“The Wonderful Future That Never Was”: What Previous Generations Predicted About Innovation

In the spirit of the coming holidays and the wishes for a happier future they conjure, here are 25 surprising, humorous or ironic predictions from the past, some of which didn’t quite turn out the way they were forecasted.

“The Wonderful Future That Never Was”: What Previous Generations Predicted About Innovation

In the spirit of the coming holidays and the wishes for a happier future they conjure, I thought it would be enlightening to share some past predictions of the future, especially some of those that didn’t quite pan out the way their forecasters envisaged. The predictions come from a wonderful book by Gregory Benford, The Wonderful Future that Never Was. The book chronicles predictions of the future taken from Popular Mechanics magazine throughout the 20th century.


Ignoring the obvious atomic-powered rockets, video phones, and cities of the future, here are 25 predictions I found most surprising, humorous, or ironic. To make it exciting, the predictions are listed without the year they were made. Try and match each prediction with a year it was made, from the list of years provided. You will find the answers at the bottom of this post. If you get more than 10 right, maybe you should contact Popular Mechanics and submit a few of your own predictions for the 21st century. Note: a year may be used more than once.

What innovations do you think will surprise us in the coming decades? Tell us about it in the comments.



1. A future skyscraper will have a climate of its own; it heating, lighting, and ventilating machinery will keep it at constant temperature.

2. Wireless telephones and televisions will enable their owners to connect any room to any room similarly equipped to hear and take part in the conversation as easily as if he put his head in through its window…there would be no more reason to live in the same city with one’s neighbor.


3. In the year 2000…in the home, electricity is used to warm walls and to cook.

4. In the year 2000, 5000 horsepower in terms of solar heat fall on an acre of the Earth’s surface every day. Many farmhouses in the future will be heated by solar rays and some cooking will be done by solar heat.

5. Within twenty years, more than half the population of the United States will be living in automobile trailers.


6. By the year 2000, wood, brick, and stone are ruled out [of building] because they are too expensive.

7. Dresses of asbestos that will be as lustrous as silk and will give long wear, with ease in cleaning, are predicted by a scientist.

8. Clothing made of aluminum will be in vogue with the near future.


9. By the year 2000, houses will be kept so clean by electronic dust and dirt traps that housecleaning will never be necessary. Dining room tables will quietly swallow dishes after a meal and transfer them to a dishwasher which will clean the dishes, dispose of garbage, stack and store eating utensils until the next meal-time.

10. 50 years hence…our milk and butter will be derived from kerosene instead of cows. Most other food will be served in concentrated or pill form.

11. Soon you may be sprinkling peanut butter on a slice of bread or munching a cookie that’s made from sawdust flour.


12. Radio delivery of facsimile newspapers directly into the home may be a reality in the near future.

13. By the year 2000, fast jet…mail-planes will make it so hard for telegraph companies all over the world to compete with the postal service that dormant facsimile-transmission systems will be revived.

14. Businessmen may soon be able to carry computers around their pockets to make lightning-fast calculations while away from their desks or office.


15. A majority of surgical operations of the future will be performed while the patient is conscious.

16. In the year 2000, it is no longer necessary to administer the purified extracts of molds to cope with bacterial infections.

17. In a few generations almost all persons will have brown eyes.


18. Travel between New York and San Francisco will be possible in an hour by trains traveling 2000 to 5000 miles per hour in a vacuum tube.

19. Transcontinental automobile trips are “destined to become a summer outing for the enthusiastic automobilists. It is likely, however that a person will not be over-anxious for more than one trip in a lifetime.”

20. Mapless driving: at the start of a trip a driver dials a code number into the car’s route guidance equipment which will provide routing instructions to the driver.


21. By the year 2000, supersonic planes cover a thousand miles an hour, but the consumption of fuel is such that high fares are charged.

22. Weathermen believe they can knock out a hurricane by cooling down the primary source of its awesome power.

23. By the year 2000, ways will be found to transmit information to the brain in such a way that loss of sight and hearing will not restrict one’s activities in any way.


24. It may be possible someday to insulate against gravity…motor-less aircraft may ride the skies and people may step out of skyscraper windows without falling.

25. In the year 2000, any marked departure from what your fellow citizens wear and eat and how they amuse themselves will arouse comment.



A. 1903
B. 1913
C. 1924
D. 1928
E. 1929
F. 1932
G. 1935
H. 1938
I. 1950
J. 1957
K. 1962
L. 1963
M. 1967



1B, 2F, 3I, 4I, 5G, 6I, 7E, 8E, 9J, 10D, 11K, 12H, 13I, 14K, 15C, 16I, 17D, 18I, 19A, 20M, 21I, 22L, 23J, 24E, 25I.

–Author David Lavenda is a high-tech product strategy and marketing executive. He also does academic research on information overload in organizations and he is an international scholar for the Society for the History of Technology. He tweets from @dlavenda.

[Image: Flickr user David J]


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.


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