For thousands of years, people have been attempting to predict the future. Yet even masters of foresight—such as Nostradamus—have been at best vague, and at worst, dead wrong.
Determining the accuracy of long-ago predictions not only tells us about the historical context of people who lived many years ago, but also may hold clues about what will happen in the future. Help students use critical thinking to imagine what was in the minds of early 20th-century people, and to predict what the future might hold.
Grade Level: 5-12
Student learning objectives
Students read predictions (made by people in the early 20th century) of what they thought life would be like in the year 2000. Kids compare the predictions to what actually happened and speculate about what will happen in the future.
Familiarize yourself with several predictions—made by people in the early 1900s—of what life would be like in the year 2000. The following predictions were originally published by The Yorktown Historical Society and were taken from the December 1900 edition of the Ladies’ Home Journal and a collection of French prints referenced in the Paleo Future Blog:
Everyone will want to be an American.
“There will probably be from 350,000,000 to 500,000,000 people in America. Nicaragua will ask for admission to our Union after the completion of the great canal. Mexico will be next. [After having joined the Union,] 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.”
We will be a society of physical specimens.
“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 10 miles at a stretch will be regarded as a weakling.”
We’ll slaughter all the horses.
“No mosquitoes nor flies. Insect screens will be unnecessary. Mosquitoes, house-flies and roaches will have been practically exterminated. Boards of health will have destroyed all mosquito haunts and breeding-grounds, drained all stagnant pools, filled in all swamp-lands, and chemically treated all still-water streams. The extermination of the horse and its stable will reduce the house-fly.”
Students will learn from special headpieces.
Imagine if lessons involved throwing books into a special machine that transmitted knowledge directly into students’ brains.
We’ll send photos over long distances.
“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 today, photographs are being telegraphed over short distances. Photographs will reproduce all of Nature’s colors.
Telephones will be able to call around the world.
“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. We will be able to telephone to China quite as readily as we now talk from New York to Brooklyn. By an automatic signal, they will connect with any circuit in their locality without the intervention of a ‘hello girl’.”
People will use Skype-like communications.
“Known at the time as ‘correspondence cinema,’ this was a steampunk version of video conferencing. Each participant in the conversation viewed his partner on a large movie screen while speaking into a phonograph-type device. A second person operating a telegraph-like device was also necessary.”
We will create genetically engineered food.
“Strawberries as large as apples will be eaten by our great-great-grandchildren for their Christmas dinners a hundred years hence. Raspberries and blackberries will be as large. One will suffice for the fruit course of each person. Strawberries and cranberries will be grown upon tall bushes. Cranberries, gooseberries and currants will be as large as oranges. One cantaloupe will supply an entire family. Melons, cherries, grapes, plums, apples, pears, peaches and all berries will be seedless. Figs will be cultivated over the entire United States.”
Everyone will have a personal aircraft.
How would you like to use your own one-person airplane to get around?
Introducing discussion to students:
Looking at predictions of years past can tell us a lot about the historical context of people who lived long ago, but also may hold clues about what will happen in the future.
Consider that in 1900 it was fantastical to think that “A husband in the middle of the Atlantic will be able to converse with his wife sitting in her boudoir in Chicago.” But here we are, a mere 100 years after the outrageous prediction was made, and that type of communication is commonplace.
Options for student discussion questions: