Mail via pneumatic tube? Weather control? A three-hour workday? These sound like futuristic predictions straight from the 1950s and ’60s. But proving yet again that there’s nothing new under the sun, these predictions are actually over a century old. And unlike the more libertarian-tinged versions of these ideas that would emerge after World War II, those at the turn of the 20th century were firmly rooted in lefty politics.
The January 6, 1910 Cedar Rapids Evening Gazette in Iowa published a list of things that they believed humanity would achieve during the century. The paper had its fair share of hits (“animated pictures, transmitted by wireless” sure sounds like TV to me) as well as misses (we’re still waiting on that cure for cancer) but it provides a fascinating snapshot of a generally optimistic era. Well, optimistic for those with a particular political worldview.
Predictions like nationalising the banks, giving women the vote, mandating universal education through high school, and establishing complete “government control of corporations” were only popular amongst people with certain political leanings — progressives, socialists and other weirdos who wanted to do things like “emancipate wage slaves” and “live to be 60 years old.”
The complete list from the Cedar Rapids Evening Gazette appears below, strange grammar and all.
- Cure for cancer.
- Discovery south pole.
- Prevent or cure insanity.
- Influence sex by parental treatment.
- Create living organisms by artificial means.
- Phonograph records substitute for letter.
- Rationing clothing reform, health, comfort, durability only considerations
- Settle question of communication with Mars. Wonderful astronomical discoveries.
- Power of mind over matter a practical science devoid of superstitious elements.
- United States constitution rewritten, providing improved means for conservation of original democratic principles.
- Marvellous progress in transportation, largely aerial; airships and dirigible balloons crossing oceans and continents in remarkable time. Racing planes make five miles per minute. Inland waterways carry slow freight by improved methods. Monorail supplants two tracks. Electricity replaces steam. Convenient, economical city traffic system broadens city areas, opening suburban lands to householders. Pneumatic tubes for mails and express. Horses curiosities. Automobiles relegated to short distance burden bearing. Ocean steamers for freight, improvement toward speed rather than size.
- Produce rainfall at will.
- Temper gold and copper.
- Roads of nation paved.
- Conservation of sun’s heat and power.
- Cure for and elimination of tuberculosis.
- Development psychic research with fraud eliminated.
- Movements for universal language, universal religion, universal money.
- Non-existence of blindness by eliminating causes except accidents.
- Construction largely of concrete and metal or newly discovered materials.
- Electricity will move world’s wheels. Later radio-activity may substitute.
- Terrors of war so multiplied by death dealing inventions, chances of war minimized.
- Utilisation of all energy, reducing consumption of wood and coal. Many fuel substitutes.
- Population of United States based on present ratio of increased, 1,317,547,000 at opening of 20-first century.
- Rational diet with greatly reduced consumption of matter with increased nourishment from proper mastication and choices of foods.
- Machinery largely substituting manual energy, will promote pursuit of finer arts and sciences; give ample opportunity for relaxation and amusement; emancipate wage slaves. Three-hour work day predicted.
- Sea water for irrigation.
- Photographs in natural colours.
- Women’s political equality.
- Government control of corporations.
- Animated pictures in natural colours, transmitted by wireless.
- Substitution of heavier metals with aluminium, etc.
- Natural colours reproduced in newspaper pictures.
- Reduction of elimination all forms of gambling, including stocks.
- General acceptance of public ownership or control of public utilities.
- Government operation banking system, elimination of private banks. Postal savings banks.
- Moral, intellectual and economical awakening in dark sections of Africa, China a world power.
- Beautiful and healthful cities, offering with homes and work places all forms of free amusement, culture and recreation.
- Greater premium on brains with corresponding decreased in respect for position not gained by individual achievement.
- Revision judicial system, deciding causes on improved scientific plan, insuring equal justice. Pathological and psychological treatment for criminals. Crime reduced.
- Due to universal education, with special reference to hygiene, doctors and drugs be largely eliminated; average age to be near 60 years; men taller, stronger, higher intelligence and morals.
The futuristic list was popular enough that it showed up in other newspapers around the region in 1910, like the Bedford Daily Mail in Indiana and the Waterloo Times Tribune in Iowa.
Some of the predictions feel obvious, but we have to remind ourselves that this is only through the benefit of hindsight. For instance, the prediction that the country’s roads would be paved may seem like a layup until you realise that America’s modern highway system was an incredible engineering feat that took decades of planning, the effort of tens of thousands of people, and enormous amounts of money.
Whether it’s equality for women, establishing child labour laws, or even developing medical advancements, futurism of the late 19th and early 20th century was almost always political. But it’s fascinating to study the history of futurism and see how politically radical and wildly futuristic ideas can become obvious human rights we can take for granted after the passage of enough time.
Image: Scanned postcard of Boston in the future circa 1910