In 1900, Ladies’ Home Journal Publishes 28 Predictions for the Year 2000

Ladies Home Journal Dec 1900 paleofuture paleo-future

At least since that 17th cen­tu­ry archi­tect of the sci­en­tif­ic rev­o­lu­tion, Sir Fran­cis Bacon (who was most­ly right), peo­ple have been mak­ing pre­dic­tions about the tech­nolo­gies and social advance­ments of the future. And since Bacon, sci­en­tists and futur­is­tic writ­ers have been espe­cial­ly in demand dur­ing times of great change and uncer­tain­ty, such as at the turn of the last cen­tu­ry. In 1900, civ­il engi­neer John Elfreth Watkins, Jr. in Ladies’ Home Jour­nal claimed to have sur­veyed “the most learned and con­ser­v­a­tive minds in Amer­i­ca… the wis­est and most care­ful men in our great­est insti­tu­tions of sci­ence and learn­ing.”

Spec­i­fy­ing advances like­ly to occur 100 years thence, “before the dawn of 2001,” Watkins culled 28 pre­dic­tions about such things as trav­el and the trans­mis­sion of infor­ma­tion over great dis­tances, bio­log­i­cal and genet­ic muta­tions, and the domes­tic com­forts of the aver­age con­sumer. Sev­er­al of the pre­dic­tions are very Bacon­ian indeed—as per the strange list at the end of Bacon’s sci­ence fic­tion frag­ment New Atlantis, a text obsessed with alter­ing the appear­ance of the nat­ur­al world for no par­tic­u­lar rea­son oth­er than that it could be done. Watkins’ list includes such pre­dic­tions as “Peas as Large as Beets,” “Black, Blue, and Green Ros­es,” and “Straw­ber­ries as Large as Apples.” Some are Bacon­ian in more sin­is­ter ways, and these are also a bit more accu­rate. Take the below, for exam­ple:

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. Cat­tle and sheep will have no horns. They will be unable to run faster than the fat­tened hog of to-day. A cen­tu­ry ago the wild hog could out­run a horse. Food ani­mals will be bred to expend prac­ti­cal­ly all of their life ener­gy in pro­duc­ing meat, milk, wool and oth­er by-prod­ucts. Horns, bones, mus­cles and lungs will have been neglect­ed.

I would defer to ecol­o­gists and meat indus­try watch­dogs to con­firm my intu­itions, but it does seem that some of this, except­ing the exter­mi­na­tion of ver­min and horns, has come to pass or is very like­ly in regard to sev­er­al species. Anoth­er pre­dic­tion, this one about our own species, is laugh­ably opti­mistic:

Every­body will Walk Ten Miles. 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.

We’re much clos­er to the future of Pixar’s Wall‑E than any­thing resem­bling this sce­nario (unless you live in the world of Cross­fit). Anoth­er pre­dic­tion is both dead on and dead wrong at once. Claim­ing that there will be “from 350,000,000 to 500,000,000 peo­ple in the Amer­i­c­as and its pos­ses­sions by the lapse of anoth­er cen­tu­ry” did in fact turn out to be almost uncan­ni­ly accurate—current esti­mates are some­where around 300,000,000. The “pos­ses­sions” allud­ed to, how­ev­er, dis­play the atti­tude of blithe Mon­roe doc­trine expan­sion­ism that held the nation in its sway at the turn of the cen­tu­ry. The pre­dic­tion goes on to say that most of the “South and Cen­tral Amer­i­can republics would be vot­ed into the Union by their own peo­ple.” A few more of Watkins’ pre­dic­tions, some pre­scient, some pre­pos­ter­ous:

Tele­phones Around the World. Wire­less tele­phone and tele­graph cir­cuits will span the world.

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

Hot and Cold Air from Spig­ots. Ris­ing ear­ly to build the fur­nace fire will be a task of the old­en times.

Ready-Cooked Meals will be Bought from estab­lish­ments sim­i­lar to our bak­eries of to-day [see the above Wall‑E ref­er­ence]

There will be No C, X, or Q in our every-day alpha­bet. They will be aban­doned because unnec­es­sary.

Aeriel War-Ships and Forts on Wheels. Giant guns will shoot twen­ty-five miles or more, and will hurl any­where with­in such a radius shells explod­ing and destroy­ing whole cities.

How Chil­dren will be Taught. A uni­ver­si­ty edu­ca­tion will be free to every man and woman.

Ah, if only that last one had come true! To read all of Watkins pre­dic­tions in detail, click on the image above for a larg­er, read­able, ver­sion of the full arti­cle.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Isaac Asimov’s 1964 Pre­dic­tions About What the World Will Look 50 Years Lat­er — in 2014

Arthur C. Clarke Pre­dicts the Future in 1964 … And Kind of Nails It

1930s Fash­ion Design­ers Imag­ine How Peo­ple Would Dress in the Year 2000

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (6)
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  • ben says:

    That last one has come true in some parts of the world, though per­haps not yet in Durham, NC. Sor­ry about that.

  • Jan Moren says:

    “Hot and Cold Air from Spig­ots.” nn“A uni­ver­si­ty edu­ca­tion will be free to every man and woman.“nnnBoth are already broad­ly ful­filled in some parts of the world.

  • PacificSage says:

    Not a bad list. nnnIt’s sad to see how our ances­tors failed to real­ize the bril­liance and sim­plic­i­ty of the organ­ic world. Pea’s as large as beets? Must have spent too much time at the com­pet­i­tive booths at some farm­ers fair. Good thing the US did­n’t kill off ‘pesky’ ani­mals and col­lapse the food chain (yet).nnnThey real­ly did under­stand the killer in the Amer­i­can, though. Even before Ein­stein, they knew US humans would devel­op a sin­gle weapon to destroy a city.

  • K.H says:

    ‘every­one will walk ten miles’
    I wish I could…

  • Rae says:

    My at “uee­nie” dis­agrees with the alpha­bet pre­dic­tion.

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