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People will live for *50 years!*
April 19, 2007 7:03 AM   Subscribe

In the year 1900, Ladies Home Journal writer John Elfreth Watkins Jr wrote an article entitled What May Happen In The Next 100 Years". This is apparently what the most learned, conservative men of the "greatest institutions of science and learning" had to say about the coming hundred years.
posted by antifuse (100 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
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.

LOL Futurists!
posted by parmanparman at 7:05 AM on April 19, 2007


Some of them are quite cute and quaint ("Photographs will reproduce all of Nature’s colors.") and some are outright bizarre ("Strawberries as Large as Apples will be eaten by our great-great-grandchildren for their Christmas dinners a hundred years hence"?) but it's still pretty darn fascinating.
posted by antifuse at 7:05 AM on April 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


Last night I peed as large as a beet. It's a little belated, but she'd be glad to know that this prediction has finally come to pass.
posted by Astro Zombie at 7:07 AM on April 19, 2007


This reads like the setting to my dreams.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 7:10 AM on April 19, 2007


Actually, it doesn't require a lot of imagination to see how accurate he was (especially given that, say, Tesla's first patent for radio wasn't granted until 1900).
posted by minnesotaj at 7:12 AM on April 19, 2007


Prediction #16: There will be No C, X or Q in our every-day alphabet.

As silly as that is, the condensing of language is taking place in various messaging mediums. Now England in just two days? Absurd!
posted by geoff. at 7:12 AM on April 19, 2007


It's pretty easy to see what each predictor's personal hobby horse was. A couple were kinda right.

I re-read Stranger in a Strange Land and was amused by his characters having flying cars, but having to pull over to make phone calls.
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:13 AM on April 19, 2007


Some are pretty accurate:

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.

Cars will, like houses, be artificially cooled.

Man will See Around the World. Persons and things of all kinds will be brought within focus of cameras connected electrically with screens at opposite ends of circuits, thousands of miles at a span.

Wireless telephone and telegraph circuits will span the world. A husband in the middle of the Atlantic will be able to converse with his wife sitting in her boudoir in Chicago.

Others, not so much
posted by poppo at 7:13 AM on April 19, 2007


As silly as that is, the condensing of language is taking place in various messaging mediums.

IANAL, but LOL, amIrite?
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:14 AM on April 19, 2007


Snopes doesn't have anything on this article but it reeks of a modern urban legend to me.
posted by LarryC at 7:16 AM on April 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


LarryC: I know, it really does feel Urban Legendy... but I couldn't find anything, so I figured why not post it? :) I'm sure somebody will debunk it if it IS fake.
posted by antifuse at 7:18 AM on April 19, 2007


This is one of the better lists I've seen in that the split between predictions that are dead-on, those that cater to misconceptions about the direction of society, and those that are just flat-out wrong is pretty even.

I wonder which scientists and academic were actually asked, or if the writer just came up with them all himself and lied about it?
posted by mikeh at 7:22 AM on April 19, 2007


Also, I really wish I could get my dinner served to me via pneumatic tube. That would be awesome.
posted by antifuse at 7:23 AM on April 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


He was really obsessed about that giant strawberry idea. It manages to show up as both predictions 13 and 26.
posted by Faint of Butt at 7:25 AM on April 19, 2007


If it's a fake, it's a really good fake.
posted by cerebus19 at 7:25 AM on April 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


And, not that this is any definitive source or anything, but this page lists an article by that author with that title in the Dec 1900 issue, and PBSKids.org also spruced up the list some and also attributes the same article.
posted by antifuse at 7:26 AM on April 19, 2007


Prediction #6: Automobiles will be cheaper than horses are today.

But not nearly as delicious.

Prediction #8:...Balloons and flying machines will carry telescopes of one-hundred-mile vision with camera attachments, photographing an enemy within that radius. These photographs as distinct and large as if taken from across the street, will be lowered to the commanding officer in charge of troops below.

But someone will hack Chloe's machine and relay the photos to the terrorists, who will kidnap Jack's goldfish and apply electrodes to its fishballs.

Prediction #9: Photographs will be telegraphed from any distance. If there be a battle in China a hundred years hence snapshots of its most striking events will be published in the newspapers an hour later.

And if there be hot naked chicks in China a hundred years hence, well, snapshots, yeah, those too. An hour, son.

Prediction #25: Oranges will grow in Philadelphia.

Surly oranges. They will be dipped in Whiz.
posted by kosem at 7:27 AM on April 19, 2007 [3 favorites]


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.

It sounds silly, but it's actually true (except the "weakling" part) I mean most elementary students have to take P.E. and most localities have gyms. It's just that we go about it in a very half-assed way.

Some of these are really accurate:

Prediction #9: Photographs will be telegraphed from any distance. If there be a battle in China a hundred years hence snapshots of its most striking events will be published in the newspapers an hour later. Even to-day photographs are being telegraphed over short distances. Photographs will reproduce all of Nature’s colors.

Prediction #17: How Children will be Taught. A university education will be free to every man and woman. Several great national universities will have been established. Children will study a simple English grammar adapted to simplified English, and not copied after the Latin. Time will be saved by grouping like studies. Poor students will be given free board, free clothing and free books if ambitious and actually unable to meet their school and college expenses. Medical inspectors regularly visiting the public schools will furnish poor children free eyeglasses, free dentistry and free medical attention of every kind. The very poor will, when necessary, get free rides to and from school and free lunches between sessions. In vacation time poor children will be taken on trips to various parts of the world. Etiquette and housekeeping will be important studies in the public schools.

That is pretty much true if you consider the option of student loans.

His obsession with hygiene and biology was pretty odd:

Prediction #11: No Mosquitoes nor Flies. Insect screens will be unnecessary. Mosquitoes, house-flies and roaches will have been practically exterminated. Boards of health will have destroyed all mosquito haunts and breeding-grounds, drained all stagnant pools, filled in all swamp-lands, and chemically treated all still-water streams. The extermination of the horse and its stable will reduce the house-fly.

Prediction #15: No Foods will be Exposed. Storekeepers who expose food to air breathed out by patrons or to the atmosphere of the busy streets will be arrested with those who sell stale or adulterated produce. Liquid-air refrigerators will keep great quantities of food fresh for long intervals.

Modern health has made these things unnecessary
posted by delmoi at 7:29 AM on April 19, 2007


According to this chart, life expectancy at birth in 1900 was around 50 years; once you made it to 10 years old you could expect to die at 60 years old. Thus "[The American] will live fifty years instead of thirty-five as at present" should have made no sense to a readership in 1900. Did they just wrongly believe they would die at 35?
posted by argybarg at 7:29 AM on April 19, 2007


The piano will be capable of changing its tone from cheerful to sad.

And so begins the rise of the machines...
posted by hermitosis at 7:32 AM on April 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


The lifespan thing was throwing me off, too. According to the government, the average lifespan was about 47 years.

Is it possible that John Elfreth Watkins, Jr. was the son of J. Elfreth Watkins, civil engineer? This gives some weight to the railroad assertions he made. A writer son with an engineer father could have come up with many of those observations.
posted by mikeh at 7:35 AM on April 19, 2007


I find it interesting how someone looking at the state of technology in 1900 could predict the essential features of the internet and wireless communications, which didn't really get going until eighty or ninety years later) and yet entirely miss the advent of the airplane, which was common & almost mundane fifty years subsequent.
posted by Johnny Assay at 7:38 AM on April 19, 2007


Those about technology are somewhat accurate but all about mother nature just sucks, weel come and tell me when you'll get rid of cockroaches :)
posted by zouhair at 7:38 AM on April 19, 2007


That is pretty much true if you consider the option of student loans.

It's more true in countries like Ireland, where university educations actually *are* free (minus a few registration fees here and there).
posted by antifuse at 7:38 AM on April 19, 2007


and some are outright bizarre ("Strawberries as Large as Apples will be eaten by our great-great-grandchildren for their Christmas dinners a hundred years hence"?)

Is this really that bizarre? Have you seen the size of the strawberries nowadays in supermarkets? Compared to the non steroid, organic, straight from the vine berries I pick at the farm by my Mom's house, those supermarket berries might as well be apples. Taste like them too. Plus, I bet apples were a lot smaller in 1900 too, so really, I bet it's pretty accurate in spirit.
posted by spicynuts at 7:42 AM on April 19, 2007


That is pretty much true if you consider the option of student loans.

Tell that to the six figures of principal I'll be slowly diminishing for at least a decade. Tell it to the fucking interest, too.
posted by kosem at 7:42 AM on April 19, 2007


Prediction #25: Oranges will grow in Philadelphia.

This one actually will be true pretty soon, with all the climate change and crop creep northward.

It's always fun to see what they thought would happen, as opposed to what actually happened--in many ways "the future" really never comes.
posted by amberglow at 7:46 AM on April 19, 2007


The bodies of these ships will be built above the waves. They will be supported upon runners, somewhat like those of the sleigh. These runners will be very buoyant. Upon their under sides will be apertures expelling jets of air. In this way a film of air will be kept between them and the water’s surface. This film, together with the small surface of the runners, will reduce friction against the waves to the smallest possible degree.

impressive! It's a very good idea, but it must be harder than it sounds - people are still working on this
posted by silence at 7:47 AM on April 19, 2007


I smell a fake, too. Reads more like someone took a portrait of today's world and sepia-toned it with old-timey talk, and threw in a few silly predictions in for good measure.

But try as I might, I can't debunk it. Every reference I look up, be it airships or telecommunications or the adoption of the word "car" to describe automobiles and the de-hyphenation of the word "to-day," appears to have happened shortly before or around 1900.

It might just be an eerily good prediction.
posted by bicyclefish at 7:49 AM on April 19, 2007


We certainly can buy strawberries as large as apples (of 1900), or near enough as to make no difference. Have you ever seen a heritage apple? I'm not talking about the monster Delicious or Fuijis, but the Northern Spy or Cox Pippin. Think now of those monster berries that come out of California and Chile.

It does have the appearance of a putup job. Some of these predictions are uncannily accurate. Those that aren't mostly fail because they're too cautious. Only a few are overly optimistic (and those are almost all social).
posted by bonehead at 7:52 AM on April 19, 2007


Ah, the internet as a series of tubes again.

Prediction #28: There will be no wild animals except in menageries....The horse will have become practically extinct. A few of high breed will be kept by the rich for racing, hunting and exercise.

Hunting what?
posted by cobaltnine at 7:53 AM on April 19, 2007


I found the life expectancy thing off as well, and the only thing I could come up with is that perhaps adults in 1900 (say, a 25 year old) had a life expectancy of only 35? And they couldn't very well know in 1900 that babies born then would live 15 years longer than the current average. I can't back this up because I can't find any pre-1900 figures, but it makes sense to me.
posted by jacalata at 7:53 AM on April 19, 2007


Hunting what?

Horses, dude.
posted by kosem at 7:55 AM on April 19, 2007


A lot of the communications and tv/internet/wire services etc ones were commonly predicted ages ago--by authors especially. Looking Backwards by Bellamy (i think that's the title) speaks of all those, plus the tubes thing.
posted by amberglow at 7:55 AM on April 19, 2007


Prediction #22: Store Purchases by Tube. Pneumatic tubes, instead of store wagons, will deliver packages and bundles.

Amazon: a bunch of tubes.

You've got to admit, this makes more sense than Webvan did.
posted by bonehead at 7:57 AM on April 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


It wasn't so much the *size* of the strawberries that I thought was weird, more the "having it for Christmas dinner" - but maybe I just mentally glossed over the "fruit course" bit, because, well, I've never actually heard of a "fruit course" with Christmas dinner. Perhaps I should have focused on the more silly one - peas as big as beets.
posted by antifuse at 7:59 AM on April 19, 2007


Cerebus19: If it's a fake, it's a really good fake.

Good catch, it appears that the article is real after all.
posted by LarryC at 8:00 AM on April 19, 2007


Before refrigeration (1900-1920s) and a highly intregrated transport network (1950s), it was unheard of to have fruit out of season. Having fresh berries, one of the most perishable fruits, at Christmas would have been wacky scifi talk in 1900.
posted by bonehead at 8:03 AM on April 19, 2007 [1 favorite]



Is this really that bizarre? Have you seen the size of the strawberries nowadays in supermarkets?


Those are some huge berries in the markets, all right.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 8:03 AM on April 19, 2007


Is prediction #2 saying that people lived only 35 years in those days? Whuh? Unless I'm horribly mistaken (which is highly likely) on how this reads, then is fakey as all get out.
posted by NoMich at 8:06 AM on April 19, 2007


I guess it's possible that they included infant mortality in their life expectancy average.
posted by zixyer at 8:09 AM on April 19, 2007


According to the (US) CDC, it was 47 in 1900. Infant mortality.
posted by bonehead at 8:10 AM on April 19, 2007


Last week we bought a case of strawberries, and there was one in there that really was the size of an apple. I was going to take a photo of it with an apple, but it got eaten before I had a chance.
posted by teg at 8:11 AM on April 19, 2007


John Elfreth Watkins Jr, was obviously visionary in his ability to project what might happen in 100 years. His predictions are astonishingly accurate, all things considered. wow.

So much has happened in my own 53 years it's easy to imagine all kinds of inventions-to-be. But when John Elfreth Watkins Jr was alive in 1900, there was so little to base his predictions on, I'm awed with the accuracy of his imagination. Life expectancy then in the USA was 47.3 for a female, 46.3 for a male and 33.0 years old for a black person. A woman could be arrested for smoking a cigarette in public. A handful of inventions created between 1900 to 1925.
posted by nickyskye at 8:12 AM on April 19, 2007


The "moving forts as cavalry charge" thing alone predicts the second world war (and modern) tank tactics uncannily well. If only the Maginot engineers had read Ladies Home Journal...
posted by bonehead at 8:16 AM on April 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


It wasn't so much the *size* of the strawberries that I thought was weird, more the "having it for Christmas dinner"

I believe the point of the Christmas dinner thing was that Christmas is in December. Which is not so much prime strawberry growing season even now, though you can get strawberries year round. I imagine Strawberries outside of the June/July peak for them were unheard of then.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:21 AM on April 19, 2007


What? No personal jet-packs predicted?
posted by ericb at 8:25 AM on April 19, 2007


It's entertaining that they thought that education would be developed in such a way as to make us better citizens, rather than better profit-generators.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:27 AM on April 19, 2007 [2 favorites]


His obsession with hygiene and biology was pretty odd:

In context, not really. In the 1800s, the head of Public Health was the authority in cities, because they needed to manage outbreaks, order shutdowns of public places and proposed initiatives that would stop the spread of disease. In cities, many, many urban initiatives were pursued with the intention of improving public health, and in the countryside, given the necessity of settling North America, changing the landscape to make it more habitable was a big priority (thus the focus on draining swamps).

But, yeah, stunningly accurate (if you consider that many of the innovations like fast trains and free university education came to be in Europe, if not the USA), yet I can't believe that the idea of airplanes was so remote to these thinkers. It kind of goes to show that the Wright Brothers were really pursuing something completely revolutionary.
posted by deanc at 8:45 AM on April 19, 2007


They do make mention of airships which transport people and cargo, and are used as weapons of war. That sounds like airplanes to me.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:47 AM on April 19, 2007



It's entertaining that they thought that education would be developed in such a way as to make us better citizens, rather than better profit-generators.


This deserves repeating.
posted by amberglow at 8:48 AM on April 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


Prediction #28: There will be no wild animals except in menageries....The horse will have become practically extinct. A few of high breed will be kept by the rich for racing, hunting and exercise.

And don't forget dressage.

My godmother passed away in Dec. '05 at 94. I used to talk to her about this stuff. She was born right after flight was invented. It really is just amazing the progress that she saw. Hell, even just in my life it's amazing. In 1987 I worked for a guy who was OBSESSED with the future. He used to tell me all about "virtual reality" and describe the internet to me. None of it made much sense to mea, really. And then he'd tell me all about how "someday there will be wireless phones small enough to fit in your pocket, you'll be able to take them with you wherever you go." I liked him so I used to just nod & smile, silently thinking, "Why the Hell would I want a phone in my pocket? I don't want people calling me all the time." He died in 1989 so he didn't see much of it, he would be loving all of this stuff.
posted by miss lynnster at 8:49 AM on April 19, 2007 [6 favorites]


They do make mention of airships which transport people and cargo, and are used as weapons of war. That sounds like airplanes to me.

"airships" refer to zepplins and the like, which is why the author didn't think they would be competitive with surface travel.
posted by deanc at 8:55 AM on April 19, 2007


Ahhh, that makes sense.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:56 AM on April 19, 2007


Prediction 11: Horses will shot in the face, then shaken vigorously. In this way, health will be maintained.

Eerily accurate.
posted by Greg Nog at 9:02 AM on April 19, 2007


I see average life expectency as 47 for people *born* in 1900. In 1900, I cannot see how anyone could have predicted the life expectency of someone born that year.

What the 35 year old claim is, is that people who were 35 years old in 1900 would be considered reaching the end of their lives -- Much like someone who is 80 now would be considered near the end of the average lifespan today.

I looked for data for the life expectency of someone born in 1865 to see if it was about 35 years, but I can't find any hard data. Best I found was that it was about 35 years in 1900, and didn't increase until after the civil war. So 35 years in 1865 could be about right -- as in, the people alive in 1900 were on average going to live longer than the previous generations, but were only just starting to realize the increases. And, hence, the prediction.

Regardless of whether or not the article is real, I don't see the 35 year old claim as inconsistant with the data presented here.
posted by cotterpin at 9:03 AM on April 19, 2007


A large number of these predictions were quite accurate, actually.
posted by Mister_A at 9:15 AM on April 19, 2007


Here, he gets is part right:
Prediction #25: Oranges will grow in Philadelphia. Fast-flying refrigerators on land and sea will bring delicious fruits from the tropics and southern temperate zone within a few days. The farmers of South America, South Africa, Australia and the South Sea Islands, whose seasons are directly opposite to ours, will thus supply us in winter with fresh summer foods, which cannot be grown here. Scientist will have discovered how to raise here many fruits now confined to much hotter or colder climates. Delicious oranges will be grown in the suburbs of Philadelphia. Cantaloupes and other summer fruits will be of such a hardy nature that they can be stored through the winter as potatoes are now.
The refrigerated shipping, yes; the Philadelphia oranges, sadly, no. [/PhillyFilter]
posted by Mister_A at 9:17 AM on April 19, 2007


He seems to have missed sound recording — he predicts 'automatic instruments' instead. And the business about using current to carry medicine into the body is odd.

The thing I find interesting about lists like these is the way they reveal what people got excited about in different eras. In the 1600s, it was WE'LL DO X... WITH CLOCKWORK! for any given value of X. In the 1800s, it was WITH STEAM! In the 1920s, it was WITH AIRPLANES! In the 1950s, it was IN SPACE! WITH RADIATION!

I guess right now it's ON THE GROUND! SUSTAINABLY! — although whether that's realistic or not, it's hard to see it as "futuristic."

I bet some of these futurologists do better than others just by virtue of ending up with the right obsessions. This Watkins guy seems to have put his money on mechanization, telegraphy, selective breeding and oldskool urban planning, and it turns out that three out of the four paid off big. I'd hate to be the guy who got really, really fascinated with MESMERIZATION! or THE LUMINIFEROUS AETHER! — his career must've been pretty rocky.
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:23 AM on April 19, 2007 [9 favorites]


Another confusing thing about life expectancy statistics: Since these calculations generally include infant deaths, and since infant mortality was much higher than it is today, due to lack of NICU, antibiotics, etc., the mortality rates are skewed to the low side. It wasn't unheard of to see 60- and 70-year-old people back at the dawn of the 20th Century; the statistics distort the picture.
posted by Mister_A at 9:24 AM on April 19, 2007


Here's Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward. (It's much longer.)

Paul Krugman did a similar exercise for New York Times Magazine in 1997.
posted by russilwvong at 9:28 AM on April 19, 2007


The piano will be capable of changing its tone from cheerful to sad.

I'm not sure what he means by this, but composers were writing in major and minor keys, for the piano and other instruments, well before 1900.
posted by pax digita at 9:32 AM on April 19, 2007


Life expectancy computation is somewhat bogus.
Think about it. Who knows what's going to happen to today's newborn? Yet the table cheerfully tells us his life expectancy is 75.2 years (hers is somewhat longer).

In fact, life expectancy for a given year is computed as if the person lived his entire life in that year (or at most, in that and a few recent years). Basically, if a census shows one million people died in 2001, and half a million of them were younger than 75.2 (and the other half million were older), then the life expectancy is 75.2 at birth.

Life expectancy at 20? The median of those who were older than 20 when they died.

The actual computations are a little more compex (here, for instance), but not notably more meaningful.
posted by hexatron at 9:45 AM on April 19, 2007


I have no idea of the veracity of the article. But MAN, in my bones it feels fake.

Wireless telephones.
Did radio even exist at that point?
I wiki'd Marconi, and it looks like his patents only started in 1896.

For someone to make this conceptual leap, of having something wired, like the telegraphs and telephonese of the time,
and applying the new technology of radio transmission to it...

It is an insanely large leap to me.
posted by exparrot at 9:46 AM on April 19, 2007


The piano will be capable of changing its tone from cheerful to sad.

I'm not sure what he means by this, but composers were writing in major and minor keys, for the piano and other instruments, well before 1900.


OMG, he predicted the invention of Tom Waits!
posted by robocop is bleeding at 9:48 AM on April 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


He will live fifty years instead of thirty-five as at present

A hundred years ago, I'd be a senior citizen. I never realized quite how much more life expectancy we'd gained in the last hundred years. Vivid.

Roses as large as cabbage heads

I've got one of those outside my window right now.
posted by davejay at 10:05 AM on April 19, 2007


dgaicun uses his special insight of today to imagine the world of tomorrow - the year 2107:

Prediction #1: All food in pill form.

Prediction #2: Flying cars.

Prediction #3: Colonies on the moon.

Prediction #4: Silver jumpsuits.

Prediction #5: Moving sidewalks.

Prediction #6: Robot pals.

Prediction #7: Virtual reality/hover everything.

Prediction #8: Sleep in pod things.

Prediction #9: AI rebellion.

Prediction #10: Morlocks.
posted by dgaicun at 10:05 AM on April 19, 2007


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.

This one's amazing both for its prescient opening and its tragically naive conclusion. A penny will pay the fare would be a good title for a sort of Fast Food Nation style investigation of the true cost of modern suburbia.
posted by gompa at 10:15 AM on April 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


There's going to be an American Idol rebellion!?!??? OMIGOD! RUN! JUSTIN GUARINI & SANJAYA ARE ON A KILLING SPREE!!! Someone throw Clay Aiken in their way to distract them while I hide behind Taylor Hicks!
posted by miss lynnster at 10:17 AM on April 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


England in just two days

These speeds aren't save for anyone, let allow the disorientation it would cause amongst the women-folk.
posted by Mick at 10:22 AM on April 19, 2007


Prediction #28: There will be no wild animals except in menageries....The horse will have become practically extinct. A few of high breed will be kept by the rich for racing, hunting and exercise.

cobaltnine : Hunting what?

Humans. From horseback.

That is the most astonishing part of this whole thing, he predicted Planet of the Apes.
posted by quin at 10:34 AM on April 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


“Take your filthy paws off me, you damn dirty ape!”
posted by ericb at 10:44 AM on April 19, 2007


It is an insanely large leap to me.

Really? I should think that the wires were the biggest inconvenience of telephones, and so wireless would be the big futuristic leap that would immediately come to mind.

Consider: using the telephone at that time, for most people, meant standing next to a wall-mounted telephone and leaning in/stretching up/bending down to the mouthpiece on the wall, while holding a corded earpiece to your ear. The ability to take the mouthpiece off of the wall and walk around with it, but still tethered to the wall by a wire, would be an obvious -- but not futuristic -- leap, while not having a wire at all would be TEH FUTURE.
posted by davejay at 10:51 AM on April 19, 2007


These were actually fairly accurate compared to what people in the fifties thought life would be like now. They thought we'd be eating food pills and living in space.

I'd say the first half of the twentieth century changed more rapidly than the second half, at least in terms of the practical differences in how people lived day-to-day. Getting a TV, a house phone, and plumbing would make more difference to your quality of life than getting TiVo, a cellphone, and a hot tub. So the people in the fifties were predicating their ideas on the future on a continued pace of change they'd seen in their liftetimes.

And yeah, people born around the turn of the century saw so much over the course of their lifetimes. My Grandmother Swan was born in 1905, married in 1929, and died in 1993. She did not have plumbing in her house until 1957, when my father, then aged 19 and the youngest of her five children, installed it in her house. She didn't have electricity in her house until around the same time, and then she would have one 100 watt bulb in the middle of the room. When Gram saw a microwave for the first time, she was agog. "It cooked the food in less than a minute and the dish wasn't even hot!"
posted by orange swan at 10:53 AM on April 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


A penny will pay the fare.

According to this calculator 1 cent in 1900 was 19.95 cents in 2000. Subway/bus fare in my neck of the woods runs to more than $2 a trip. I think we can call this one optimistic.
posted by bonehead at 10:55 AM on April 19, 2007


Have you ever seen a heritage apple? I'm not talking about the monster Delicious or Fuijis, but the Northern Spy or Cox Pippin

Every Northern Spy I've bit into has been huge, round and large as an orange.
posted by Deathalicious at 11:35 AM on April 19, 2007


Every Northern Spy I've bit into has been huge, round and large as an orange

In future Soviet Russia, Northern Spy apple bite into YOU.
posted by spicynuts at 11:41 AM on April 19, 2007


They lied to us.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 11:43 AM on April 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


"I'd say the first half of the twentieth century changed more rapidly than the second half, at least in terms of the practical differences in how people lived day-to-day."

And I'd say that it only seems that way to you because you're too close to the changes of the latter twentieth to really see how drastic they are.

Hell, the internet alone is pretty fucking amazingly life changing.

Think about being able to look up anything you want to know about, and get answers and information, instantly, wirelessly, with pictures, video, yadda yadda, from pretty much anywhere.

Combine that with online commerce, social networking, and communications, and I'd say the internet alone fundamentally changes the way that we live as much as many of the advances of the first half of the 20th century.
posted by stenseng at 11:52 AM on April 19, 2007


I can't say the article is genuine, but as a historian, I see nothing to make me think it couldn't have been written in 1900. I've certainly read a lot of other similar stuff from that time period and well before, in the 1870s -- read about the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition and you'll find fascination with the possibilities of technology already in wide discussion. It wasn't really that long ago, after all. In the broadest sense, there was the pre-industrial world and now there is the post-industrial world, and the differences between life before 1800 and life after 1800 are far greater than the differences between life in 1900 and 2000. If you reflect on it, someone born in 1810 who died in 1890 (not uncommon, there have always been long-lived people) saw their technology utterly change, from two-month ocean transport to a transatlantic cable, from animal-drawn vehicles to trains and early cars, from very few personal possessions, all handcrafted, to volumnious possessions, mass-manufactured, and so on and so on. Our world was shaken up and remade in the mid-1800s, and since then we've only been refining industrial systems to do things faster or more thoroughly. The list here reflects the problems people saw as paramount, and the things scientists and social scientists were working on.

Prediction #11: No Mosquitoes nor Flies...


This isn't just germophobie stuff -- it's a really big deal. Did you know that mosquitos are still one of the world's most dangerous creatures, spreading diseases like malaria, the third most common cause of death from disease? In 1900, malaria was still quite common in the United States. A person was far more likely to die of disease and infection than in today's vaccinated, antibioticized, hygeine-minded world. The bugs were more than just an annoyance. Disease was rampant everywhere. Malcolm Gladwell on how hard people worked in the early 20th century to wipe out mosquitos; an excellent piece, excerpted in the New Yorker a while back on mosquitos as a disease vector.
posted by Miko at 12:13 PM on April 19, 2007


Stenseng: the internet has us doing very little differently -- just faster, more often, and with more people. But we're still doing all the same things we were doing before 1900 - talking, sending mail, reading news, making and sharing art, buying and selling stuff. One of the most interesting things about the internet, to me, is the way in which it just replicates all of our existing social structures, only faster and in a centralized way. All we've done, really, is add convenience and increased scale.
posted by Miko at 12:16 PM on April 19, 2007


Think about being able to look up anything you want to know about, and get answers and information, instantly, wirelessly, with pictures, video, yadda yadda, from pretty much anywhere.

Do you mean the television and the telephone?

I agree that the early 20th century had the mindblowing changes. All we've done since then is refinement.

Think about the telephone. Being able to converse with someone in Europe as if they were standing next to you. Before that, you'd have to take months getting across the continent and ocean to talk to them. Thats a bigger leap than going from telephone to email. Hell, the telephone concept is still so useful, people use Skype.

Think about televsion. Images from across the world broadcast into your home. Ok, now we can store that video in a quicktime file. And more people can create that video rather than a few broadcasting stations. The leap is not comparable.

Think about airplane travel. Sure, now its cheaper and faster, But from 1900 to 1950, the order of magnitude time to travel around the world shrunk immensely.

The early 20th century brought us quantum physics, relativity, the first modern computers. Nothing in physics has been comparable since then. And computers have been just...a refinement - smaller, cheaper, faster but they're still just calculators not house-cleaning cyborgs.
posted by vacapinta at 12:32 PM on April 19, 2007


For someone to make this conceptual leap, of having something wired, like the telegraphs and telephonese of the time,
and applying the new technology of radio transmission to it...

It is an insanely large leap to me.


Hertz's experiments with electromagnetic radiation took place in the 1880's, and Marconi was demonstrating radio transmissions in the 1890's. As exciting as these developments were, it seems stranger to me that intelligent people would not be considering possible future applications.
posted by oneirodynia at 12:49 PM on April 19, 2007


They lied to us.
It just so happens that I own that t-shirt. It's awesome and funny. In addition, as a flirtation accessory at parties, the shirt forces people to stand very closely in order to read the text.
posted by deanc at 12:54 PM on April 19, 2007


that I thought was weird, more the "having [strawberries] for Christmas dinner"

Ziing!
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 1:22 PM on April 19, 2007


Prediction #11: No Mosquitoes nor Flies...

Pave the earth! Pesticides are what most people think of as pest control, but concrete and asphalt are far more permanent solutions. As this one wasn't as intentional, I don't know if we can claim more than half points for it.
posted by bonehead at 1:24 PM on April 19, 2007


Being able to converse with someone in Europe as if they were standing next to you. Before that, you'd have to take months getting across the continent and ocean to talk to them.

No, before that you'd have an asynchronous conversation by telegraph. And even if you wanted to have a face to face conversation, it didn't even take a week to cross the Atlantic in 1900, at which point you'd have access to well-developed rail networks on either side of the pond.

I'm a little bit befuddled about the differences people see between 1900 and 1950. 1900 had automobiles and telephones (and telegraphs), rapid intercity rail travel, fax machines, wireless communication. While they weren't invented until a whopping 3 years later, aircraft were clearly around the corner.

What did 1950 bring? More common telephones, but still just phones. Wireless communication with higher data rates, but information is information. Marginally faster trains. Better and more common automobiles, but nothing fundamentally new. About the only real new thing is aircraft... but this wasn't anything that wasn't expected, and it was hardly world-shattering. In 1900, crossing the US would have taken a few days. In 1950, if you weren't wealthy you would probably still take a train -- air travel was still rare in 1950. Even if you did fly, you'd fly in a propeller-driven aircraft, and the trip would still be a lengthy and draining affair... just a less lengthy and draining affair.

In other words, you can dismiss as refinements the changes between 1900 and 1950 just as easily as you can those between 1950 and 2000. Hell, if you really want to, you can dismiss heavier-than-air aircraft as mere refinements of pre-existing airships -- after all, they're just airships lifting surfaces instead of gases, and lift is lift however you make it.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:38 PM on April 19, 2007


a bunch of the the stuff about wireless communication and wireless circuits could have very well been predictions by nikola tesla (wikipedia)... however, i suppose he wouldn't have been considered one of the more "conservative" minds of the time.

he was having hallucinations and pursuing ideas about the future that are really starting to materialize today. similar to many of the things on this list.

pbs documentary and biography site

youtube documentary:
part 1|part 2|part 3|part 4|
posted by eli_d at 1:41 PM on April 19, 2007


Sometimes I think we have squandered the peas-as-large-as-beets potential that we possessed at the start of the last century. Where have we gone wrong?
posted by Slap Factory at 4:07 PM on April 19, 2007


When did Edison start wiring NY? Was it before 1900? Had homes or businesses been converted from gas to electric by 1900?

Electricity is the big underlying thing, i find, when looking at them, and their predictions, and our own lives now. The Chicago Expo in 1893 had shown the magic and importance of it all, no? (and St. Louis and Buffalo a few years later had cemented it)
posted by amberglow at 6:32 PM on April 19, 2007


Sometimes I think we have squandered the peas-as-large-as-beets potential that we possessed at the start of the last century. Where have we gone wrong?
I blame all the 50s atomic horror movies--we all know now that things grown too large are evil. ; >
posted by amberglow at 6:34 PM on April 19, 2007


There's a wonderful book about L.Frank Baum and the start of consumerism and our modern capitalist society around that time--i'll try to dig it up--that era saw enormous changes in how and where and when and what was sold to us, and how our materialistic desires were catered to and created in whole new ways we still see today. From printing and engraving advances to shop windows to advertising to public spectacles to Dept. Store Toylands and stuff to Fashion shows and parades, etc--all meant to entice us to buy buy buy as a means of improving our lives.
posted by amberglow at 6:39 PM on April 19, 2007


Dammit, bonehead! You beat me to my joke! Also, when you picked your name were you envisioning opening lines like mine? If so that's wicked cool.
posted by Doublewhiskeycokenoice at 6:56 PM on April 19, 2007


Prediction #22b: Store Purchases by Tube. Electromagnetic tubes, not a big country truck, will initiate delivery of packages and bundles. These tubes will collect, deliver and transport electromagnetic mail over certain distances, perhaps for hundreds of leagues. Upon them gentlemen from Nigeria will offer great wealth; offers of phallus enlargement will be genrously tendered. They will at first connect with the private business houses of the wealthy; then on a great electromagnetic bay, with all homes. Great googling business establishments will extend them to stations, similar to our branch post-offices of today, whence fast automobile vehicles and areoplanes, a federal kind of express, will distribute parcels from house to house. The scholarly clerkish men we currently mock as weaklings will gird this new world and become rich thereby, perhaps as rich as rail barons.



So...you guys don’t get the strawberries as big as apples? What about the rocket backpacks?
...perhaps I’ve said too much.
posted by Smedleyman at 7:04 PM on April 19, 2007 [2 favorites]


The tubes.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:28 PM on April 19, 2007


1900 had automobiles and telephones

How many people had cars and telephones in 1900 as compared to in 1950? Having the technology in existence is not the same as having it accessible for most people. As late as 1940, one in three Americans were still carrying their water in buckets.
posted by orange swan at 8:42 PM on April 19, 2007


So...you guys don’t get the strawberries as big as apples? What about the rocket backpacks?
...perhaps I’ve said too much.


Just giant rabbits so far, i think--not counting State Fairs. : >

Just imagine what people from 1900 would think our portion sizes tho.
posted by amberglow at 9:20 PM on April 19, 2007


How many people had cars and telephones in 1900 as compared to in 1950?

Many fewer. So many fewer, and so much worse, that it would be foolish to say that the world of 1950 is just like the world of 1900, only more "refined," just because both had phones and cars. That's my point!
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:32 PM on April 19, 2007


I'm surprised no-one has mentioned this yet... He suggests express trains will run at 150mph but also says that other trains will run at "2 miles a minute". Erm... that's 120mph guys.

He either got his measurements wrong, or your metro stations are a bloody long way apart...
posted by twine42 at 12:31 AM on April 20, 2007


Prediction #13 ans #26 seem strangely similar.
posted by Balisong at 5:23 AM on April 20, 2007


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