100-Year Old Predictions from 1900

Posted on Wednesday, April 18th, 02007 by Kevin Kelly
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The Ladies Home Journal of December 1900 ran a very brave list of predictions by one John Elfreth Watkins. Some are quite accurate, some wrong, and many are plain odd. Although grouped into 25 predictions, each one is a collection of not entirely related ideas. Some samples:

Prediction #1: There will probably be from 350,000,000 to 500,000,000 people in America and its possessions by the lapse of another century. Nicaragua will ask for admission to our Union after the completion of the great canal. Mexico will be next. Europe, seeking more territory to the south of us, will cause many of the South and Central American republics to be voted into the Union by their own people.

Prediction #2: The American will be taller by from one to two inches. His increase of stature will result from better health, due to vast reforms in medicine, sanitation, food and athletics. He will live fifty years instead of thirty-five as at present – for he will reside in the suburbs. The city house will practically be no more. Building in blocks will be illegal. The trip from suburban home to office will require a few minutes only. A penny will pay the fare.

Prediction #6: Automobiles will be cheaper than horses are today. Farmers will own automobile hay-wagons, automobile truck-wagons, plows, harrows and hay-rakes. A one-pound motor in one of these vehicles will do the work of a pair of horses or more. Children will ride in automobile sleighs in winter. Automobiles will have been substituted for every horse vehicle now known. There will be, as already exist today, automobile hearses, automobile police patrols, automobile ambulances, automobile street sweepers. The horse in harness will be as scarce, if, indeed, not even scarcer, then as the yoked ox is today.

Prediction #16: There will be No C, X or Q in our every-day alphabet. They will be abandoned because unnecessary. Spelling by sound will have been adopted, first by the newspapers. English will be a language of condensed words expressing condensed ideas, and will be more extensively spoken than any other. Russian will rank second.

Prediction #21: Hot and Cold Air from Spigots. Hot or cold air will be turned on from spigots to regulate the temperature of a house as we now turn on hot or cold water from spigots to regulate the temperature of the bath. Central plants will supply this cool air and heat to city houses in the same way as now our gas or electricity is furnished. Rising early to build the furnace fire will be a task of the olden times. Homes will have no chimneys, because no smoke will be created within their walls.

Prediction #22: Store Purchases by Tube. Pneumatic tubes, instead of store wagons, will deliver packages and bundles. These tubes will collect, deliver and transport mail over certain distances, perhaps for hundreds of miles. They will at first connect with the private houses of the wealthy; then with all homes. Great business establishments will extend them to stations, similar to our branch post-offices of today, whence fast automobile vehicles will distribute purchases from house to house.

  • Ville

    Fascinating and at times surprisingly accurate predictions. They also hightlight the power of new inventions as some of the biggest changes of the last century are not there (the most obvious here being computers, the Internet). The predictions also really speak volumes of the thinking a hundred years ago (English most spoken language!?).

  • http://www.audendi.com D. Greene

    “Prediction #23: Ready-cooked meals will be bought from establishments similar to our bakeries of today. They will purchase materials in tremendous wholesale quantities and sell the cooked foods at a price much lower than the cost of individual cooking. Food will be served hot or cold to private houses in pneumatic tubes or automobile wagons. ”

    They predicted Schwans! And anti-bacterial soap in the same prediction. Pretty good stuff.

  • Lee Jaffe

    We recently received a barrage of reference questions from a class doing research on “visions of the future” from the past. Aside from classic science fiction and the occasional article in older magazines, we found world’s fairs and expositions to be a good source for predictions of the future. I particularly remember the New York World’s Fair’s “World of Tomorrow” exhibit. A good Web site with links to archives for expos back to the mid-01800s can be found at http://expomuseum.com/

  • Ectone Smellis

    Some are accurate, some are surprising and some just plain smell.

  • http://a-place-to-stand.blogspot.com/ Neil Craig

    Most of the predictions have turned out to be to conservative (eg life expectancy up to 50). Some of them have come true with completely different technology (cold air taps rather than air conditioning) . Those that haven’t are mainly because government has prevented (genetically modified plants) or not been competent to build the infrastructre but are technically feasible (pneumatic ir automated delivery tubes).

  • slayer

    Its funny how he thinks the wilderness would be destroyed and all the predictions sound so old fashioned yet so crazy LOL. He never knew about planes or computers or internet or tv which are pretty much the only big advances

  • Pingback: Buried under nine feet of manure: 19th century horse predictions | On the LAKE front


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