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"The future ain't what it used to be." - Yogi Berra

This time of the year there are lots of predictions about what will happen in the next year. But how good would you be at predicting what will happen 100 years from now?

In December 1900 John Elfreth Watkins, Jr. wrote an article for Ladies Home Journal entitled "What May Happen in the Next Hundred Years." Watkins, whose father was a curator of technological collections at the U.S. National Museum (now the Smithsonian), was a journalist and about 30 years old when he wrote this article. He wrote for both the Saturday Evening Post and the Ladies Home Journal. Watkins based his predictions on interviews with, in his words, "the wisest and most careful men in our greatest institutions of science and learning."

So how well did he do? In some cases surprising well. Here are some of the things he got mostly right:

  • Americans will be taller by one to two inches. The average American male in 1900 was about 66-67 inches - in 2000 the average height of the American male was 69 inches.
  • There will be no C, X,or Q in our alphabet. English will be a language of condensed words expressing condensed ideas. C. X and Q are still in the alphabet but text messaging and twitter have definitely changed our use of language and have condensed spelling. IMHO.
  • Hot or cold air will be turned on from spigots to regulate the temperature of a house. Rising early to build the furnace will be a task of the olden times.
  • Photographs will be telegraphed from any distance. Photographs will reproduce all of nature's colors.
  • Wireless telephone and telegraph circuits will span the world.
  • Fast-flying refrigerators on land and sea will bring delicious fruits from the tropics and southern temperate zone within a few days.
  • Man will see around the world. Persons and things of all kinds will be brought within focus of cameras connected electrically with screens at opposite ends of circuits.
  • The living body will to all medical purposes be transparent. Not only will it be possible for a physician to actually see a living, throbbing heart inside the chest, but he will be able to magnify and photograph any part of it.

Some things he didn't get quite right:

  • Mosquitoes, house-flies and roaches will have been practically exterminated.
  • Food will be served hot or cold to private houses in pneumatic tubes. Pneumatic tubes instead of store wagons, will deliver packages.
  • Strawberries as large as apples will be eaten by great-great-grandchildren for their Christmas dinner. Raspberries and blackberries will be as large.
  • Nicaragua will ask for admission to our Union after completion of the great canal. Mexico will be next.

Well you can't get everything right. I'm still waiting for my jetpack.

Happy New Year!

Written by Mary on December 17, 2012


james on December 27, 2012


Interesting post, Mary. Sort of bummed the pneumatic tube and apple-sized blackberries didn't come to fruition.

Frank Wilmot (… on December 27, 2012


Wow!! He saw wireless huh? Very cool. I'm trying to imagine actual refrigerators flying around outside. :-) Thanks Mary!

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