11 Oct 2006

Life in 2000, As Predicted in February 1950

In an article in Popular Mechanics by Waldemar Kaempffert, Science Editor of The New York Times, resurrected for our anusement by ModernMechanix:

Some predictions:

$5000 houses, built to last 25 years. (Hmmm. He got that one half right.)

No dishwashers.

Dishes are thrown away after they have been used once, or rather put into a sink where they are dissolved by superheated water. Two dozen soluble plastic plates cost a dollar. They dissolve at about 250 degrees Fahrenheit, so that boiling-hot soup and stews can be served in them without inviting a catastrophe. The plastics are derived from such inexpensive raw materials as cottonseed hulls, oat hulls, Jerusalem artichokes, fruit pits, soy beans, bagasse, straw and wood pulp.

(They really believed in the attraction of new materials back then. That’s why so many people had plastic-covered sofas in Middle America.)

You clean your home with a garden hose. (Please!)

You will have a television set.

But it is connected with the telephones as well as with the radio receiver, so that when Joe Dobson and a friend in a distant city talk over the telephone they also see each other. Businessmen have television conferences. Each man is surrounded by half a dozen television screens on which he sees those taking part in the discussion. Documents are held up for examination; samples of goods are displayed. In fact, Jane Dobson does much of her shopping by television. Department stores obligingly hold up for her inspection bolts of fabric or show her new styles of clothing.

(He deserves about a 90% score on that one.)

We control the weather, and can change the path of hurricanes at will. (Oh, well!)

(But he is much better on predicting population dispersion, suburban sprawl, and the impact of cheaper transportation generally. We just never got those commuting helicopters, and his crystal ball missed railroads’ revived use in carrier traffic.)

Corporation presidents, bankers, ambassadors and rich people in a hurry use the 1000-mile-an-hour rocket planes and think nothing of paying a fare of $5000 between Chicago and Paris. (Ordinary people) take the cheaper jet planes.

This extension of aerial transportation has had the effect of distributing the population. People find it more satisfactory to live in a suburb like Tottenville, if suburb it can be called, than in a metropolis like New York, Chicago or Los Angeles. Cities have grown into regions, and it is sometimes hard to tell where one city ends and another begins. Instead of driving from Tottenville to California in their car—teardrop in shape and driven from the rear by a high-compression engine that burns cheap denatured alcohol—the (normal family uses) the family helicopter, which is kept on the roof. The car is used chiefly for shopping and for journeys of not more than 20 miles. The railways are just as necessary in 2000 as they are in 1950. They haul chiefly freight too heavy or too bulky for air cargo carriers. Passenger travel by rail is a mere trickle. Even commuters go to the city, a hundred miles away, in huge aerial busses that hold 200 passengers. Hundreds of thousands make such journeys twice a day in their own helicopters.

Americans came a long way technologically and economically, very rapidly in the first half of the last century. Indoor plumbing, electricity, the telephone, radio and television, the automobile and a revolutionary array of home appliances became part of the lives of ordinary people so rapidly that there was a natural belief in the continuation of the progress of science, technology, and the American economy, all of which were customarily regarded as unalloyed goods.

The divisions of American society created in the 1960s, today’s characteristic fear and suspicion of technology, our chemical and environmental phobias, the superstitious savage’s belief that Nature will punish mankind’s hubris in invention with environmental catastrophe and climate change were not the kind of things optimistic Americans in 1950 would have predicted.

Hat tip to John Murrell.

One Feedback on "Life in 2000, As Predicted in February 1950"

Dominique R. Poirier

Amazing ! Overall, it seems Waldemar Kaempffert’s forecasts for the year 2000 proved to be more accurate in 1950 than what did (in a more academic fashion) the super brain Hermann Kahn in his 1970’s book; The Year 2000.
Waldemar Kaempffert missed to work at the Rand Corp.


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