How French Artists in 1899 Envisioned Life in the Year 2000: Drawing the Future


Atom­ic physi­cist Niels Bohr is famous­ly quot­ed as say­ing, “Pre­dic­tion is very dif­fi­cult, espe­cial­ly if it’s about the future.” Yet despite years of get­ting things wrong, mag­a­zines love think pieces on where we’ll be in sev­er­al decades, even cen­turies in time. It gives us com­fort to think great things await us, even though we’re long over­due for the per­son­al jet­pack and, based on an Isaac Asi­mov inter­view in Omni Mag­a­zine that blew my teenage mind, inter­change­able gen­i­tals.


And yet it’s Asi­mov who appar­ent­ly owned the only set of post­cards of En L’An 2000, a set of 87 (or so) col­lectible artist cards that first appeared as inserts in cig­ar box­es in 1899, right in time for the 1900 World Exhi­bi­tion in Paris. Trans­lat­ed as “France in the 21st Cen­tu­ry,” the cards fea­ture Jean-Marc Côté and oth­er illus­tra­tors’ inter­pre­ta­tions of the way we’d be living…well, 15 years ago.

The his­to­ry of the card’s pro­duc­tion is very con­vo­lut­ed, with the orig­i­nal com­mis­sion­ing com­pa­ny going out of busi­ness before they could be dis­trib­uted, and whether that com­pa­ny was a toy man­u­fac­tur­er or a cig­a­rette com­pa­ny, nobody seems to know. And were the ideas giv­en to the artists, or did they come up with them on their own? We don’t know.



One of the first things that stands out scan­ning through these prints, now host­ed at The Pub­lic Domain Review, is a com­plete absence of space trav­el, despite Jules Verne hav­ing writ­ten From the Earth to the Moon in 1865 (which would influ­ence Georges Méliès’ A Voy­age to the Moon in 1902). How­ev­er, the under­wa­ter world spawned many a flight of fan­cy, includ­ing a whale-drawn bus, a cro­quet par­ty at the bot­tom of the ocean, and large fish being raced like thor­ough­bred hors­es.


There’s a few inven­tions we can say came true. The “Advance Sen­tinel in a Heli­copter” has been doc­u­ment­ing traf­fic and car chas­es for decades now, fed right into our tele­vi­sions. A lot of farm work is now auto­mat­ed. And “Elec­tric Scrub­bing” is now called a Room­ba.


For a card-by-card exam­i­na­tion of these future visions, one should hunt out Isaac Asimov’s 1986 Future­days: A Nine­teenth Cen­tu­ry Vision of the Year 2000, which can be found for very cheap on Ama­zon right now. (Or see the nice gallery of images at The Pub­lic Domain Review.) And who knows? Maybe next year, your order will come to your door by drone. Just a pre­dic­tion.

via Pale­o­fu­ture

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

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

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the FunkZone Pod­cast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, read his oth­er arts writ­ing at and/or watch his films here.

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Comments (7)
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  • Brian says:

    I pre­dict that in the year 3000, futur­ists will make myr­i­ad pre­dic­tions for the year 4000. (Let’s face it, we are inter­minably for­ward focused!)

  • Thornstruck says:

    I think, in this present day, most peo­ple are not for­ward focused and will become hos­tile if forced to face it.

    A deficit of long term think­ing has been sup­plant­ed with a sur­plus of short term think­ing.

  • Doug Jones says:

    I pre­dict that in five years the phrase “20–20 hind­sight” will be run com­plete­ly into the ground.

  • Jake Gerber says:

    I’m sure most are focused on the first image. Notice the shred­ding of pulp ‚while peo­ple have their ears clogged with speak­ers. That is what prompt­ed me to read arti­cle. To have that insight into the future is remark­able.
    I believe in respect to air trav­el ‚DaVin­ci nailed that in the late fif­teenth ‚ear­ly six­teenth cen­tu­ry .
    I think one would have to delve into the his­to­ry books of the peri­od to see and under­stand what man was think­ing in ear­ly nine­teenth cen­tu­ry .
    In respect to the images shown,they all appear to be drawn by the same hand . As these were graph­ics of a small scale,I’m sur­prised more of these have not sur­faced .
    I per­son­al­ly col­lect vin­tage French posters, large orig­i­nal lime­stone lithos from 1890–1900 gen­er­al­ly.
    I think it safe to say,within five hun­dred years we ‚rather the future inhab­i­tants of the Earth will have dec­i­mat­ed this planet,and man will accli­mate to the con­di­tions of Mars,through tech­nol­o­gy .
    I real­ize five hun­dreds years appears to be a short peri­od of time,but giv­en how quick­ly tech­nol­o­gy is chang­ing the face of this planet,and the idea that humans are destroy­ing the Earth at warp speed,catastrophic things will change the land­scape ‚as it were ‚to a degree we may not as yet fath­om.
    Great arti­cle and it has indeed piqued my curios­i­ty …

  • Kurwa Jebana says:

    Let’s face it. There is no excite­ment in pre­dict­ing the past is there.
    Pre­dict­ing life based on reli­gion has no sat­is­fy­ing answers as well.
    So all there is left is the next game of foot­ball and the future right?
    Or just pre­dict noth­ing and go with the flow, i would say..

  • Noor says:

    I lke it

  • Don says:

    I think we will have anti­grav­i­ty propul­sion and light that can be used to pull and push objects.
    Or these things will come out of the black bud­get hole. Why do I say this? Because I know that Hugh­es Sum­ma Corp. was build­ing an anti­grav­i­ty device in 1972.

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