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The year 2000 illustrated in 1900 (publicdomainreview.org)
159 points by vibrunazo on July 31, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 84 comments

These are clearly supposed to be funny.

People in diving suits fishing for birds?

The school where books are ground up and electrified into pupils' heads?

A serious attempt to predict the future is a rare thing indeed, even on the part of science fiction writers, who are often more concerned with allegory and the exploration of ideas than with literally trying to figure out what the future will look like.

For my money one of the best "future visions" is Spielberg's Minority Report. Not for "pre-crime", but for the suburbs that still look like suburbs, the personalized advertising (perhaps a little extreme), and the general normality of the cities (aside from the silly vertical freeways). The future looks a lot like now - because buildings last a long time, and the landscape changes even less than that.

That's one of the things I love most about Children of Men. It's clearly meant to be a realistic portrayal of 2027 (given the circumstances of the setting). The movie was made in 2006, but the main character wears a London 2012 hoodie. The futuristic elements are extrapolated from real things - the advanced, high res computer screens, the stylization of the cars, etc.

To be fair, the illustrator(s) did get several trends right: industrialized farming and animal breeding, machine textile manufacture, RVs, classrooms full of kids with headphones in their ears, using computers on the toilet, battle cars (so disappointed we don't call them that), and airplanes that launch missiles.

They got aerial firemen right, too - it's routine to use helicopters and planes to fight large fires now. And the idea of automated electric mopping is so close to the Roomba I'll give it a pass.

The Scooba, also by iRobot, is a mopping version of the Roomba.

In general the artist seemed to be obsessed with flying machines and underwater breathing apparatus. I was going to remark how prophetic the SCUBA images were, but it turns out that practical SCUBA dates back at least to 1825.

Reminds me of a Wired magazine article from 1999 speculating on what the greatest invention of the 20th century was, and what the greatest invention of the 21st might be. One of the people interviewed suggested that in terms of inventions having an impact on everyday life, the greatest invention of the 20th century (which was a 19th century invention) was the bicycle and the greatest invention of the 21st would be (another 19th century invention) the telephone (because it was going to reach the other 75% of people who didn't yet have it thanks to cellphones).

Whoever that person was, 'e seems to have been spot on.

They got the whale-powered renewable energy trend right.

Aerial Police in the form of Predator Drones isn't too far off.

The one-man orchestra is today's dude with a keyboard that can easily play all the instruments of an orchestra.

Given that the gramophone and indeed talking pictures had already been invented I don't give them too much credit for this.

There would be a trend where people drawing the future tend to draw things they would want in the future. Which in turn society tends to build things they want. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts.

Not too many prophecies ended up being fulfilled from these illustrations, though.

...as well as GarageBand (A Well Trained Orchestra) and RV (A House Rolling Through The Countryside).

Though, that house looks a bit shady. I wonder if there's a meth lab in it...

Don't forget he correctly predicted the Roomba!

The also got tour buses right

All content is from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:France_in_XXI_Cen... , including the text. Only difference is that the images are shown in big size, not just as thumbnails (even then, they are just embedded images hosted at Wikimedia). There are more images at Wikimedia. Choose your path. :)

You can also view it on Wikimedia Commons as a slideshow, via an experimental interface: http://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=Category:Fran...

Commons is a bit messy, since it started with a focus on archiving and sorting images more than displaying them (except insofar as they're displayed in Wikipedia articles), so it's not surprising that third-party sites are re-presenting its content. And since its point is to collect freely licensed content and promote reuse, there's nothing wrong with that. But there's a bit more focus recently on making it directly browsable.

Slideshow gadget info: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Help:Gadget-GallerySlidesh...

Many people here don't get the ironic nature of these drawings.

So, sorry to unveil this fact to you: It was just for the fun. Teacher pushing books in the crusher to feed student earphones? Underwater flying? Flying cops? All this is funny speculation that has a single purpose: entertainment. It is just like drawings of Dubout, with a scifi theme instead of cats (and a lower artistic value).

So, in makes it even more surprising that it has some relevance to today's achievement. I would like to compare with serious "scientific" forecasts of the future at the same time. I would bet they weren't as accurate as these drawings.

The presentation and style are pretty tongue-in-cheek, but I don't think that diminishes the nature of these drawings a predictions of a potential future, especially since a lot of them represent developments that actually did occur over the course of the 20th century.

What strikes me as significant about the predictions, is, what has dictated our development is the kinds of materials we can produce, not necessarily the ideas behind what you can build from those materials. I realise the illustrations are flights of fantasy from the imagination.

However I wonder if you focus on the materials of the future you could make more accurate predictions.

For example carbon nanotubes is a material of the future (I've heard it said we could build a lift to the moon with carbon nanotubes).

Superconductivity, when we can make room temperature superconductive material, well blows the mind to think what you can make with that. Hover cars?

Wireless electricity, not strictly a material, but a game changer none the less.

You can't build a bridge to the moon because it orbits the earth once every 2 weeks or so, and the earth goes around in 24 hours. Either it would only sync up every 2 weeks, or the moon would be tethered to the earth's rotation :)

He is not talking about a bridge but a space elevator. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_elevator for more info - quite fascinating idea.

I think he means a space elevator:


No one could have predicted the horrors about to befall France in the 20th century...the bloom of her youth destroyed on the battlefields of the First World War, followed economic depression and then defeat and occupation by the Nazis. In many ways, the French nation died and never made it to 2000.

Except imperializing half of the world, being a member of G8, a nuclear superpower, and leader in a few major industries.

Sending you kind greetings from the champion country in getting screwed over in the last centuries.

I think OP was trying to remark that France now is nothing like the France the artist drew from in 1900. Which is true, but it's also true of every place on the planet. This speaks more to the resiliency of nations than anything else.

No place in Europe is now like it were in the 1900s, but France's Paris is pretty damn close ;)

We're doing fine, thank you.

On the how-manyth Republique, I think he means. "France" has been reconstituted (forgive the pun) since then.

Strange. Have you ever been to France?

France has been by far luckier than Poland.

historically, we have a tradition of being shit out of luck.

It would be interesting to read French "alternative history" science fiction about the France that could have been, rather than the France that is.

My first impression was: why so many underwater pictures? Did they figure we were running out of landmass? Or is it because the ocean was one of the frontiers associated with exploration?

Space travel wasn't really considered possible. Air travel was seen as a maybe but the first successful powered flight has not yet happened (or if someone had managed it by then, their achievement had not been widely reported).

The first practical small submarines were around on the early 1800s (man powered at that point) and there had been many advancements in underwater tech (including significant steps in individual breathing apparatus and practical powered sub-marine vehicles) in the late 1800s - so around 1900 the oceans were the next great frontier in the eyes of many of the people who were in a position to care about such things, particularly after the popular success of Jules Verne's "20,000 Leagues" and to a lesser extent other similar works.

This aspiration of the oceans as the next great frontier may also have been driven partly by the massive increase in demand for fuel over that century or two due to the industrial revolution: if you could find a massive source of useful fuel material in that great unexplored wilderness you could name your fortune.

lt;dr: around then, under-water was cool to the public (brought up in the industrial revolution & looking for the next exciting technological developments), potentially very important militarily, and seen as one of mankinds next big steps.

Air travel was seen as a maybe but the first successful powered flight has not yet happened

By 1900 there had been several successful experimental airships, and in 1900 the Luftschiff Zeppelin LZ1 launched. It would be another three years before the Wright Flyer flew though.


Ah, for some reason I had my history backwards and thought successful winged flight attempts came before Zeppelins had seen that much success. Thanks for the correction.

There's a lot of flying in these pictures.

Also posted this below, but:

I presume it's because underwater adventuring and photography was very new and exciting: http://www.culture.gouv.fr/culture/archeosm/archeosom/en/sca...

First underwater photography: http://iconicphotos.wordpress.com/2010/07/27/the-first-under...

I suspect it was because - in the days before powered airflight - sea travel was the most common form of long distance travel.

They did have a lot of flying pictures (which I found impressive), but missed that flying would diminish the importance of water transport for people.

The 2nd. Also, submersibles were becoming a big deal around then.

Did you notice there are only pictures of white people? (France still had a lot of colonies during the 1900's and traded actively around the world).

It would be interesting to see non-european predictions.

One can recite the old adage "Prediction is hard, especially about the future" and laugh at these. But one important lesson that they give is that how hard to break free from the constraints of current thinking to be totally innovative. Look at the floor cleaning robot depicted in "Electric Scrubbing" and compare with the Roomba. The robot is essentially a mechanical French maid (now, there's an interesting thought), i.e. the manner of cleaning is exactly the same.

Another example is "A Tailor of Latest Fashion" where what seems to be a steam engine powers an automatic dress maker.

Just interesting, nobody could ever imagine computers that fit in your hand. Everything there is about the physical tools, nobody imagined that tools would instead become intelligent.

Though absolutely no advancements in fashion :-)

If even the jump from the 80s to now has taught me anything, we, right now, are going to look ridiculous to people in 30 years, let alone 100.

When this stuff was posted three years ago on HN, there was a link to an interesting site that has many examples of future predictions http://www.paleofuture.com/.


I think we tend to quickly forget the motivations of creating these, because they are 100 years old. They appear to have commercial links-- so 'interesting' would probably have been a more important quality than honesty or in depth thought on the matter. For example, i don't believe anyone giving proper consideration in 1900 would believe we would be under the sea 'fishing' for seagulls.. it was just an interesting idea that would be possible.

If this were CNN today on a 2100 prediction HN would be all over it calling it populist/sensationalist/lazy etc.

I'm surprised they didn't guess 'wireless' a little more (the classroom) since radio was being invented at the time (even wireless headphones were almost technically possible with a crystal radio).

Google Books also archives many, many old Popular Science magazines. They have some wild predictions like planes towing trailers. [0] Quite an interesting read for the classic illustrations, DIY plans that are still useful today, chemistry experiments that would make the ATF and DEA blush, and of course the endless pages of ads peddling every contraption imaginable.

[0]: http://books.google.com/books?id=WCQDAAAAMBAJ&lpg=PA102&...

I found this also to be very beautiful: http://publicdomainreview.org/2011/08/23/space-colony-art-fr...

These is quite prescient, interpreted liberally:

* Very liberally, drive-through car wash * Air as a domain for combat * Commuter air travel * Aerial firefighting * Air mail * (okay, nobody's riding on seahorses) * Roomba * (okay, nobody's hunting seagulls) * Air traffic control * Mechanized farming * Spy drones * Mechanized animal processing * Automated goods fabrication * (okay, nobody's stealing eagle eggs) * (okay, nobody's riding fish) * Synthesizers * Mobile homes * Online education * Very liberally, drive-through car wash (again) * Tanks/armored vehicles * Bombers * (okay, nobody's playing sports underwater) * (okay, nobody's domesticating whales or commuting underwater)

Most of what they got right: things we do which are labor-intensive and could be automated

Most of what they got wrong: the value or cost of putting people under water, and the degree to which animals play a role in daily life

Back to the Future 2 was made in 1989 and hit on several things. Most predictions seem to think we'd all be in flying cars by now.



Why didn't this happen?

These were clearly made mostly-in-jest, however I was a little amused at the juxtaposition of archaic flying vessels together with personalized consumer-level air travel.

While we have long since passed the era of the Zeppelin, we're certainly nowhere near cruising along with air-taxis or wing/slash/jet packs.

I don't think the flying car or jetpack is really that crazy of technology. We can easily make quad-copters for personal transport. With enough investment, it could become a commodity good.

But, think about how bad the average driver is. Now realize that they're driving in two dimensions. What happens when you add a third? Terrible, terrible things. That's why we haven't invested in any infrastructure in flying cars, and without that infrastructure, it ain't gonna happen.

The "limited" creativity of its creator is very clear. He/She seems to be obsessed with either going in the air or going under water. I wonder whether this creativity was truly individual, and would a collective creativity been able to fathom the future to a better degree.

You can look at Jules Verne, who did also write about means of travel. And the most important visible innovations from that time are usually related to transportation. So I believe collectively transportation was the technology which captured imagination at that time.

Atop of this, it is really hard to sell postcards in which the bastard offspring of looms rule the world.

I agree. The lack of imagination is startling.

I think these illustrations hit closer to reality than the predictions from the sci-fi authors we just read about in the recent HN post "1987 Time Capsule Predictions by Sci-Fi Writers About 2012"

That reminds me of this book on life in 2010, written in the 70s, which is also great:


I'm wondering why they are so many pictures of underwater activities ?

I presume it's because underwater adventuring and photography was very new and exciting: http://www.culture.gouv.fr/culture/archeosm/archeosom/en/sca...

First underwater photography: http://iconicphotos.wordpress.com/2010/07/27/the-first-under...

Or the concept of multistorey building is not caught-on yet

It's not as though the Eiffel Tower was built in 1889 or anything...

it's not a multistorey building, it's a tall radio tower

Looking at it, the concept of a multi-story building must seem so alien and far-fetched as to naturally conclude the future is underwater.

Perhaps they suspected that we would run out of land by now.

Edward Bellamy wrote a book about 2000 in 1887 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Looking_Backward

The thing that always gets me about these old timey predictions, is while they are probably way far fetched from their perspective the reality seems to be even more incredible (jets flying faster than the speed of sound, as opposed to blimps). I think it really lends credence to the idea that humans think of technology in terms of a linear progression, but it's actually exponential.

Alberto Santos-Dumont flew his own personal dirigible balloon around Paris circa 1900 (see new post http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4317490). He was the only person to experience unrestricted personal urban airflight and is certainly a major inspiration for those illustrations here that depict air travel.

Reading articles like this makes me wonder, is there any "prediction" made by people today for, say, 100 years from now? I wonder how the future people would think about those "predictions" :)

Or, since I want to be alive to share the laugh, any prediction for year 2020-2050 made this year or last year?

Intel - the tomorrow project (http://www.intel.com/content/www/us/en/research/tomorrow-pro...)

> The Tomorrow Project explores our possible futures through fact-based, science-based fiction and video conversations with scientists and science fiction authors, legends and world renowned experts, passionate advocates and everyday people. Science fiction gives all of us all a language so that we can have a conversation about the future and these conversations make dramatic changes.

I thought it was interesting how it showed so many airplanes. A lot of them look like real planes and they use terms like "plane" and "helicopter." The first manned flight wasn't until 1903, but I guess it wasn't out of nowhere. The idea was "in the air" so to speak.

Site is down for me - here is the cached Google version:


We are about to accomplish most of the dreams they had about air travel. The only thing remaining is free Internet while on plane :) (I know it exists but very uncommon especially in Europe)

It is sad, I get excited whenever I see anything remotely Steampunk.

I was also going to make a similar comment, along the lines of "OMG, this is Steampunk porn!" or something, so that I don't think it's sad :)

On a more serious note, those images also reminded me of Hayao Miyazaki's work (http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/encyclopedia/people.php?id=5...)

kind of adorable... whatever we imagine life to be like in the year 2100, chances are we'll look just as silly in retrospect as these illustrations

edit: gracias

Actually, these pictures were only projecting 100 years forward, not 1,000.

Space Whales, according to Doctor Who.

Interesting that many of the illustrations were related to aviation- Aviation Police,Aerial Firemen or even Robbers.

How did they know so much about anime?

Summary: everything flies.

This.... this is beautiful

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