELL: Another reason you shouldn’t believe everything you read.
ME: Oh, also? Keep an eye on those Krauts. Just sayin’.
DUELL: Duly noted.