Predicting the future is usually difficult although an American engineer did a pretty good job when he wrote his predictions for the next hundred years way back in 1900.
John Elfreth Watkins was a civil engineer working for American railroads of the 19th century. In 1900, he contributed an article to the Ladies’ Home Journal, entitled “What May Happen in the Next Hundred Years”. Somehow, Watkins was able to foresee the invention of mobile phones, digital photography, television, and even TV dinners.
Now, 112 years later, a history editor for the Journal’s sister publication, the Saturday Evening Post, dug out the article to see how Watkins did. The article made 28 predictions. Here are some of the more interesting ones he got right and wrong.
– Digital color photography – Watkins didn’t know how it would happen, but wrote about color pictures being able to move around the world in minutes. “Photographs will be telegraphed from any distance. If there be a battle inChina a hundred years hence, snapshots of its most striking events will be published in the newspaper an hour later…photographs will reproduce all of nature’s colors.”
– Mobile phones – He wrote that wireless telephone circuits will span the world even though it was 15 years prior to the first transcontinental call. “We will be able to telephone toChina quite as readily as we now talk fromNew York toBrooklyn.”
– Pre-made meals – He wrote people would purchase ready-to-eat meals from establishments similar to bakeries. “They (the store) will purchase materials in tremendous wholesale quantities and sell the cooked foods at a price much lower than the cost of individual cooking.” He also said these meals would be made in laboratories as opposed to kitchens.
– Television – He foresaw cameras and screens connected by electric circuits that allow people to see events on the other side of the world. “Persons and things of all kinds will be brought within focus of cameras connected electrically with screens at opposite ends of circuits, thousands of miles at span.
– Central heating and air conditioning – The great minds he spoke with talked about how a device would regulate the temperature in a house.
The article also correctly predicted “huge forts on wheels”, what we know as tanks, that the population growth will slow, people would get taller and high-speed trains would exist.
What He Got Wrong:
– Free university – “A university education will be free to every man and woman.” While more people are able to attend university, the costs continue to rise forcing many to take on huge debt.
– Fitness levels – “Everybody will walk ten miles…A man or woman unable to walk ten miles at a stretch will be regarded as a weakling.” Watkins wrote exercise would be compulsory in schools, but while it is mandatory to a certain age, obesity levels continue to rise in theU.S. andCanada.
– Mosquitoes terminated – “Mosquitoes, house-flies and roaches will have been practically exterminated.” He thought this would happen because all the breeding grounds, including stagnant pools and swamp lands would be gone.
– Fewer letters – “There will be no C, X, or Q in our every-day alphabet.” He thought those letters would eventually become unnecessary and spelling by sound would be adopted.
It’s downright impressive how many of these predictions have actually come to pass in the 112 years since the column was written. It almost makes you wonder if the days of C, X, and Q being part of the English alphabet are numbered.