Some say the best way to learn about the future is by looking backwards. So, while everyone is rolling out their predictions for next year, I thought it would be amusing to look at how some predictions from the past panned out. One particularly ambitious prediction project was carried out during the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Leading thinkers of the day were asked to provide their predictions for what life would look like one hundred years hence, in 1993. Dave Walters collected these predictions in book entitled, "Today, Then."
Not surprisingly, almost all of the predictions dealt with raging issues or technologies of the day, such as woman's suffrage, the Panama canal, the government and legal system, the telegraph, railway travel, and something curiously called the 'servant's problem' (whatever that was). None of the predictors, which included statesmen, religious leaders, newspaper columnists, and the like, were able to predict the most significant 20th century events or developments. Missing was any mention of the television, atomic energy, world wars, the information revolution, global travel through high-speed aircraft, or space travel.
What did they predict? Here are some of the more amusing predictions:
- There will be far less money expended in electing officials. (Bill Nye—newspaper columnist)
- Women will never want the right of suffrage—that is, there will not be enough of them that want it to even encourage the menfolk to give it to them. (Bill Nye)
- Labor organizations will have disappeared. (T.V. Powderly—labor leader)
- There will be no rich or poor. (T.V. Powderly)
- The occult sixth sense will be the predominant element in medicine and theology. Mesmerism will take the place of anesthetics in surgery ... Clairvoyance or spiritual insight will be almost universal. (Ella Wheeler Wilcox—poet)
- Religion will cease to be a power in the world. (Miriam Leslie—businesswoman)
- Rail travel will reach 90-100 miles an hour (George Westinghouse—industrialist and Charles Foster—Secretary of the Treasury)
- Transcontinental mail will be forwarded by means of pneumatic tubes. (Felix Oswald—naturalist)
- Motion will supply light, heat and power, and there will be no waste of fuel. There will be no need for mortgages. One acre of arable land will support one person. Justice will be dealt to all alike. The daily toil will be limited to 4 or 5 hours a day. All willing hands will be employed. (W.A. Peffer—senator from Kansas)
- The delivery of mails and will rival the speed of the telegraph. It will be possible for businessmen in New York City and Philadelphia to communicate by mail during the their business hours as the merchants of each city can with each other. (Thomas L. James—U.S. postmaster general)
- The most honored American (now living) will be probably be (agnostic lecturer) Robert G. Ingersoll.—(Van Buren Denslow—attorney and nationally known columnist)
- American commerce, to a very large degree, will be confined to American waters. (William Elroy Curtis—journalist)
- Government will be completely divorced from ownership in railroads and telegraphs. (Michael D. Harter—congressman from Ohio)
- Law will be simplified and brought within the reach of the common people ... The occupation of 2/3 of the lawyers will be destroyed. (Thomas Dixon, Jr.—minister)
- All marriages will be happy—for the law will put to death any man or woman who assumes conjugal position without the proper physical, mental, and financial qualifications. (John Habberton—author and editor)
- Three hours will constitute a long day's work. And this will liberally furnish infinitely more of the benefits of civilization and the comforts of life than 16 hours' slavish toil will provide today.
So for those brave enough to have their predictions lampooned in a similar article 100 years from now (if articles will exist at all), I say, "Bring it on!"