A recent GQ thread asked whether an article from the Ladies’ Home Journal, concerning the “next hundred years” and purportedly written in 1900, was authentic. The answer was “yes”, and with that out of the way, the article provides grist for almost endless discussion.
Two items in particular caught my attention:
Besides the quaint usage of “menagerie” instead of “zoo”, this is fascinating for its matter-of-fact-ness. No wild animals–no big deal, nothing to see here, move on. “Rats and mice will have been exterminated”–and good riddance. The conservation ethos wasn’t quite there in 1900. Had the article been written ten or twenty years later, I suspect the author would see extinction as something to be lamented and prevented to the degree possible.
Spot on–and a prescient prediction to make in 1900, when sedentary urban lifestyles were just beginning to become a concern, and public gymnasiums were just beginning to open. (James Naismith invented basketball, to provide a winter gym activity, in 1891.) And yet–you can build the gyms, but you can’t force people to use them, and plenty of people in 2007 can’t walk ten miles!
I remember reading a similar article of predictions from about the same era, and one in particular that struck me as funny was the idea that milk would be so plentiful, we’d have a spigot for it in our homes. The hypothetical quote, I believe, was something like, “Mother, turn on the milk-drant and let it run a while until it is cold.”
Man, they really thought pneumatic tubes were the wave of the future, didn’t they? Tubes delivering mail over hundreds of miles… My wife works at a bank and can’t get the tubes that run 50 feet to the third drive-thru lane to work right.
J.E. Watkins was surprisingly prescient on various things, but missed out on two important things. He said “Automobiles will be cheaper than horses”, but didn’t understand the implications of almost everyone in countries like the US owning a car. And he missed out on air travel, thinking that the fastest way toi travel between New York and San Francisco would be by high-speed train, and between New York and Liverpool would be by “fast electric ship”. Of course, he was writing before the Wright brothers flew their first flying machine, and before Henry Ford started mass-producing cars.
(And he didn’t predict that people would have travelled to the Moon, and then stopped travelling there, by 2001: that would have been really hard to predict!)
But we have those - at least, we have strawberries as big as *their *apples, about three or four inches in diameter. And they suck. They’re mealy and tasteless; the small ones are sweeter. Our biggest apples are the size of their cabbages!
“A cantaloup will feed a family” caught my eye. How small were cantaloupes back then? (Or should it be, how big were the families?" Because I only buy one for my family, and it lasts for two “fruit courses” or deserts.
Ah yes, pneumatic tubes! I suspect they seemed futuristic because they were used so heavily in telegraph offices. Even in mid-century, the futuristic technology in Nineteen Eighty-Four involved pneumatic tubes. They just never quite scaled up to heavier objects, did they?