Looking Forward by Looking Back – Predictions for 1993… From 1893

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. Leading thinkers in 1893 were asked to provide predictions for what life would look like in 1993. Here are some of the funnier ones.


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

  • 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
  • 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!”


About the author

A technology strategist for an enterprise software company in the collaboration and social business space. I am particularly interested in studying how people, organizations, and technology interact, with a focus on why particular technologies are successfully adopted while others fail in their mission. In my 'spare' time, I am pursuing an advanced degree in STS (Science, Technology, and Society), focusing on how social collaboration tools impact our perceptions of being overloaded by information. I am an international scholar for the Society for the History of Technology.