Friday, April 20, 2007

1900 Predictions for 2000 - my version

Several bloggers have lately been choosing their favorites from predictions made by John Elfreth Watkins in 1900. He based his predictions on interviews with the best thinkers of the day.

Some predictions were way off (we have UPS trucks instead of pneumatic tubes), others were close or correct. The population prediction (350 million) was based on the US annexing most of the Americas, but that isn't too far off our current number. Trains (in France) easily hit 2 miles/minute. Photos are indeed "telegraphed" from China. Our "shells" can destroy entire cities. Automobiles are more affordable to us than horses were to Americans in 1900. We do "see around the world". Our domestic animals have become atrophied meat producing drones.

Other predictions were understandable but misguided exaggerations of the technology of 1900, such as high speed boats crossing the Atlantic (a consequence of assuming airplanes would not be used for mass transit). Overall, I think Mr. Watkins did extremely well, despite being far bolder than our current crop of timid futurists. I doubt our predictions of 2100 will be as accurate, mostly because of those pesky singularities.

The ones that most interest me are those that reflect the concerns of the day ....
1900 Predictions

Predictions of the Year 2000 from The Ladies Home Journal of December 1900

The Ladies Home Journal from December 1900, which contained a fascinating article by John Elfreth Watkins, Jr. “What May Happen in the Next Hundred Years”.

... 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 presentfor 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 #3: Gymnastics will begin in the nursery, where toys and games will be designed to strengthen the muscles. Exercise will be compulsory in the schools. Every school, college and community will have a complete gymnasium. All cities will have public gymnasiums. A man or woman unable to walk ten miles at a stretch will be regarded as a weakling.

Prediction #4: There Will Be No Street Cars in Our Large Cities.... Cities, therefore, will be free from all noises.

Prediction #11: No Mosquitoes nor Flies. Insect screens will be unnecessary... The extermination of the horse and its stable will reduce the house-fly.

Prediction #12: Peas as Large as Beets. Peas and beans will be as large as beets are to-day. Sugar cane will produce twice as much sugar as the sugar beet now does. Cane will once more be the chief source of our sugar supply. The milkweed will have been developed into a rubber plant. Cheap native rubber will be harvested by machinery all over this country. Plants will be made proof against disease microbes just as readily as man is to-day against smallpox. The soil will be kept enriched by plants which take their nutrition from the air and give fertility to the earth.

Prediction #13: Strawberries as Large as Apples will be eaten by our great-great-grandchildren for their Christmas dinners a hundred years hence. Raspberries and blackberries will be as large.... Melons, cherries, grapes, plums, apples, pears, peaches and all berries will be seedless. Figs will be cultivated over the entire United States.

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 #28: There will be no wild animals except in menageries. Rats and mice will have been exterminated. The horse will have become practically extinct. A few of high breed will be kept by the rich for racing, hunting and exercise. The automobile will have driven out the horse...
Life beyond age 35. Food in abundance -- especially fruit. Death to the pesky, fly infested horse. Elimination of insects, mice, rats and every wild animal. Escape from the squalor and noise of the city. These were the desires of a people who lived with disease, miserable diets, and pests.

Mostly, the dreams of 1900 did come true, though we came to like wild animals more than Watkins could have imagined. Watkins would say we lived like gods, albeit, fat, flabby gods. In his day many earned their pay by physical performance -- he'd be appalled by our sloth.

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