11 Illustrations of How People in the Past Imagined Life Today

These almost accurate retro-futuristic illustrations reveal how people of yesterday thought today would look.
Derya Ozdemir
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Retrofuturism is the curious eye of the past upon us. This era's rosy predictions about the future seem laughable from the perspective of the present; however, it seems that they got some things exceptionally right. Their ideas ranged from child-like to pridefully ambitious and inspired a movement upon the artists, designers, musicians, and filmmakers who channeled the technological fantasies of a lost age.


The spirit in which they were created materializes the essence of how the future was described prior to the 1980s. After the 1980s, the question wasn’t “how” anymore; we asked the question of “when.”

The dreamers of the past got some things completely right and thankfully, some are never going to be a reality. Here are 11 visions for the future as it was imagined back then. Let’s dive in.

1. The Smart-Cities of Future

Towering transmitters in the city and private-jet traffic in the sky... This is a prediction that was made probably too early and it is definitely not so far from reality. Today, we paint a similar future for smart-cities and sci-fi movies depict the future cities in the same manner. It seems that older generations and we have a similar vision of the future look of the world. 

Unbreakable Glass City of the 21st Century from r/RetroFuturism

 2. The Computer Prophecy

This video is so spot-on that we are questioning the possibility of time travel. Flat screens, credit-card payment – albeit a little clumsy, doing video calls with people, and simultaneous drawings with tablets… As one Twitter user said, they even got the hipster beard right!

3. Instant Messaging (but make it in cursive)

This technology has actually become a reality. Many smartphones have this feature, or at least something similar to it. It doesn't look like this of course, but the main idea is still there: you write it with your smartpen and the device makes your illegible handwriting into a text that is actually readable! However, it is not widely used; nobody could predict that typing would be superior to actual handwriting.

1964 prediction of instant messaging technology in the far off year of 2004 from r/RetroFuturism

4. Heavy Metals Doing Heavy Music

Another accurate prediction, so accurate that it is completely bizarre. 

Robot Music from r/RetroFuturism

This illustration goes toe to toe with the robot music group Compressorhead. They should hire the keyboard guy so that it doesn't feel left out.  

Today, our method of getting a “robot” to create music is much easier and comparatively simpler. We can program the piano to play itself which is quite old technology or write an algorithm that can compose a beautiful piece with deep learning-driven music generation.

Be it metal or cinematic music, robots seem to do it all just fine.

5. Amphibious Vehicles are Here

This war-machine in a Japanese magazine from the 1930s is an ambitious engineering work that probably won’t be a reality.

Warplane/boat/tank hybrid from a Japanese magazine from the 1930s from r/RetroFuturism

However, amphibious vehicles are actually here and you can actually buy them!

6. Food-Delivery Truck 

Food delivery is a part of our daily life, but this wasn’t the case for older generations. This vision of ice-cream trucks reimagined as food-cars driving around the town and preparing your food is actually amazing.

Future food delivery prediction from the 1940s [1870 x 1242] from r/RetroFuturism

The purpose is definitely the same; however, your favorite restaurant going from home to home, delivering fresh and hot food is so much better. Also, look at that tiny dog and amazing houses in the background! We want to be in this alternate reality instead of the lone motorbiker ringing your doorbell with cold food. 

7. Personal Transportation

It is unclear why people in the 1950s thought this was a practical way to travel; not only it looks like it is impossible to breathe in there, who would want to stand upright while driving? It would definitely ease the traffic; however, probably no one would want to use it.

1950's Vision of Personal Transportation [1128 x 1536] from r/RetroFuturism

Here are some personal transport gadgets that are pretty innovative but people have yet to catch up on.

8. The Smartphone Prophecy 

It is crazy how accurate this prediction is and Mark R. Sullivan was definitely on to something. What he did was pure speculation and even the translation prophecy has come to life today! There is truly no escape from phones now. Carrying a phone is a must; however, carrying a watch, isn't.

There'll be no escape from phones in the future - Pacific Telephone CEO, 1953 from r/RetroFuturism

9. Autonomous Vehicles

This family is enjoying their drinks and having a swell time while their car takes them to the smart-city spreading over the horizon. It seems that autonomous cars are a dream shared by generations and that dream has become a reality. While our cities don’t look like that, having family time in your self-driving car is not really far from becoming a reality.

Self drive from r/RetroFuturism

10. Incredible Machine (Iron) Man

Making humans more than humans has interested each generation and this Soviet illustration is imaginative, to say the least. It is unclear what would be accomplished with the flower-plucking exo-suit, but the aesthetics and the general idea definitely mirror today.

1969 - Soviet magazine "Technology for the Youth". A man in a retro exo-suit walking across taiga from r/RetroFuturism

Exoskeleton technology is here and you can actually buy it soon.

11. The Robot Kitchen

This neon green kitchen gadget looks like something out of Teletubbies and it has that retro-futuristic aesthetic.

This interesting space age kitchen gadget from r/RetroFuturism

We wish our kitchen gadgets looked like this; however, it seems that we are heading towards a much different future.

Looking back in time and pondering about the visions of the past makes you wonder. We are currently in the past, so what will the generations of tomorrow think about our dreams and visions?

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