Predicting the future



As the Disaster Guy, I’m often asked if I have any predictions for the future. The answer? If I knew what the future will be, I’d prepare specifically for that.

The December 1900 issue of the “Ladies Home Journal” had an article by John Elfreth Watkins, Jr., titled “What May Happen in the Next Hundred Years.” I’ve copied some of his predictions and what actually did happen.

-“There will probably be 350 million to 500 million people in America.” Well, there were 76 million Americans in 1900, and the total U.S. population grew to 325 million in 2016.


-“The American will be taller by from 1-1/2 to 2 inches.” Big miss here! In 1900, men averaged 5’6” and women 5’2-1/2” tall. Today, men average 5’10” tall and women 5’3”. Men are four inches taller!


-“The American will live 50 years instead of 35 as at present.” Today the average American lives 78.8 years, more than twice as long as in 1900.


- “A man or woman unable to walk 10 miles at a stretch will be regarded as a weakling.” The best estimate of how far an average American can walk today is five to seven miles. By the 1900 standard, we’re almost all weaklings.


- “Trains will run two miles a minute, normally; express trains 150 mph.” In 2016, Union Pacific trains averaged 26.6 mph. Passenger trains travel 80 mph. No high-speed rail here yet.


-“Automobiles will be cheaper than horses are today.” Horses cost an average of $70 in 1900. Prices have gone up 2,800 percent, so the 1900 horse would cost $1,960 today. A cheap new car is $14,000.


-“There will be airships, but they will not successfully compete with surface cars and water vessels for passenger or freight traffic.” Mr. Watkins knew about balloons, but he never anticipated speedy airplanes.


- “Persons and things will be brought within focus of cameras connected electrically, thousands of miles at a span.” This sounds like television to me.


- “Mosquitoes, horse flies, and roaches will have been practically exterminated.” Unfortunately, no one told these insects about this prediction. There are probably fewer horse flies, because there are fewer horses.


-There will be no C, X, or Q in our everyday alphabet. Spelling by sound will have been adapted, first by the newspapers.” Except for the increase in the number of new words since 1900, American spelling has been quite consistent.

- “The very poor will, when necessary, get free rides to and from school and free lunches between sessions.” You nailed it, Mr. Watkins!


- “Wireless telephone and telegraph circuits will span the world. A husband in the middle of the Atlantic will be able to converse with his wife sitting in her boudoir in Chicago.” It’s possible today to speak to almost anyone, anywhere in the world. But does Chicago still have boudoirs?


- “Ready-cooked meals will be bought from establishments similar to today’s bakeries at a price much lower than the cost of individual cooking.” Today’s grocery stores stock convenience foods, ready-to-eat foods, as well as roast pork and chicken, and TV dinners.


-- “Pneumatic tubes, instead of store wagons, will deliver packages and bundles.” The 3-inch diameter pneumatic tubes at drive-in banks are about the only modern example of this prediction. We’d need 8-inch diameter tubes to get a roast chicken from store to home. The technology would be expensive.


- “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. This work will be done with rays of invisible light.” I’ll bet that sounded far-out in 1900, but we take it for granted today.


In 1900, Mr. Watkins made predictions that must have seemed almost impossible, though many of them happened. Can you imagine what life will be like in 2118?

I think that as our society becomes more complex and more interconnected, it also becomes more fragile. One answer, I think, is to be as self-reliant as possible and to make preparations for a rainy day. My great-grandparents did that, and they survived tremendous difficulties. People were better prepared back then, because they had to be.

Hopefully these predictions from 1900 will make you think about where our future is going. No one knows for sure. My answer? Hope for the best, prepare for the worst, and expect the real thing will be something in the middle.

I always recommend that you prepare for the worst, because it’s so much nicer when life doesn’t turn out as bad as you anticipated. More information on preparing for emergencies and surviving a disaster is on the website