A 21-year-old reporter and writer from Massachusetts wrote this article in 1906, speculating about what the world may well be like in 2006 — some of which has actually come true.
But would he have guessed what his own future held? Joseph Christopher O’Mahoney was named First Assistant Postmaster General in 1933, and then served as a Democratic United States Senator from Wyoming from January 1934 to January 1953.
Predictions from 1906 about what life & technology would be like in the future
by Joseph C O’Mahoney
One hundred years hence
When at the close of the nineteenth century the philosophers and scientists of the world looked back upon the work which had been accomplished for the advancement of civilization during that period, they called it with truth the most wonderful century in the history of the globe.
Greater progress than ever before was achieved during those one hundred years in every line of human endeavor, in the development of industry, the extension of education, and the widespread application of humanitarian ideals to government.
But already the first six years of the present century have opened up a vista of possibilities which, if realized, will dwarf the record of the nineteenth. The discovery of radium alone has shattered the most cherished theories of chemistry and physics, and gives promise of still greater discoveries in the future which will be of inestimable influence on humanity.
The wildest dreamers of a century ago never conceived of anything so astounding as wireless telegraphy, now carried through to practical perfection. Just as the introduction of steel construction worked a revolution in the building industry twenty years ago, so today is the revolution of concrete. The cheapness and durability of this material is daily bringing it into greater demand.
None of the disasters to which ordinary buildings succumb, neither fire nor earthquake, has any very injurious effect on it, and time only makes it stronger. Reinforced with slender steel bars, it is being used throughout the country. Every floor in such a structure offers a foundation almost as stable as the rocky crust of the earth itself. Thus the forty-story skyscrapers now planned in New York will have become one hundred years hence lofty pinnacles penetrating as far again into the atmosphere.
The most beneficial influence of concrete, however, will not be in what it will do for the corporations which own the skyscrapers, but rather in what it will do for the poor.
Suburban districts will become clustered with eight and ten room cottages for the poor, as substantial and comfortable as the modern villa. Enormously increased transportation facilities will render possible and probable the removal to the country of the entire population which now inhabits the tenement districts.
Predictions from 1906: New York a honeycomb
The tunnels contemplated in New York at the present time will, when completed, form a vast underground network centering about the City Hall. Future tunnels will honeycomb the island, so that it will be possible to any portion of the city without once coming into the open air.
The speed with which the cars will run, equaling and even surpassing the rate already attained on the experimental roads in Europe — four hundred and fifty miles in two hundred and ten minutes — will allow the people whose business carries them daily to the city to live without inconvenience or loss of time fifty or one hundred miles from the metropolis. [CA Editor’s note: This is about 129 MPH.]
The completion of this underground system will bring about another transformation. The most elementary of commercial axioms is that business follows the traffic; so that when the population of the city will travel almost exclusively underground, all the retail merchants will follow the lead of some institutions in New York and establish entrances to their buildings directly from the subways.
Stores of every imaginable kind will line these passages; and on Monday mornings one hundred years hence, the housewife will leave her home in the country one hundred miles away, travel to the city in an hour, finish her bargain hunting, take lunch, and return without once coming to the surface from the time she leaves her home until she gets back.
Not only will these tunnels be used for passenger transportation, but many of them, like those in Chicago, will be devoted exclusively to freight. Pneumatic tubes, like those which carry the mails from the post office to the railroad stations, will be installed everywhere for the transportation of merchandise.
This complicated system will practically do away with all surface traffic, and as a result, the city beautiful will reach its full development. Trucking having been banished, all the streets will be transformed into parkways, drives, and boulevards, and it will be impossible to find a spot offensive to the eye or to the nose within the boundaries of the future city.
Aerial navigation will have become an accomplished fact. All distant traveling will be carried on in dirigible balloons or airplanes, following definite routes across continent and ocean as railroad trains and steamships today. On the outskirts of the cities will rise lofty towers for the dispatching and reception of the airships.
Every such building will be equipped with swift elevators, moving stairways, and platforms similar to already in use, but of an infinitely improved pattern. In addition, these stations will be directly connected with all the tunnels and subways.
Home improvement: Contrivances for comfort
The homes of the people will be equipped with every imaginable contrivance for health and comfort. The system which, by means of the thermostat and the ventilating apparatus, with slight attention maintains an even temperature in the office buildings of the present time, no matter what the conditions without are, will have been vastly improved upon. As a result, heating in winter and cooling in summer will be absolutely automatic.
Clothing will be washed by machinery and dishes also, if indeed such work will not be done in great public laundries and kitchens. But perhaps the housewife will prefer to have such cleansing done at home. In that case, it may be possible for her at the close of every meal to take the tablecloth by the four corners and empty its contents, made of some unbreakable material, into a chute.
Down through this passage, the dishes will clatter, subjected the while to streams of hot water and of steam, into the basement, where some mechanism will be ready to catch them, dry them, and send them back to the cupboard all clean and shining for the next meal.
Sweeping and dusting will be done by air suction. The vacuum cleaner system now in use in modern office buildings will be universal.
Wireless telegraphy and wireless telephony will have been perfected, and communication over distance will be infinitely more easy and pleasant at present. The microphone and the telephotograph will render it possible for persons a hundred or more apart to see and hear one another as clearly as it they were seated side by side.
Not only will news be sent through the telephone, but concerts and plays as well. The subscriber, sitting at home, by merely pressing a button or turning a switch, will be enabled to see and hear the performers.
The application of electricity to agriculture will make the farming of the future more productive, more remunerative, and more pleasant. Stations scattered throughout the country districts will furnish power to all the farms in the neighborhood, as in many portions of Germany today.
Cutting, churning, grinding, pumping, threshing, and all other fanning activities will depend almost absolutely upon electricity. Auto plows, auto harrows, auto harvesters, will drive the horse from the fields as he will have already been driven from the cities.
Electric lights of great brilliance will make night work as convenient as work by day. Agriculture will have become a science having to do not only with electricity but also with chemistry, by means of which the soil will be made more fertile. New and more nutritive food products will be obtained.
Dirt and grime will be effectually banished from the workshop by intricate labor-saving devices of a thousand kinds. The industrial output will be at the same time greatly increased.
Like the automatic screw machine of today, which turns out four thousand screw posts, all absolutely identical, in the time it took our grandfathers to make one, the machines of the future will simplify and perfect all work now done crudely and laboriously by hand. Few if any of the waste materials one hundred years hence will be thrown away.
The industrial corporations of the future, following in the footsteps of the Standard Oil, will devote almost as much time and labor to the manufacture of byproducts as to the preparation of their principal article of trade. Substitutes for many natural substances, like rubber and wood pulp, the supply of which is being rapidly exhausted, will be found in materials now thrown away by manufacturers.
The discovery of radium has given the chemist new worlds to conquer. The transmutation of metals once more has been brought within the realm of possibility. The development of electrochemistry will bring forth cheaper and more thorough methods of refining ore, so that mines now unworkable will once more hum with activity. In like manner, the separation of radium and other rare elements will have been made easy and cheap.
The development of the submarine and the airship will make war so destructive that it will be impossible. The work begun by the arbitration of international disputes will be brought to a climax by education and easy methods of communication, and the peoples of the world will become more closely united.
All this great panorama hinges, however, upon a single thing: the motive power of the future. Already the scientists of the world foresee the depletion of the coal fields and the forests. Without the enormous quantities of wood and coal now necessary for civilization, all progress will cease unless man can discover some other means of obtaining energy.
Attempts at the invention of wind motors and wave motors have been fairly successful; but the power thus obtained is not generated in quantity enough or with steadiness enough to suffice.
Predictions from 1906: Looking toward the air
As a result, the inventors have turned their eyes toward the sun. The scientists Herschel and Pouillet have discovered by experiment that enough heat is received by the earth in one year to liquefy a layer of ice one hundred feet thick encasing the entire globe. If the sun energy now expended upon the desert of Sahara yearly could be harnessed, would be more than sufficient to supplant the eight hundred million tons of coal now used by the civilized world.
The success of the sun motor at Pasadena, California, which pumps fourteen hundred gallons of water a minute, gives promise that the motive power of the future has been discovered. If such is indeed the case, the imagination is staggered by the possibility summed up twenty-one years ago by the late Professor. S P Langley of the Smithsonian Institution in the following words:
Future ages may see the seat of empire transferred to regions of the earth now barren and desolated under intense solar heat — countries which, for that very cause, will not improbably become the seat of mechanical and hence of political power. Whoever finds the way to make industrially useful, the vast sun power now wasted on the deserts of North Africa or the shores of the Red Sea will effect a greater change in men’s affairs than any conqueror in history has done. He will once more people those waste places with the life that swarmed there in the best days of Carthage and of old Egypt, but under another civilization, where man no longer shall worship the sun as a god, but shall have learned to make it his servant.