More Predictions From the Past: “Oranges will grow in Philadelphia”

In my continuing examination of the way people of the past predicted the future, here is yet another look at some interesting forecasts from long ago.
Why am I blogging about this? Because, as an author of historical fiction I sometimes wonder what my characters thoughts might be about the future. What kind of world do they envision? What will life be life 100 years hence? How will things like communication and transportation change? What of society, morality, conflict and warfare?
I think adding those kinds of observations to characters in historical fiction novels adds another dimension to their personas. For one thing, all of us wonder at one time or another what the future will bring. Why not the characters we create in our historical novels?
Recently someone sent me an electronic copy of a Ladies’ Home Journal article from 1901 that talks about future predictions–what the world will be like in the year 2000, just 14 years ago.
Here’s a summary of those predictions. Enjoy:
·       There will be 500 million people in the USA. (Close, but no cigar. There are 317 million of us in a world population of 7.1 billion)

·       The average American will be 1 – 2 inches taller because of better health due to reforms in medicine, sanitation, food and athletics. (Well done. The average height of American males in 2014 is 5 ft 9.5 in and 5 ft 4 in for females. In 1900 it was 5 ft 7.5 for men and 5 ft 2 in for women. Science says a better diet, better health care, better sanitation are all contributors)

·       The letters “C”, “X” & “Q” will be abandoned from the alphabet because they are unnecessary. (The last time I looked those letters were still in the alphabet–and quite necessary)

·       Hot and cold air to heat/cool a house will come from spigots. (We call them vents today and yes, most homes are heated and cooled by forced air HVAC systems)

·       Mosquitoes and flies will be essentially extinct. (Sigh, not quite. The pesky insects are still with us.)
·       Foods will not be exposed to air prior to being sold and storekeepers who do expose them will be arrested. (Well, if not arrested, then fined by health and food inspectors–IF they are doing their jobs)

·       Coal will not be used for heating or cooking. It will be scarce but not exhausted. (It is neither scarce nor exhausted and it is still used to power electrical plants. So in that respect, this prediction is off the mark–though few, if any, folks use it as fuel for stoves and ovens.)

·       No more streetcars in cities. (This is pretty accurate, though some cities are bringing these once ubiquitous urban conveyances back).

·       Photographs will be telegraphed from any distance (same day publishing) and will be in color. (Very prescient calculation)

·       Trains will go 150 MPH. (NOT in America, sadly. But in Europe and Japan they do)

·       Automobiles will be cheaper than horses. (Hmmmm. Not true UNLESS you are talking about a stable of Kentucky Derby winners)

·       Everyone will walk 10 miles. A man or woman who cannot walk 10 miles will be considered a weakling. (I would wager that not everyone in today’s world can walk 10 miles. Weaklings, I am afraid, abound)

·       You will be able to travel from the USA to England in 2 days. (How about in just a few hours? An unfathomable concept back in 1901)

·       There will be airships. (There will be, but most today are seen hovering over football stadiums)

·       There will be aerial warships and forts on wheels. Fleets of airships, hiding themselves in dense smoky mists, will float over cities and hurl deadly thunderbolts onto unsuspecting foes below. Giant guns will shoot 25 miles or more and destroy entire cities. (Airships no, but squadrons of stealth bombers and fighters capable of launching nuclear weapons that can destroy entire cities are here)

·       There will be no more wild animals, except in menageries. The horse will have become practically extinct. Food animals will be bred to expend practically all of their life energy in producing meat, milk, wool and other by-products.  (While the prophet here was wrong about wild animals and the horse, he or she was fairly accurate about domestic animals. Not a pleasant existence for many of today’s domestic animals)

·       Telephones will be everywhere.  (Yep…everywhere…and are we better for it? That is up for debate.)

·       Grand Opera will be telephoned into private homes. (I assume this prediction is not about the Grand Ole Opry. In any case, music of all kinds is indeed in our homes–via cable, satellite, etc.)

·       Store purchases will be made by “tube”. Pneumatic tubes, instead of store wagons, will deliver packages and bundles. The same for mail. Fast automobiles will distribute purchases from house to house. (Hmmm. Was this person envisioning Fedex, UPS, etc? Possibly. But thank God the pneumatic tube idea never came to pass. Can you imagine a city linked by millions of pneumatic tubes whisking refrigerators and flat screen TVs from Best Buy or Costco in giant tubes of forced air? I think I would rather live in the Amazon basin)

·       Strawberries will be as large as apples. (Why? Will they taste better? I don’t think so.)

·       Roses will be as large as cabbage heads and come in many colors, such as black, blue and green. (I have nothing against multi-colored roses, but why as large as cabbage heads? Will they look better? I doubt it. Who wants a black rose?)

·       Oranges will grow in Philadelphia because science will have discovered how to raise in cold climates many fruits now confined to much hotter climates. (Was this person envisioning “hot house” vegetables and fruit that have little or no flavor?)

·       Few drugs will be swallowed or taken into the stomach. Drugs needed for the lungs, for instance, will be applied directly to those organs through the skin and flesh. They will be carried with electric current applied without pain to the outside skin of the body. 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…via rays of invisible light. (This prediction is really quite amazing. Almost everything it suggests is fact today.)

·       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 a span. American audiences in their theaters will view upon huge curtains before them the coronations of kings in Europe or the progress of battles in the Orient. (Another prescient forecast, possibly foreseeing satellite TV broadcasts that we take for granted today.)

·       A university education will be free to every man and woman. Poor students will be given free board, free clothing and free books if ambitious and actually unable to meet their school and college expenses. The very poor will, when necessary, get free rides to and from school and free lunches between sessions. In vacation time poor children will be taken on trips to various parts of the world. Etiquette and housekeeping will be important studies in the public schools. (Interesting ideas…some of which have indeed been adopted. I am not so sure about those etiquette and housekeeping classes though.)

So what do you think? How accurate was the Ladies’ Home Journal of 1901? I give them an “E” for Effort.

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