John Elfreth Watkins Jr.; The Man Who Accurately Predicted The Future In 1900
There are two accounts of the future from 1900, which vary wildly from each other. One was the 28 point article posted in the Ladies’ Home Journal, featuring the futurist meanderings of John Watkins, Jr. The other predictions came from the World’s Fair.
Both predicted the world before 2001. The latter is laughable, including the prediction that firefighters of the future would fly with bat wings, and humans would tame mammoth mutant seahorses for traveling the seas.
Thankfully, the predictions of the World’s Fair were as campy as the event itself.
Watkins’ predictions, however, are often bizarre in their accuracy, predicting with made up language for things he couldn’t have known.
Other predictions he made were hard to connect to anything, and there’s a few that sound more like wishful thinking than anything.
First, the mystery man…
John Elfreth Watkins Jr.
What we know about Watkins as interesting as what he said, but nowhere near as dense. We know he was born in 1875 to a civil engineer by the same name. That’s where the trail goes cold.
We know more about his father, Watkins Sr., who played a key role in preserving a Smithsonian treasure, the John Bull steam locomotive. When the Smithsonian opened in 1981, the John Bull became the country’s oldest operable steam engine.
It was, perhaps, Sr.’s interest in engineering that spurned the boy’s interest in mechanical matters. Watkins Jr. inherited the family fascination with how things work.
Also, considering Dad’s interest in trains, it stands to reason that the concept of building networks made the rounds of the Watkins’ home. Someone who thinks in these terms would see a networked future. We’ll come back to that.
Missed The Mark
Not everything Watkins predicted panned out. Some of the things he predicted were laughable, but not so laughable as the World’s Fair predictions.
“To England in Two Days.”
Watkins saw a faster future. He missed the mark the wrong way. Who could have imagined flying metal tubes? His predictions about fast ships describe what we now call hydrofoils, but we’ve never developed them for mass Atlantic crossings.
“Strawberries as Large as Apples,” and “ Peas as Large as Beets.”
Modern farming in 1900 had already produced some changes to produce as we knew it, but Watkins assumed there’d be no end to our size obsession. We have some exceptions, but most fruit, especially strawberries, remain about the same.
He also predicted we would grow flowers in any color or fragrance, that we’d farm oranges in Philly. We may yet, with genetic advances, but we weren’t there in 2001. We aren’t there today.
The predictions Watkins got right are downright eerie. There’s no way he could have predicted these by observing the progression of events. These read like he knew something he shouldn’t
“The American Will Be Taller.”
On average, males are 1.5 inches taller than the turn of the century, females about half an inch. Nailed it, Watkins. Most of these changes are due to improvements in nutrition, but how did he know?
“Hot and Cold Air from Spigots.”
Heating, ventilation & air conditioning are common in developed nations for controlling air temperature and quality. The air fills homes via spigots, otherwise known as vents. You can shut them off much like a spigot of the 1900s.
“Ready Cooked Meals will be Bought.”
Check. We’ve had T.V. dinners for decades. In more recent history, home food delivery services bring a week of fresh meals at a time.
“Man Will See Around the World.”
This one gave me the creeps. Yeah, this was long before T.V. They barely had radio and color photographs in 1900.
On that prediction, he goes on to say,
“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.”
That put my arm hairs on end.
A few of the predictions by Watkins fall into the category of, gee wouldn’t it be nice? These are the ones that should probably be true but just aren’t.
“Everybody will walk ten miles.”
People of today’s world definitely workout more than people of yesteryear, but that’s because we have to. In the 1900s, they called exercise living life.
Modern convenience has mandated gym memberships. The year 1900 was a more level playing field. Everyone had to walk and labor more to live, but modern times have made activity optional. Nobody has to exercise.
“No Mosquitos Nor Flies.”
Recently we’ve had to discuss the morality of eradicating mosquitos, as we face growing problems with disease spread by the little buggers. They are number one on the list of deadly species. Despite this, we still have ‘em, lots of ‘em.
“Automobiles will be Cheaper Than Horses.”
If buying cars were as stressful as buying cell phones, we’d be in big trouble, unless those cars were somehow good for the environment. Horses are a rough ride, slow and smelly, but they don’t give the environment such a hard time as our cars.
Watkins had an unnerving insight of the future, which only highlights the silliness of the World’s Fair predictions. In fairness to them, we did develop video communications, one of their predictions.
Other than that, they were so far off. They even mentioned flying cars; yawn.
Anyone who predicts flying cars, even today, is a fraud. It’ll never happen.
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