Reviewing Predictions of the year 2000 made in 1900 – Part 1 of 3

John Elfreth Watkins, Jr. made 29 predictions in 1900 of what may happen in the next 100 years. Here we will review what was right, what was too optimistic and what was too pessimistic.

Prediction #1: There will probably be from 350,000,000 to 500,000,000 people in America and its possessions by the lapse of another century. Nicaragua will ask for admission to our Union after the completion of the great canal. Mexico will be next. Europe, seeking more territory to the south of us, will cause many of the South and Central American republics to be voted into the Union by their own people.”

Wrong US Population was 281 million in 2000. Nicaragua had a population of 4.8 million. Mexico had a population of 100 million. So the population estimate (385 million) would have been correct if Nicaragua and Mexico had joined the USA.

Prediction #2: The American will be taller by from one to two inches. His increase of stature will result from better health, due to vast reforms in medicine, sanitation, food and athletics. He will live fifty years instead of thirty-five as at present – for he will reside in the suburbs. The city house will practically be no more. Building in blocks will be illegal. The trip from suburban home to office will require a few minutes only. A penny will pay the fare.

Correct, Underestimation of 1900 and 2000 for life expectancy, underestimate height improvement

They had an underestimation of the life expectancy at birth of someone born in 1900 but it was about right for someone born in 1880. Life expectancy is a lagging indicator, which is based upon the age of deaths of those dieing in the year born. This prediction was already baked in when it was made in 1900. Life expectancy was already almost 50. Another 28 years of life expectancy was achieved, which was more than the 15 year improvement from 1900 to 2000.

Life Expectancy at Birth in the United States

1880     39.4
1900     47.8   (gain to 50 year life expectancy by those born in 1905)
1910     53.1   
1920     54.1
1930     59.7
1940     62.9
1950     68.2
1960     69.7
1970     70.8
1980     73.7
1990     75.4
1998     76.7

Average Height of Native-Born American Men and Women by Year of Birth
Year Men Women Gain over avg of 1880 born (adult in 1900)

1870           67.4                     
1880           66.7
1900           66.9
1910           67.8                    1.1 inches (adult 1930)
1920           68.1                    1.4 inches (adult 1940)
1930           69.2          64.0      2.5 inches (adult 1950)
1940           69.6          64.2      2.9 inches (adult 1960)
1950           69.8          64.2      3.1 inches (adult 1970)
1960           70.0          64.6      3.3 inches (adult 1980)
1970           69.8          64.4      3.1 inches (adult 1990)

Prediction #3: Gymnastics will begin in the nursery, where toys and games will be designed to strengthen the muscles. Exercise will be compulsory in the schools. Every school, college and community will have a complete gymnasium. All cities will have public gymnasiums. A man or woman unable to walk ten miles at a stretch will be regarded as a weakling.

Correct, a gym in every school. Wrong about ten mile standard and about gymnastics in nursery (Little Gym is a niche)

Prediction #4: There Will Be No Street Cars in Our Large Cities. All hurry traffic will be below or high above ground when brought within city limits. In most cities it will be confined to broad subways or tunnels, well lighted and well ventilated, or to high trestles with “moving-sidewalk” stairways leading to the top. These underground or overhead streets will teem with capacious automobile passenger coaches and freight with cushioned wheels. Subways or trestles will be reserved for express trains. Cities, therefore, will be free from all noises.

Utterly Wrong

Prediction #5: Trains will run two miles a minute, normally; express trains one hundred and fifty miles an hour. To go from New York to San Francisco will take a day and a night by fast express. There will be cigar-shaped electric locomotives hauling long trains of cars. Cars will, like houses, be artificially cooled. Along the railroads there will be no smoke, no cinders, because coal will neither be carried nor burned. There will be no stops for water. Passengers will travel through hot or dusty country regions with windows down

Yes, there is high speed rail but not in the US and not from New York to San Francisco. Correct on shift from coal for trains.

Prediction #6: Automobiles will be cheaper than horses are today. Farmers will own automobile hay-wagons, automobile truck-wagons, plows, harrows and hay-rakes. A one-pound motor in one of these vehicles will do the work of a pair of horses or more. Children will ride in automobile sleighs in winter. Automobiles will have been substituted for every horse vehicle now known. There will be, as already exist today, automobile hearses, automobile police patrols, automobile ambulances, automobile street sweepers. The horse in harness will be as scarce, if, indeed, not even scarcer, then as the yoked ox is today.


Prediction #7: There will be air-ships, but they will not successfully compete with surface cars and water vessels for passenger or freight traffic. They will be maintained as deadly war-vessels by all military nations. Some will transport men and goods. Others will be used by scientists making observations at great heights above the earth.

Wrong. Air-ships refers to blimps. Loosening the definition to allow for airplanes. Still wrong. Airplanes compete for passenger and freight traffic

Prediction #8: Aerial War-Ships and Forts on Wheels. Giant guns will shoot twenty-five miles or more, and will hurl anywhere within such a radius shells exploding and destroying whole cities. Such guns will be armed by aid of compasses when used on land or sea, and telescopes when directed from great heights. Fleets of air-ships, hiding themselves with dense, smoky mists, thrown off by themselves as they move, will float over cities, fortifications, camps or fleets. They will surprise foes below by hurling upon them deadly thunderbolts. These aerial war-ships will necessitate bomb-proof forts, protected by great steel plates over their tops as well as at their sides. Huge forts on wheels will dash across open spaces at the speed of express trains of to-day. They will make what are now known as cavalry charges. Great automobile plows will dig deep entrenchments as fast as soldiers can occupy them. Rifles will use silent cartridges. Submarine boats submerged for days will be capable of wiping a whole navy off the face of the deep. Balloons and flying machines will carry telescopes of one-hundred-mile vision with camera attachments, photographing an enemy within that radius. These photographs as distinct and large as if taken from across the street, will be lowered to the commanding officer in charge of troops below.

Partially right if given slack. This is the retro-future of blimp/zeppelin military.

Not hardened fortifications although there are bunkers and allow forts on wheels to be a proxy for tanks

Prediction #9: Photographs will be telegraphed from any distance. If there be a battle in China a hundred years hence snapshots of its most striking events will be published in the newspapers an hour later. Even to-day photographs are being telegraphed over short distances. Photographs will reproduce all of Nature’s colors.

Correct. Underestimates live feeds

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