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Ladies Home Journal (1900) Predictions for 2000 (yorktownhistory.org)
48 points by russell on Jan 1, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 30 comments

Wow, what a great read! It was interesting how many things they accurately predicted without (obviously) knowing what they would be called. All of these ideas were presented with none of these words:

  baby boom
  Panama Canal
  tract housing
  physical education
  Acela high speed train
  space shuttle
  satellite TV
  genetic  engineering
  cell phones
  Moog synthesizer
  air conditioning
  fast food

"Prediction #10: Man will See Around 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 a span. American audiences in their theatres will view upon huge curtains before them the coronations of kings in Europe or the progress of battles in the Orient. The instrument bringing these distant scenes to the very doors of people will be connected with a giant telephone apparatus transmitting each incidental sound in its appropriate place. Thus the guns of a distant battle will be heard to boom when seen to blaze, and thus the lips of a remote actor or singer will be heard to utter words or music when seen to move."

I wonder why he missed storage of information. Is that so much harder to imagine than transmitting it directly?

This was before Turing and von Neumann; it wasn't well established that everything is data and can be stored and manipulated in arbitrary ways. (Heck, phone companies have trouble with this concept today). They were extrapolating what they saw as the special cases of telephones and cameras and phonographs.

I think the big leap here for him was seeing live events vs. pre-recorded films. When these predictions were written, silent films would have been commonplace and live radio broadcasts weren't around. News would have been distributed via newspaper, sent world-wide by telegraph.

But the phonograph was around for 20 years or so. So there was some information storage, just not the concept of mass reproduction and distribution.

The phonograph and newspaper were forms of mass reproduced, widely distributed storage though. Most of their media at the time would have been from persistant storage of some form, created once and sold many times over (newspaper, records, player piano rolls, etc).

Cinema was already invented in 1900. Good guess with the electric stuff though.

Pretty much spot-on apart from the strange (and repeated) prediction of giant fruits and vegetables (I guess you could say the green revolution provided similar quantity, if not on a per-fruit basis) and the failure to predict the popularity of air travel.

My favorite swing and miss:

Prediction #3: Gymnastics will begin in the nursery, where toys and games will be designed to strengthen the muscles. Exercise will be compulsory in the schools. Every school, college and community will have a complete gymnasium. All cities will have public gymnasiums. A man or woman unable to walk ten miles at a stretch will be regarded as a weakling.

More or less a hit on the prevalence of gyms, total miss on the ramifications!

Not as much a miss as you portray, considering that: 1. It is mandatory at least one Physical Education class in public high schools (at least in Florida), and if I remember right, middle school as well.

2. Not only do colleges and universities have complete gymnasiums, many of them have enormous staudiums and fields.

The one miss that I do agree with is "A man or woman unable to walk ten miles at a stretch will be regarded as a weakling."

My son goes to a public middle school in Colorado, and each student only has Physical Education for half the year. They also only study foreign language for half a year. The two halves of the student body trade at mid-year. The academic schedule is too busy to allow for all-year PE and FL.

I expect PE to be uncommon some time soon-ish. Besides, PE is too hard when you're fat.

That's the big miss. The people from 1900 would be shocked at how fat we are, not how strong we are.

It is not as swing and miss if you remember that 1900s was the dawn of Eugenics (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eugenics) -- the selection and breeding of a superior humans, a country of healthy, youthful and perfect men and women...

We often forget that America and Britain were very much in love with Eugenics. Unfortunately that is probably not something included in the high-school history curriculum...

Search for footage of the controversial "Olympia" by Leni Riefenstahl it typifies the mood and the idea...

Yes that was the oddest one. It was odd to me as it seemed to be inspired by progress in agriculture, pestacides, farming practices etc... but they went (repeatedly) for size over quantity (which seems odd to us today).

the failure to predict the popularity of air travel

Considering that this was written two years before the Wright Brothers got their plane off the ground, it's understandable.

> "He will live fifty years instead of thirty-five as at present – for he will reside in the suburbs"

Clearly a fake article. Language is anachronistic. Also life expectancy in 1900 was not 35 years, but closer to 50:


Here's a scan of the original article, found by Googling the title:


This comment says that it's available on microfilm:


Here's a source article with more information:


My bad. Might be the only time my Snopes radar was off -- struck me as similar to some of those "faux old" articles.

Anyway, I'd delete my original comment, but evidently too much time has elapsed.

Serves me right for writing "Clearly" :)...Hopefully at least the life expectancy link in it was informative.

It was informative still- I was surprised that the average lifespan was only 45. It does make some sense I suppose: penicillin was still thirty years away and there wasn't a single vaccine yet.

The vaccine had been invented more than 100 years prior to 1900. I'm not sure how wide-spread they were at that point, but the vaccine was invented some time in the 18th century. Antibiotics -- you're right, not discovered yet in 1900.

I stand corrected. Wikipedia lists some interesting proto-vaccines in the 1800s and earlier (including one for smallpox). There was a major increase in the availability and breadth of vaccines in the 1900s, but a lot of groundwork was already laid before that. Thanks for the correction.

In fairness, I thought that when I read that line too - it seems almost too perfect. Goes to show that, despite all the quotes about world markets for five computers, sometimes yesterday's futurologists were right.

#2 ... He will live fifty years instead of thirty-five as at present

I didn't like mortality rates were that bad in 1900 USA.

Horrible chart junk, but credible domain ( http://www.nsf.gov/news/speeches/colwell/rc02_asm_keynote/sl... ) puts life expectancy in 1900 around 45 years.

"Prediction #16: ... Spelling by sound will have been adopted, first by the newspapers."

Language varies too much and too quickly. Wasn't that why we adopted spelling in the first place?

A spelling reform for the English language was probably the craziest prediction... :-)

Some languages, like Swedish and Finnish, had spelling reforms in the 19th century and are (more or less) trivial to pronounce from the spelling.

Today, it would be much, much harder to do a really big spelling reform even for Swedish which should be a fraction of the problem size for English. For a few generations you'd have to teach people to read/write both spelling standards. In the 19th century Sweden, most people only read a couple of religious books (they had to).

A spelling reform might be easy to do in a generation when the e-books have taken over. Just use automatic filters (not real translations -- grammar is the same) for English spelling standards in office programs, web browsers, etc.

Article editors will be as lax as today ... #13 == #26

"The trip from suburban home to office will require a few minutes only. A penny will pay the fare." Ha! That very well may have been true if we didn't wreck our economy with fiat currency.

What's a 1900 penny worth today? My commute is only a couple of bucks - with inflation considered, it might be close.

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