10 Predictions Made About the 21st Century From 50 Years Ago

asimov-future-predictions-6 (Image: via paleofuture.gizmodo.com)

While there’s no way we can really know what the future holds, that hasn’t stopped people from trying to make some guesses. The year 2000 was a magical, mystical number, and now that we’re a decade and a half into it, we should be on our way to making many of these predictions come true.


10. Arthur C. Clarke’s Vision of the 21st Century

2001-a-space-odyssey (Images: MGM via Wikipedia; Piers Bizony)

Arthur C. Clarke is the visionary best known for 2001: A Space Odyssey; it’s not surprising that he has a lot to say on what he thought was going to be happening in the year he so famously wrote about.

According to Clarke, predictions for the future are either way too conservative or way too unbelievable; the one thing that’s absolutely true about the future is that it’s a fantastic place. Developments in satellites and communication will make it possible to reach anyone, anywhere – even if you don’t know where, exactly, that “where” is. All places will be connected, business can be done anywhere at any time. Commuting will be replaced by communication, and cities won’t be necessary anymore.

Dolphins and apes will be engineered to become more useful, the next generation of domestic servants. (Clarke says we’re slacking a bit on that, and that all the animal assistance we have now was largely the result of our prehistoric ancestor’s efforts – so we’d better get cracking on that.)

Clarke also predicts that humans as they were in 1964 are little more than an evolutionary stepping stone, but not in the way Darwin was thinking. Biological evolution will all but cease with us, he says, and instead, we’ll give birth to a new kind of evolution: technological and mechanical evolution. Biological abilities won’t be obsolete, though, with developments in printing new knowledge and experiences directly onto the brain.

Deep freezing will be used to preserve people suffering from a disease or disorder that can’t be cured yet, thawed when there is a cure. He also sees deep freezing people in order to undergo journeys of thousands and thousands of years, exploring the distant corners of the galaxy. He also doesn’t buy into the idea of life in our solar system or on Mars, suggesting that going outside of our galaxy and meeting other life forms will be the next great adventure for the human race.

In 2001, Clarke very appropriately made some predictions for the next hundred years. In 2015? The quantum generator has given us complete control over all matter at the atomic level. In 2016, all currencies are rendered obsolete and, in 2017, Clarke turns 100 and stays at the Hilton Orbiter.

9. The Iron Boys of the Future

iron-boys-future (Image: paleofuture)

After the end of World War One, the entire world was faced with the harsh realities of what had been conflict on a global scale and causalities like no one had ever seen. People were definitely not optimistic enough to think that it really was the war to end all wars, and they started looking to the future. For them, it wasn’t a future free of conflict, but a future where robots would do all the fighting and human casualties would be non-existent.

Instead of doughboys, newspapers like the San Antonio Light ran news stories about how it would be the iron boys fighting our battles for us. The idea was massive throughout the 1930s, and the newspaper ran a series of illustrations showing just what the robot soldier would look like. Made even more eerie by their general, overall human appearance, the robots have machine guns for heads, cameras for eyes, and scouts had the capability to fly and record what was going on around them.

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And when the robots were damaged, it was envisioned that there would be special robot hospitals to replace whatever parts needed replacing, getting the iron boys back out onto the battlefield.

8. 1930’s Fashion Designers Predict Clothing Trends in 2000

In a pretty epic short film segment spotlighting the designs of fashion designers in 1930s, we get a look at what it was thought we were going to be wearing going into the new century.

One designer goes so far as to suggest that skirts will be a thing of the past, and women will be dressing in trousers. Several suggest that an outfit will be adaptable, changing from formal daytime wear to man-hunting evening wear with a few quick additions, subtractions or adjustments. One woman even has her own presumably battery-powered headlight, secured in her hair to help her find the right man. Dresses will be aluminum or made of netting, and some will even be climate-adjusting.

Shaving will be a thing of the past for men, along with ties and pockets. He will, however, wear his phone attached to his chest (we’ll give them points for that one), and carry a little pouch for his money, his keys, and candy for the ladies.

7. Issac Asimov

asimov-future-predictions-2 (Image: via paleofuture.gizmodo.com)

Asimov made some pretty reserved predictions for what was going to be coming in the next half a century and some he was spot-on about. He predicted that robots were going to be the thing, and while they’re without a doubt still up-and-coming, his thoughts on the idea of robots are a little more reserved than you might expect. He suggested that while they were going to be in every home, they were going to be rather large still, clumsy, and slow, a far cry from robots indistinguishable from real humans. He also predicted that robots were going to be taking over the jobs of people, a concept that’s still looming on the horizon.

asimov-future-predictions (Image: via paleofuture.gizmodo.com)

He also predicts online education, where students will learn through their televisions and through pre-recorded tapes rather than from real, live teachers. In the 1960s, the idea of learning from a person on the screen was so disturbing that the National Education Association officially declared that they had no plans to implement such a program any time in the future.

asimov-future-predictions-4 (Image: via paleofuture.gizmodo.com)

Other predictions he made were a little farther from the mark. Asimov stated that there were going to be moon colonies established by now, and car manufacturers were going to be creating special vehicles for us to purchase that were adapted specifically to lunar terrain. Glow panels on walls were supposed to be the thing to have in your house, creating colors, patterns and lighting based on a touch.

asimov-future-predictions-3 (Image: via paleofuture.gizmodo.com)

Kitchens were also supposed to be fully automated, and while we’re getting there, we’re not quite at his stage of creating instant meals from fully frozen foodstuffs.

6. The Associated Press’s Collection of Experts

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The Associated Press polled a series of experts on a variety of topics, and most of their predictions were either incredibly optimistic or incredibly dire.

They stated that a massive, globally ruling body – headed in large part by a benevolent United States – would be looking out for the best interests of up-and-coming nations. And in addition to some of the standard predictions about a more advanced home, there were also a couple rather non-traditional guesses that we only wish had come true.

The experts consulted by the Associated Press predicted that as America – and the world – got more and more accustomed to labor-intensive jobs, the work force would become even more of a well-oiled machine. Less class struggles would be taking place as all kinds of jobs became more accepted, and the benefits from these jobs would become more and more socialized. And, best of all, there were predictions of government’s limitation of the work week from anywhere between 35 and 20 hours a week.

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There was also supposed to be a resurgence of agriculture, not only with new, scientific advances in crop quality and consistency, but experts predicted that farmers would be producing much, much more food on less land; they also said that farmers would have greater security in the financial situations.

Medicine was supposed to make massive leaps forward, and they predicted the average life span of women rising to 80 years, and men rising to 75 years. Interestingly, they predict that cancer won’t be entirely cured, and baldness will present another challenge.

Their take on the 21st century woman is also pretty fascinating. Women will gain Amazonian stature, with the perfection of nutrition that maximizes muscle and minimizes fat. They were sure that they would be seeing women competing alongside men in all kinds of sports as well as in the business world. They even went so far as to suggest there just might be a female president.

5. President Harry S. Truman’s Predictions for 2000

president-truman-plan-for-the-future-3 (Image: German Federal Archives, cc-sa-3.0 DE)

The nation had just been through two world wars and a depression – things were tough all over the globe. So perhaps it’s not surprising that President Harry S. Truman saw the need for a little optimism in his predictions for the year 2000.

He saw world peace, and a world that had harnessed – and agreed upon – control over atomic power and nuclear weapons. Communism would fall, not because of war but because they would see the way. The U.N. would be a successful, peace-keeping organization, and the U.S. would be there to lend a helping hand to any nation that needed it.

president-truman-plan-for-the-future-2 (Image: whoever, whomever, cc-nc-4.0 – READ FULL ARTICLE HERE)

The distribution of wealth would become more fair; standards of living would be up, the middle class would be making more, and farmers would be supported by government plans to reward them for their labors. There would be no more monopolies, taxes would be fairly charged, insurance and benefits for workers would be better. (Full article here.)

4. Waldemar Kaempffert, New York Times

Waldemar-Kaempffert-future-miracles (Image: Popular Mechanics via Modern Mechanix)

The science editor for the New York Times in 1950, Kaempffert uses the imaginary family of the Dobsons to illustrate what he thinks life will be like in the year 2000. They live in Tottenville, a super-green, super-clean city where it’s a crime to burn coal or pollute the air. There’s double-decker highways, everything is run off solar power, homes are mass-produced, incredibly affordable and highly economical.

Everything in the home is synthetic, waterproof, and washable with a hose. Food is delivered in brick form, and it’s cooked on electric stoves in a matter of a few minutes. Everything is recycled and some things, like wood pulp, sawdust, table linens and (for some reason) underwear is processed and turned into candy.

Waldemar-Kaempffert-future-miracles-2 (Image: Chesley Bonestell/Popular Mechanics via Modern Mechanix)

He also says that advances in technology will allow for the creation of a weather forecasting machine that is capable of predicting the weather with complete accuracy for 24 hours in advance. With this ability, mankind can ensure that storms and disasters are diverted before they happen.

He does get a few things amazingly right. Kaempffert sees a world where businessmen hold conferences with colleagues on the other side of the world, all through telephones and televisions with screens and the power to broadcast picture as well as sound. His fictional Mrs. Dobson does all her shopping through the same interactive television screens, browsing the wares of department stores without ever leaving her home.

3. The Ladies’ Home Journal, Predictions for 2000 from 1900

ladies-home-journal-future-predictions (Image: credit)

Making predictions for 50 years in the future is hard enough, and taking on a whole century is just ambitious – that’s exactly what an article in a 1900s edition of the Ladies’ Home Journal did.

The alphabet was going to look quite a bit different – spelling words phonetically was going to be the next big thing, and three useless letters – X, Q, and C – were going to be removed from the alphabet. And where were you going to be learning about this new type of alphabet? Free schools and universities, where anyone could receive a quality education for no cost. These free schools would also makes sure their students were properly fed, received medical, dental and eye care, along with rides to and from school, all at no charge.

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The natural world was going to look pretty different. Roses were to come in blue, black and green, and they were going to be as large as cabbages. Peas would be as big as beets, strawberries the size of apples, and all animals raised for food were to have been raised to their non-essential parts (horns, lungs, and bones) were smaller so nutrients and resources weren’t diverted from the parts that we eat. Wild animals would be a thing of the past, horses made all but extinct because of the popularity of the car, and men and women alike would think nothing of walking anywhere they needed to go under ten miles. (Read full article.)

They also predicted mobile forts and aerial ships, along with the ability to beam images, message and music around the world with no wires.

2. Robert Heinlein

Robert-Heinlein-predictions (Image: via io9)

Robert Heinlein also put forward a series of predictions for the future in 1952. For him, the 21st century was going to be a place where you could step out of your front door and head off to another planet, with mass transit extending to interplanetary travel. We’ll have thoroughly explored our solar system and be building ships that can go even farther, we’ll have met intelligent life on Mars, and we’ll be able to travel even the shortest terrestrial distances in the blink of an eye.

He also talks about social changes; he says that new advances and changes in the idea of contraception will completely change the male-female dynamic, and psychology will become a concrete, measurable, more scientific endeavor. He also says that modern art will disappear and become a tool of the psychologist. Diseases like cancer and the common cold will be non-existent, and houses will look so incredibly different that the house of the 1950s will look archaic in comparison.

Robert-Heinlein-predictions-2 (Image: Popular Mechanics via Wikipedia, public domain)

There was one prediction that was pretty incredibly spot-on, though. Heinlein said that phones were going to be small enough to fit in a purse, while they were also able to answer simple questions and transmit video images as well as sound.

He stressed that there were a few things that we were just never going to get, including time travel, faster than light travel, robots indistinguishable from humans, life created in a lab and, sadly, an end to war.

1. The Saturday Evening Post’s Predictions for the Home of 1950

saturday-evening-post-future-predictions (Image: Saturday Evening Post)

As we’ve said, predicting the future is tricky business. It’s easy to scoff at the rather idealized version of the 21st century that some people had, but perhaps more enlightening is if we backtrack even further. In 1900, the Saturday Evening Post ran a full-page article predicting what life was going to be like in the average home in the year 1950.

In 1900, people were imagining a world where the interior temperature of your home could not just be regulated, but could be set at a particular temperature to ensure that you were never too hot or too cold. Homes would be equipped with the ability to not only produce heat, but to produce cooler air in the hot months. Light bulbs are no longer bare and glaring, but pleasantly covered to give off a diffuse light capable of lighting the entire room instead of just one point, and they’ll even have the capability of turning on by themselves when it gets dark.

Food packaging is insect-proof, and cold storage cabinets mean food stays fresh for longer. Kitchens are no longer the dirtiest place in the home, there’s no more smoke or ashes, no smell from the wood fire – not with the new electric stoves and gadgets like the automatic egg-beater. In fact, electricity is used for everything in the home – it keeps the house warm and cool, it runs a sewing machine, and it even provides a regular, predictable current to warm the curling iron of the house’s young daughter.

saturday-evening-post-future-predictions-2 (Image: Saturday Evening Post)

More modern modes of transportation – the automobile – have replaced horse-drawn carriages, and in doing so, the streets are cleaner and all but bug-free. There’s no more street filth, and in fact, with the advent of more hygienic, above-ground homes, families don’t keep cats to get rid of the mice, but instead raise mice to feed the cats!

Looking at the number of predictions made during the middle of the century that today go unfulfilled can be a little bit more than depressing. There’s so many amazing ideas out there, and so many that we’re so far away from…. but looking at the predictions for the amazing, heaven-on-earth that they believed 1950 held truly makes us realize the true nature of the paradise around us today.

Keep reading – enjoy more articles from our History category here.


About the author: Debra Kelly




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