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1911 Magazine Article Accurately Predicts Some Aspects of 2011 Life

(Courtesy: flickr, Randy Read)

When I imagine life in 1911, I picture mostly dirt roads and horse and buggy being the only mode of transportation outside of walking. I also picture it in black and white because color photography wasn’t invented yet. Is that accurate? No, but that’s the way my mind sees it so that’s the way it is. One thing we do have in common with the people of the early 20th century is our daydreams of what the future holds.

The website has released a photocopy of a page from a 1911 edition of The Ladies Home Journal in which columnist John Elfreth Watkins, Jr. spoke with the “wisest and most careful men in our greatest institutions of science and learning” to get their educated guesses on what life in America would be like 100 years in the future.

In some cases, they missed the ball completely such as the part where they predict that “a university education will be free to every man and woman”. Uh, not exactly. If anything, the exact opposite is true as college has become so unbelievably expensive, student load debt now stands at $1 trillion dollars; more than credit card debt according to an article in Sunday’s Evansville Courier-Press.

Another missed prediction from these wise sooth-sayers was the idea that products purchased through catalogs would not be delivered by your mailman, but by a series of pneumatic tubes like the one’s that take your car payment to the teller at your bank’s drive-thru. According to the prediction, these delivery tubes would “transport mail over certain distances, perhaps for hundreds of miles.” As cool as that sounds, you know it wouldn’t take long for some punk kid to stick a cat inside one just to see what happens.

Other predictions that didn’t quite come to fruition was the idea that the letters C, X, or Q would no longer exist in the alphabet, that mosquitoes, house flies, and roaches will have been completely eradicated from nature, and peas will be as large as beets.

Then there are the predictions they actually hit on including the idea “there will probably be between 350 to 500 million people in America” by 2011. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the U.S. population on April 1, 2010 was 308,745,538. So they didn’t nail it exactly but they were at least in the ballpark in my opinion so I’ll give it to them.

They also accurately predicted that U.S. homes will be able to regulate the air in their homes by use of hot and cold air “spigots”. It seems that if you wanted to stay warm during an early 1900’s winter you had to get up early to stock the furnace fire. While we don’t have hot and cold air “spigots” that we turn off an on to regulate the temperature in our homes, we do have thermostats which essentially to the same thing. Again, I’ll give it to them.

A few more predictions that became at least mostly true include the idea that a person could travel from New York City to Liverpool, England in a matter of just two days thanks in part to “fast electric ships, crossing the ocean at more than a mile a minute.” Thanks to the Wright Brothers and their ground-breaking invention, the airplane, that trip takes less than half a day. A quick New York to Liverpool flight search on offers that trip in 10 hours and 55 minutes which includes one stop in Amsterdam.

Although the method by which they thought it would happen was a little off, they also accurately predicted that telephones would be connected around the world giving us the opportunity to call China as easily as we call a friend across town.

Check out the complete article to see a few of the other nearly spot on predictions these wise “and most careful men” believed would happen. Meanwhile, I’ll sit here and daydream of the day someone finally figures out how to transport me from one location to another by separated my molecules and reforming them in destination of my choice like on Star Trek.

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