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What May Happen in the Next Hundred Years (Ladies Home Journal, 1900)

On Monday we looked at the German translation of a piece by John Elfreth Watkins, Jr. for the December 1900 issue of Ladies Home Journal. Today we have the English version which highlights the coming advances of the twentieth century. Below the full text is provided but we'll be examining it further over the next few weeks.

Excerpts from the article below can also be found in the book Yesterday's Future: The Twentieth Century Begins.

See also:
The Next Hundred Years (Milwaukee Herold und Seebote, 1900)

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Reader Comments (32)

Surprisingly, this is fairly accurate. It mentions some useful modern technologies, like what we would call MRI, television, tractors, and take-out meals. In some cases, it's was overly pessimistic, like the average life expectancy being only 50 years old. On the other hand, we still don't have cold-tolerant orange trees.

April 18, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterSimon Arthur

How very optimistic...and peaceful! They didn't see the aero-plane coming, but then they also didn't see a century of war and devastation ahead.
Not bad for Ladies Home Journal, either - you'd expect this kind of stuff from Modern Mechanix, Great Wonder Stories, Tales of Tomorrow, and the like.
"Oranges in Philadelphia." My word.

April 18, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterSorcerer Mickey

It is fairly accurate indeed. I specially like the part where music would go thought the tubes to theaters across the world, paid by philanthropists..

And thank good wild animals, horses or mosquitoes were not extinct!.. A lot of species became extinct very well, but I the optimistic way the article expects it is really disturbing.

April 18, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterAlexandre Van deSande

wow - it's a bit sad that she says that current lifespan was 35 years! I can't believe that's true...

April 18, 2007 | Unregistered Commenterpffft

I'm not sure where they got their lifespan data. According to" REL="nofollow"> this report (page 79) the life expectancy in 1900 in the US was already in the 50s. Maybe they were speaking globally? But were global statistics even available then?

April 20, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

Actually did you even look at that chart, because it says 40s not 50s.

April 20, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMaya

Yeah, Mr. Watkins seems remarkably accurate in his predictions. I give him 104 True, 56 False, and 11 Unknown, for a "rate the futurist" score of 66%.
Predictions and" REL="nofollow" TITLE="Rate the predictions of John Watkins Jr.">my ratings.

April 20, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

sad how our sense of social justice (note the prediction of free higher education for all, including free clothing and lodging for the poor) has pretty much dried up and blown away in this country. Thanks a lot, WWII, TV, Suburbia, and the war on terra!

April 24, 2007 | Unregistered Commenterhungry mike

people seemed so excited and optimistic about the future in 1900, now we are just terrified. nobody speculates today what the world will be like in 2100 because i think we are very pessimistic about it. we wonder... will our cities be underwater, our wildlife extinct, our soil and water completely corrupted, our governments toppled, our resources tapped, our cultures melted into one giant megacorporation?
also the rate of change is increasing, so our speculations about 2020 are sometimes as far out as 100 years would have been 100 years ago (if that makes sense).
Read "the city of tomorrow" by le corbusier, its equally fascinating. interesting how a culture's values are reflected by its predictions for the future.

April 27, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterSheryl

that's funny. Many were at least somewhat on target, except for those involving prices and economics (inflation not being understood or believed by these particular people, I suppose). Again, electricity is a cure-all, pneumatics are considered to be the future, etc. but still many are fairly accurate.

A word on lifespan: they correctly predicted that we'd be able to stay healthy longer, but failed to predict the precipitous decline in infant and child mortality which in earlier centuries dragged the expectancy down so far... that's intriguing.

April 30, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

I'm sure they would be amazed that the world turned out so much better then they predicted. No we didn’t wipe out bugs and rats, but we did get welfare, even greater life expectancy and health. They never even hinted at the technology we have (to England in 2 days? We used to have it in 2 hours), they did expect the new war craft, etc. Like us they thought their fuel (coal) would run out, and “renewable resources” would take over.

I’m sure our presses speculation about nations submerged by global warming, and wind mill powered cities will seem far less prosaic in 2100. Hell Star Treks predictions for 300 years in the future seem to have mainly come true- or be a lot closer then suggested.

May 1, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterKellyst

These predictions are very good on the whole. It's interesting how some of them say more about the predictor than about the future - e.g., strawberries as big as an apple, right on the button! But neither Mr Watkins nor the 21st-c. supermarket consumer asks why we need gigantic strawberries, or whether they have any taste (they don't). As for the idea of arresting shopkeepers who sell food exposed to air, it expresses the trend of demanding angelic purity in edibles which continues to this day. Fortunately it is not always victorious. In Canada in recent years authorities have tried to outlaw the hanging of dried sausages on hooks, but people rebelled.

May 4, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterAxel

strange how they only went to men to get their predictions, as if a woman was not capable of anything as difficult as projecting her mind into the future. there is not so much as a whiff of feminism in the air, and none of the male 'experts' anticipated female emancipation either.

June 30, 2007 | Unregistered Commenteralan

It has a very Teddy Roosevelt world view. It might have even been written by him judging from the item about the letters being banished. Teddy was very much for that. Probably because he was a horrible speller. Overall, very good prognostication!

July 11, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterSloop John B

"Oranges will Grow in Philadelphia"

Maybe they were predicting global warming.

September 17, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterJenna's Bush

Kellyst - "I'm sure they would be amazed that the world turned out so much better then they predicted."

Not so sure about that - we didn't learn to exterminate bugs and rats but we did try to exterminate whole groups of people.

I'd say the hundred years following the prediction were much worse than anyone would have predicted.

September 17, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterWill

What's even more interesting than reading an old forecast, is reading the reactions from everyone today.

Clearly, pessimism and optimism still wage war to this day.

September 18, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

Peas as big as beets? That's not a world I want to live in.

September 29, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

Hi Matt,

Could you please clarify the origins of your source material? For an article purported to be from the 1900s, the scan displays typography and typesetting resembling a modern word processor rather than a 19th century linotype machine. Could this be a hoax or just an article that has been redesigned for a modern book?

Andrew Lau

December 15, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew "Netsnipe" Lau

It's a microfilm scan from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. I'm sure if Milwaukee has it, you can find it at most major universities.

December 15, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMatt

I'm the anonymous way up there on April 20... just posting to correct a stupid typo. It should be "the life expectancy in 1900 in the US was already almost in the 50s."

It still seems very odd that Watkins claimed people only lived to 35 and that they will live to 50 in the future. They were already living, on average, to nearly 50 years.

December 19, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

I can vouch for the fact this is an actual article because I collect antique Ladies Home Journal magazines and found it on page 8 in the December 1900 issue! (Sometimes reading old documents such as this is the closest thing we can get to time travel!

February 7, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterflygirlprincess

Actually, the strawberry apples thing is probably accurate. Apples have grown in size as well, and I strongly suspect that the larger strawberries from today would compare favorably to apples from then.

June 27, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

Will - "I'd say the hundred years following the prediction were much worse than anyone would have predicted."

Don't be an idiot use your head. If we eliminated all of the bugs this world then how many other animals would be killed because of that. We may have not eliminated rats but at least they don't pose threats to us anymore. When is the last time you heard of someone getting sick from a rat?

We may have had a lot of death from wars in the first half of the century but after that the world rate of people dying in wars dropped dramatically. I am sure that they would love the fact that our worst war in recent history the vietnam war only 58,000 were KIA and in the Iraq war it's down to less than 5000 for 5 years!

Think about whether they could say that next time you think the time period you grew up in was so much worse than 100 years ago.

And another thing. He was right about free education to anyone who wants it and has the intelligence and drive. It's called scholarships and grants...or just living in a good state

February 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

Sick from a rat? Salmonella, anyone. Not to mention Hantavirus, bubonic plague, and typhus. All I can say is, "Rats off to ya!"

February 14, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterfoxdog

Let's see how this prediction stacks up with history:

- We have over 300 million people. Close enough.
- The average American is quite a bit taller now than before -- and by more than just one or two inches. Correct!
- The letters C, X, and Q are still in our alphabet. Incorrect!
- We have hot and cold air coming from spigots (air conditioning and central heating). Correct!
- Mosquitoes and flies still exist. Incorrect!
- Ready-cooked meals are the standard. Correct!
- Foods are still exposed to the air. Incorrect!
- Coal is still used for electrical power generation, but not so much for heating and cooking (that's now done electrically or with natural gas). Correct!
- Street cars have disappeared, to be replaced with subways, elevated rails, and automobiles, although some cities are trying to bring them back, calling them "light rail." Correct!
- The transmission of photographs over thousands of miles is a reality. Correct!
- There are trains that go over 150 miles per hour, it's just that we don't have them. Correct!
- Cars have replaced animals for just about every use. Correct!
- Nobody walks ten miles a day. In fact, most of us don't even walk one mile a day. It's why we're all a bunch of fatasses. Incorrect!
- England in two days? Try six hours. And who takes boats to travel anymore? Correct on the speed of travel being greatly reduced, incorrect on the method of transportation used.
- Airships still do exist, but they've been obsolete since the '30s. Weapons of war? A WWII fighter plane could shred an airship in under a minute, and a bomber can cause far more damage to ground targets and is harder to hit. Transporting men and goods? Thanks, but we have airlines and cargo planes for that. The only thing they're really used for is advertising by Goodyear and Fujifilm at sports games. Incorrect!
- The next prediction has various levels of truth to it. Airships, as stated earlier, are obsolete, but we do have bombers that fulfill the same role that's described here, and they have necessitated bomb-proof forts (bunkers). We have artillery cannons that, with assistance from modern technology, can fire shells well over twenty-five miles. The "huge forts on wheels" are called tanks. Submarines have become a staple of every navy on the planet. Spy planes and drones are used to spy on the enemy, along with satellites. Overall, I have to say "Correct!"
- Fortunately, we still have tons of animals in the wild. Incorrect!
- We have video cameras all over the world, bringing us foreign events in an instant (although the preferred medium for doing so is television, not the theater). Movies have had sound since the 1920s. Correct!
- Radios now transmit music, opera houses are backed largely by philanthropists and the government, and modern technology has allowed for the creation of new types of music. Correct!
- This description of the education system also has varying levels of accuracy. High school is free, but college is not. Poorer college students, however, are given financial need scholarships. We have the SCHIP program providing for the medical needs of poor children, but it's not as extensive as described. Free rides to school are practically the norm, and school lunch programs are commonplace. Poor children don't take that many trips around the world, since they're, you know, poor. And etiquette and housekeeping being part of the curriculum? Excuse me while I laugh my ass off.
- We still use trucks to transport mail and packages, and it's worked for years. Using pneumatic tubes to carry the mail isn't that cost-effective or reliable. Incorrect!
- The bit about vegetables being grown by electricity speaks volumes about how science has progressed over the last hundred years. People at the turn of the 20th century viewed electricity the way that people in the '50s viewed radiation and people today view genetic engineering and nanotechnology -- as a great unknown that had the potential to do just about anything. However, the bits about greenhouses and heat lamps have come to pass, and pesticides and fertilizers serve the purpose that this section ascribes to electricity. I'll give this a "Partly correct!"
- World trade has made possible the consumption of summer crops all year round. The bit about oranges being grown in Pennsylvania may become a reality with global warming and GMOs, although the former is not necessarily what the writer had in mind, and the latter is a sticky political issue. Overall, I say, "Correct!"
- Strawberries the size of apples, peas the size of beets, and new breeds of flowers may be possible with genetic engineering, but again, GMOs face a lot of opposition. Until those problems are solved, I say, "Incorrect!"
- Most medicines are still taken orally -- this hasn't changed in a hundred years. However, the writer showed quite a bit of foresight predicting X-ray machines, MRIs, and other machines that allow doctors to see into the body. Partly correct!

May 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKevin R.

I'd say that the "foods exposed to the air" thing is actually true. Have you seen a deli counter without sneeze guards or those glass barriers?

Oh, and we do have strawberries the size of apples. Sure, it's the largest strawberries being the same size as the smaller apples, and they taste bad, but whatever.

I really like how he accidentally predicted nuclear subs.

March 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKevin O.

To you who wrote on March 4th, 2010.

The submarine was allready in existense at the time.
Guessing that they'd stay submurged for longer periodes of time and have heavy artillery
a 100 years later is a no brainer.

When it comes to that the "airship" will never be able to compete with the ship that'll bring people from New York to London within 2 days i'd like to go back in those days and tell about the Concorde.

Paris/London - New York in 2+ hours! BY AIR!

March 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJimmy

Fewer drugs will be swallowed? Thats probably one of the most inaccurate predictions ive seen in this whole site. There are drugs for evreything these days. Hell im sure no one back then would have prediction that there would be a drug that lets old people do it. Im talking about viagra!Not only that but just about every kid is on some kind of meds.

May 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSomeone

"A university education will be free to every man and woman"

Tell that to my bank account.

September 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLin

Gosh I wish I had a time machine to go back to 1900s and tell those folks in which points they were right and in which they weren't.

September 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTom

My favorite is the destroy a city with a single shell. That is about the closest I saw here to the Bomb, decades before Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

December 23, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTom Mazanec

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