Almost: won WWII for the Nazis
Heisenberg was the man who worked on the atomic bomb for the Nazis during WWII. A world renowned physicist, it is widely speculated he had the intelligence and means to build a nuclear device if he only had a bigger research team, like the American Manhattan Project. However, a lot of the top German physicists of his time were of Jewish descent, so… yeah... you see why that would not fly.
What would happen if he succeeded? Nazis with nukes. Let that vision haunt you.
Almost: started the Age of Discovery, hundreds of years before Columbus
Eriksson is the Viking who discovered America in the 11th century, a claim actually supported today by historical findings. If his exploits had reached mainland Europe and were… you know, believed, then maybe countries like France or Spain would have sent some of their ships to the New World, starting the colonization of the American continent a few centuries before Columbus.
But if that happened, the continent would probably not be called America at all. We are thinking something like "Erikssonia" is more probable. So maybe everything turned out fine in the end?
Heron of Alexandria
Almost: started the Industrial Revolution, 2000 years ago
Not only credited as the inventor of the first vending machine, computer program and the home theater system, back in the 1st century AD, the Greek inventor Heron was one step away from inventing the steam engine.
About 2000 years ago Heron came up with something he called the Aeolipile. The invention consisted of an air-tight chamber (usually a sphere or cylinder) rotating on a bearing of some kind, with curved nozzles coming out of both sides. If you heated water inside the device, steam would escape through the nozzles causing the entire device to spin, acting like a very primitive engine.
But even though Dr. Wikipedia calls it the first "steam engine", for Heron and his contemporaries it was nothing more than a novelty that did not progress beyond the level of a toy. We are not entirely sure what entertainment value a spinning metal ball of hot steam would hold though. Still, none of the sources deny that it was a part of some incredibly complex fetish Heron had, so hey, that's one of the possible explanations.
From what we know, Heron possessed a mastery of hydraulics and levers, so if he would only try to combine the Aeolipile with some gears (of which he knew all there was to know back in the day) he would have no problems constructing a working Steam Car or Steam Boat. And then, who knows? A steam rocket? Steam TV? Steam computer? Terrible steampunk fiction? The possibilities would be endless.
Why didn’t he get around to that? Because the Greeks had slaves who did all the work for them. There wasn’t a need for mechanization. But if Heron actually did put that steam engine to use, the Industrial Revolution could start almost 2000 years earlier. We sure can't imagine how it would go. But we know one thing, the world would never be the same, and Greece would be known for more than just olives. Oh, and instead of Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens, we probably would have had "Olive Twistatokis" by Charlestopoulos Dickensitis, or something.
Got an “almost somebody” of your own to add? Do a little history changing of your own in the comments below!
- - William Walker: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/3a/William_Walker_by_Brady.jpg
- - Lyman Cutlar: http://img59.imageshack.us/img59/7711/pig.png
- - Sidney Reilly: http://www.brama.com/news/press/2003/thumbs/031203leliw_reilly200512.jpg
- - Werner Heisenberg: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f8/Bundesarchiv_Bild183-R57262,_Werner_Heisenberg.jpg
- - Leif Eriksson: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/7f/Viking_at_MN_Capitol.jpg
- - Heron of Alexandria: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/ca/Heron.jpeg http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/3e/Aeolipile_illustration.JPG