I've always been fascinated by predictions of the future as envisioned by generations past. Of course, usually such predictions wind up not just wrong, but comically so--atomic aircars! Flying cities! Meals in a pill! Every once in a while, though, I come across one that seems unusually prescient--like this one from the December, 1900 Ladies' Home Journal. Some choice quotes:
Prediction #1: There will probably be from 350,000,000 to 500,000,000 people in America and its possessions by the lapse of another century. Nicaragua will ask for admission to our Union after the completion of the great canal. Mexico will be next. Europe, seeking more territory to the south of us, will cause many of the South and Central American republics to be voted into the Union by their own people.”
Wow, Manifest Destiny, anyone? The all-too-American inability to think of the USA as anything but the good guys notwithstanding, the US population is somewhere around 350,000,000 now, without any major land-grabs aside from Hawaii and Alaska.
Prediction #7: There will be air-ships, but they will not successfully compete with surface cars and water vessels for passenger or freight traffic. They will be maintained as deadly war-vessels by all military nations. Some will transport men and goods. Others will be used by scientists making observations at great heights above the earth.
Prediction #8: Aerial 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. Such guns will be armed by aid of compasses when used on land or sea, and telescopes when directed from great heights. Fleets of air-ships, hiding themselves with dense, smoky mists, thrown off by themselves as they move, will float over cities, fortifications, camps or fleets. They will surprise foes below by hurling upon them deadly thunderbolts. These aerial war-ships will necessitate bomb-proof forts, protected by great steel plates over their tops as well as at their sides. Huge forts on wheels will dash across open spaces at the speed of express trains of to-day. They will make what are now known as cavalry charges. Great automobile plows will dig deep entrenchments as fast as soldiers can occupy them. Rifles will use silent cartridges. Submarine boats submerged for days will be capable of wiping a whole navy off the face of the deep. 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.
Okay, so they missed the boat on commercial air travel. And winged flight, for that matter, but otherwise that's a pretty accurate view of 20th century mechanized warfare. And I'm a little surprised at the amount of detail that went into it, considering this was a magazine aimed at housewives.
Prediction #20: Coal will not be used for heating or cooking. It will be scarce, but not entirely exhausted. The earth’s hard coal will last until the year 2050 or 2100; its soft-coal mines until 2200 or 2300. Meanwhile both kinds of coal will have become more and more expensive. Man will have found electricity manufactured by waterpower to be much cheaper. Every river or creek with any suitable fall will be equipped with water-motors, turning dynamos, making electricity. Along the seacoast will be numerous reservoirs continually filled by waves and tides washing in. Out of these the water will be constantly falling over revolving wheels. All of our restless waters, fresh and salt, will thus be harnessed to do the work which Niagara is doing today: making electricity for heat, light and fuel.
Peak Oil, anyone?
Prediction #23: Ready-cooked meals will be bought from establishments similar to our bakeries of today. They will purchase materials in tremendous wholesale quantities and sell the cooked foods at a price much lower than the cost of individual cooking. Food will be served hot or cold to private houses in pneumatic tubes or automobile wagons. The meal being over, the dishes used will be packed and returned to the cooking establishments where they will be washed. Such wholesale cookery will be done in electric laboratories rather than in kitchens. These laboratories will be equipped with electric stoves, and all sorts of electric devices, such as coffee-grinders, egg-beaters, stirrers, shakers, parers, meat-choppers, meat-saws, potato-mashers, lemon-squeezers, dish-washers, dish-dryers and the like. All such utensils will be washed in chemicals fatal to disease microbes. Having one’s own cook and purchasing one’s own food will be an extravagance.
You know, I work in a cooking establishment in which food is prepared through the use of all sorts of electric coffee-grinders, egg-beaters, potato-mashers and the like, and I wouldn't exactly call it a lab! I wouldn't call it cheaper than cooking your own, either, but having one's own cook is considered an extravagance. Actually, that's a pretty important economic/lifestyle shift, as I understand it--the late 19th century middle class family typically employed servants for a variety of purposes now fulfilled by appliances and/or businesses catering to the culture of convenience, a luxury few can now afford.
Anyway, you can read the rest, including a disturbing number of gigantic plant-related predictions, here.