Fascinating Visions of Our Present From Over 100 Years Ago

From domed cities to Victorian Roombas, people had bold assumptions about how life would be today.
Christopher McFadden

Futurists and science fiction writers are masters of making a living from predicting the future. That is their job, after all. But the true test of their foresight is to check in on some of their 'predictions' every few decades or so.

Here we have included some examples from over 100 years ago that are absolutely fascinating. 

What predictions of the future from the past are the most interesting?

Dreaming about what technology will look like in 100 years or 200 years, or even 1,000 years may be considered something of an 'occupational hazard' for human beings. Insatiable curiosity can be thought of as the driver for most of our technological development.

Wouldn't it be great if we could fly? Could we ever walk on the Moon? These and countless other dreams of the future have pushed innovators to make them a reality.

predictions of the future
Source: Vicki DeLoach/Flickr

But what did they think today would look like over 100 years ago

Some common themes include: 

  • Electrified everything from appliances to vehicles.
  • Domed cities.
  • Flying personal transport and mass transport (combustion-engined of course).
  • Video calling was quite a popular idea.
  • Robot helpers were everywhere.

What did people in the past think the future would look like?

Further to the above, some other interesting predictions from Victorian futurists include the following: 

  • School children would be taught using headphones/direct assimilation of knowledge using tech.
  • The fireman would be able to fly around to put out fires.
  • The police would also have flying capabilities.
  • We would be racing or riding, aquatic animals for pleasure and transportation.
  • Air taxis would be very common.
  • We would also play sports underwater.
  • We could walk on water using special footwear.
  • We will be able to control the weather using technology.
future tech predictions from the past
Source: NYC Media Lab/Flickr

How did people 100 years imagine today's living spaces?

From some of the many future predictions from the past, you cannot fault them for their lack of imagination. It turns out, most were hopelessly optimistic, while some were frankly crazy. 

However, some are eerily close to the mark. But, even a broken clock is right twice a day — here are some prime examples.

1. This artist believed we could transport buildings, even whole towns, around using trains

1800s predictions of future train towns
Source: Theodor Hildebrand & Son/boredomtheapy

The German cocoa and chocolate company Theodor Hildebrand & Son, amongst other things, produced a series of collector's postcards with their visions of the future. In this particular example, they foresaw a future where entire buildings, or towns, could be carted around on enormous carriages pulled by trains.

Predicted to be a reality by the year 2000, this was a very interesting vision of living spaces in our present.

As it turns out they weren't that far off the mark, at least in principle. Today entire buildings can indeed be ferried around by vehicles.

Prefab houses or older more traditional constructions can indeed be moved from place to place on the back of a lorry. But this is not the norm for entire towns or cities.

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2. The same chaps envisaged entire cities being roofed-over to keep the rain out

1800s predictions of the future city roofs
SourceTheodor Hildebrand & Son/boredomtheapy

The very same chocolate company envisaged massive roofs covering entire cities and towns. The apparent rationale being to keep the elements out. 

"But, wouldn't that also block out the sun?", we hear you say. Don't worry, they appear to have considered that too.

The massive city-roof structures appear to have equally massive roof lights to make sure the town still benefits from lighting during the day.

Presumably, though it's not clear from the image, the roofs also incorporate some form of ventilation too. Otherwise, the air quality might get a little unpleasant, to say the least.

3. Meet the Victorian Roomba

1800s predictions of the future cleaning robot
Source: En L'an 2000/publicdomainreview

Our fascination with robots is not a new thing. Even 100 years ago people were dreaming of mechanized helpers who could free us from the drudgery of mundane tasks, like cleaning. 

This striking example by En L'An 2000, appears to predict the existence of cleaning robots in our time. En L'An 2000 ("In the Year 2000") was a French-produced series of predictions of the future that were printed on paper, cigar box inserts, and collectible postcards at the turn of the last century. 

4. By the year 2000, people thought that moving sidewalks would be the norm

1800s predictions of the future mobile sidewalks
Source: Theodor Hildebrand & Son/boredomtheapy

Another visionary prediction from Theodor Hildebrand & Son is this bold idea. In one of their prized postcards, they envisaged a world where the very sidewalks of cities would move around, freeing inhabitants from the 'inconvenience' of walking around.

The ultimate in convenience for some, this is another prediction that isn't that far off reality. As anyone who has visited an airport recently will attest, their prediction is pretty accurate in principle; they do sort of exist.

Moving walkways are very common in airports around the world. There are also plans to introduce some moving sidewalks to some urban centers to relieve pressure on mass transport systems. 

We'll give them 5 out of 10 for this prediction. 

5. Here is how a 1920s futurist predicted the apartments of the future

1800s predictions of the future apartments
Source: Frank R. Paul/Reddit

In this incredible piece of work by Frank R. Paul from the 1920s, we get a glimpse of future living as envisaged almost 100 years ago. It's quite hard to pick out on the above image, but some of his predictions include: 

  • Electric light bookshelves.
  • Under-seat heating.
  • Electric pianos.
  • Electric "ozonators" and deodorizers in every room.
  • Electrical cigar lighters.
  • Combination-electric phonograph and radiotelephone.
  • Electric window openers.
  • Refrigerators in every room.

To name but a few.

As you can probably already tell this isn't that far off the mark. We pretty much do have most of these gadgets and appliances today. 

Kudos Mr. Paul.

6. Today we were supposed to have enormous concrete monuments to technology

1800s predictions of today generator
SourceHugo Gernsback and Frank R. Paul/Reddit

Here is another interesting vision of our present from almost 100 years ago. Hugo Gernsback and Frank R. Paul (as above) thought that we would love electricity so much we would want to celebrate it with concrete megastructures. 

Their 1922 concept of a "1,000-foot tall generator" (304  mt) takes some seeing to be believed. Given the problem many people have with spoiling the landscape with tall structures like wind turbines, we wonder how a similar proposal would be received today.

7. By 2500 we should have domed cities with monorails galore

Fascinating Visions of Our Present From Over 100 Years Ago
Source: sverdrupian/Reddit

And finally, this vision of 2500 AD from the 1920s sees the city of London reimagined with gigantic glass domes and monorails everywhere. It was produced as a Gery's Cigarette advertisement and offers an interesting vision of the future.

The above image is a little small but it also includes enclosed walkways between buildings, aerodynamic, fast-moving vehicles, and implied changes to the spelling of words like "Tranzit" (Transit), "Sayle" (Sale), and "Gluv (Glove).

We love this vision of the future and, given it still has another 400 years or so to come true, how accurate will it be?

And that's your lot of old future predictions for today you lucky lot. 

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