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10 Failed Predictions for the 20th Century

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E.A. Weiss

By E.A. Weiss on January 23, 2012

And one brilliant one as a bonus…

In 1900, John Elfreth Watkins Jr. published an article in The Ladies’ Home Journal titled “What May Happen in the Next Hundred Years.” Below are excerpts from the article with comments from yours truly.

1. “There will probably be 350,000,000 to 500,000,000 people in America and its possessions by the laps of another century. Nicaragua will ask for admission to our Union after the completion of the great canal. Mexico will be next.”

This numerical estimate is not bad if you include the populations of Nicaragua and Mexico. That being said, those countries don’t even have football teams! How could they possibly be a part of the United States without a decent college basketball tournament?

2. “There will be no C, X or Q in our every-day alphabet. They will be abandoned because unnecessary.”

That’s quixotic!

3. “Hot or cold air will be turned on from spigots to regulate the temperature of a house as we now turn on hot or cold water from spigots to regulate the temperature of the bath.”

I don’t want to be a spigot bigot, but it’s called an air conditioner, Watkins. Or a heater. I think that’s pretty straightforward. Let’s move on.

4. “There will be no street cars in our large cities.”

And people will be civil and keep orderly lines while trotting on the sidewalk.

5. “Automobiles will be cheaper than horses.”

In 2006, a racehorse by the name of The Green Monkey sold for $16 million. The 2012 Koenigsegg Agera R has a 1,125-horsepower engine and can cost nearly $2 million — which means you’d get a much higher horse-dollar ratio with the car.

6. “A man or a woman unable to walk ten miles at a stretch will be regarded as a weakling.”

And everyone won’t be able to pick on them and call them names like Watkins the Weakling.

7. “There will be air-ships, but they will not successfully compete with surface cars and water vessels for passenger or freight traffic.”

People actually wondered whether an “air-ship” could win in a race against an automobile. Humans had always dreamed of flying, but when a machine came along and accomplished what most people in the history of the world would consider a miracle, everyone said, “But is it faster than a car?”

8. “There will be no wild animals except in menageries. Rats and mice will have been exterminated.”

My favorite menagerie is the New York subway system!

9. “A university education will be free to every man and woman.”

What are we, a bunch of socialists?

10. “Oranges will grow in Philadelphia.”

And a tree will grow in Brooklyn.

11. “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, thousands of miles at span.”

OK, fine, Watkins nailed it here.

E.A. Weiss is a writer in New York. Follow him around.


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