I was perusing a copy of the Ladies’ Home Journal from 1900, as I often do, when I happened upon “What May Happen in the Next Hundred Years,” an article by John Elfreth Watkins Jr.
Watkins was somewhat of a visionary — as many of his predictions about innovation and technology have become true in the past century. Some, not so much.
Let’s take a gander at what he predicted 120 years ago:
♦ “There will probably be from 350,000,000 and 500,000,000 people in America.”
Pretty spot on. As of 2020, the population of the United States was 331,000,000. But Watkins is referring to “America,” meaning the North American continent, which has a population of 579 million.
♦ “Photographs will be telegraphed from any distance.”
Watkins opines that “if there be a battle in China a hundred years hence, snapshots of its most striking events will be published in the newspapers an hour later. Photographs will reproduce all of nature’s colors.”
♦ “There will be no C, X, or Q in the every-day alphabet.”
Quite counterfactual and inexact.
♦ “Trains will travel one hundred and fifty miles an hour.”
Yep. There’s a bullet train in Japan that goes over 180 mph. And he also predicts that train “cars will, like houses, be artificially cooled.”
♦ “Automobiles will be cheaper than horses are today.”
Still waiting on this. He also stated that horses will be scarcer in the future than “yoked ox is today.” I will inform you of the veracity of that statement as soon as I find out what a yoked ox is, or was.
♦ “Everybody will walk 10 miles.”
He forecasts that “exercise will be compulsory in the schools. Every school, college and community will have a complete gymnasium.” Right. “A man or woman unable to walk 10 miles in a stretch will be regarded as a weakling.” Not exactly right.
♦ “Giant guns will shoot 24 miles or more, and will hurl anywhere within such a radius shells exploding and destroying whole cities.”
Yes, sir. He also forecasts submarines being used in warfare.
♦ “Americans will be taller by one to two inches.”
That’s actually accurate. He also astutely predicts a move of population from the city to the suburbs. “The trip to suburban home to office will require a few minutes only. A penny will pay the fare.” Not as astute.
♦ “Mosquitoes, house flies, and roaches will have been practically exterminated.”
Not just no, but never.
♦ “Persons and things of all kinds will be brought within focus of cameras connected electrically with screens at opposite ends of circuits.”
He foresees “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.”
So, that’s where Al Gore – a fellow Ladies Home Journal reader – got it from.
Furthermore, he said “wireless telephone and telegraph circuits will span the world.”
I couldn’t have predicted that 35 years ago.
There’s more. He also correctly anticipates the escalator, the use of alternate forms of energy, laser surgery, and the rise of supermarkets. No word about a pandemic that keeps us quarantined for months. Still, quite the prognosticator, this Mr. Watkins, who was an engineer and museum curator by trade.
Unfortunately, for him, there wasn’t a lottery in 1900.