How French Artists in 1899 Envisioned What Life Would Look Like in the Year 2000

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 moon colonies.


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, 23 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 are 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 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.

Note: Note: An ear­li­er ver­sion of this post appeared on our site in 2015.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

In 1922, a Nov­el­ist Pre­dicts What the World Will Look Like in 2022: Wire­less Tele­phones, 8‑Hour Flights to Europe & More

Author Imag­ines in 1893 the Fash­ions That Would Appear Over the Next 100 Years

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

Isaac Asi­mov Pre­dicts the Future in 1982: Com­put­ers Will Be “at the Cen­ter of Every­thing;” Robots Will Take Human Jobs

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 (22)
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  • Charlie says:

    That 1st card could be split in half and both halves would be dead nuts on, in dif­fer­ent contexts/environments. The left half is most kids in schools pret­ty much every­where these days, and the right half is Flori­da’s (and sev­er­al oth­er Right Wing states’) law­mak­ers and school admin­is­tra­tors. There just isn’t any wire con­nect­ing the destroyed knowl­edge to any­thing.

  • Joey Horvitz says:

    Look at all that extra stuff attached to the broom han­dle. That par­tic­u­lar piece of art­work is both inter­est­ing and unin­ten­tion­al­ly fun­ny. I hope the late artist will for­give for pok­ing fun.

  • Mike says:

    Good God man I’m here to see wacky ideas from the past. Please take your par­ti­san soap­box­ing to some oth­er place.

  • Himanshu says:

    He’s turn­ing in his grave and dares you to pub­lish your pre­dic­tions for 2124.

  • Brian says:

    The admin­is­tra­tor crank­ing the books is wear­ing an Orange coat. See? Orange man Bad!

  • Sebastien says:

    Relat­ed: french ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry author Rene Bar­jav­el pre­dict­ed the infor­ma­tion age with ubiq­ui­tous TVs (portable ones awfu­ly look­ing like our smart­phones) — enabling pop­ulist politi­cian and oth­er trends in our cur­rent world. C.f.

  • Benny says:

    It’s going to be a long 8 months for you.

  • Hank hill says:

    For some rea­son these paint­ings make me a lit­tle horny.

  • cow says:

    Free speech can hurt when it’s some­one else’s, baby.

  • Anna says:

    I think Char­lie might have mis­un­der­stood the pic­ture of the school room. The teacher was­n’t destroy­ing books but rather aim by then to the machine to be turned into audio out­put due the stu­dents.

  • Robert Copeland says:

    Part of reach­ing our net-zero car­bon emis­sions goals will have to include Whale-Bus­es for trans­porta­tion. For a green­er future.

  • Liz says:

    🎶In the year two-thou­sand.… in the year two thousaaaand! IYKYK

    They def­i­nite­ly had some whim­si­cal ideas. Sad­ly, many kids could care less about books, it takes away from their dron­ing tik­tok time. But… in 2000 kids were read­ing books 📚 they were also rid­ing bikes and spend­ing good amounts of time active. Aww the good ol’ future past 😌

  • Ignitas A. Few says:


  • David says:

    These all hap­pened by the 2020s I’m sure some­body has even played scu­ba cro­quet.

    But we have autopi­lot on trac­tors
    Heli­copter tours
    Sub­ma­rine tours (with lim­it­ed suc­cess some­times)
    And audio books

  • Seabass says:

    Me get horny too. Maid is using big sex machine.

  • Mike says:

    Steam­punk before it had a name!

  • Susi says:

    Hi there, I believe that the rea­son there was no evi­dence of artists and peo­ple think­ing about space trav­el is at that point. The ocean was still a huge undis­cov­ered fron­tier that was right in front of them was absolute­ly fas­ci­nat­ing. Exot­ic and ter­ri­fy­ing all at once

    Now we have explored and dis­cov­ered a lot of what’s hap­pen­ing in the big, huge ocean and we don’t think of it as an excit­ing fron­tier

    This is a great arti­cle. Thank you very very much for post­ing!

  • Ernest says:

    Sun­day news­pa­per com­ic strip “Dick Tracey” had wrist phones.

  • Mike says:

    That is fun­ny think­ing when the right are just pro­tect­ing chil­dren from obscene games and con­trols and pro­gram­ing their minds which the democ­rats used to do

  • Lisa says:

    No knowl­edge has been destroyed. At all. There haven’t been book burn­ings. Every­thing they removed from the gram­mar school cur­ricu­lum is avail­able from a thou­sand online sites. Par­ents can teach chil­dren what­ev­er they like at home. Shouldn’t our tax dol­lars be spent teach­ing math, sci­ence and read­ing, for exam­ple? The kids can bare­ly read and can’t add and sub­tract or tell time with­out a dig­i­tal watch or a phone but it’s ok to teach them a par­tic­u­lar agen­da. Chil­dren would be bet­ter served learn­ing how to bud­get and bal­ance a bank account. That should be on the cur­ricu­lum.

  • Nicolle Campbell says:

    … the greater good! 🤣

  • Nicolle Campbell says:

    “They don’t teach you how to man­age mon­ey, because they nev­er expect you to have any.”

    - Dame Dash

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