1962 Imagines 2001


The Future Isn't What They Thought It Would Be Back in 1962

Prediction is very difficult, especially if it's about the future.

- Niels Bohr (also attributed to Mark Twain and Yogi Berra)

Google in 1962 source: fury.com

by Winda Benedetti

Imagine how hard life must have been back in 1962, when there were no garage door openers, VCRs or ATMs.  All the telephones had rotary thingies that made dialing a single phone number take approximately three days.  And worse, there was no such thing as e-mail.  When people wanted to send messages to other people, they actually had to write on something called "paper" and then wait several days - and sometimes weeks - for the message to get to where it was going.

How people managed to live like this is beyond us.  Back in 1962 - the year Seattle played host to the World's Fair - humans were clearly primitive creatures who knew nothing of the wonders of the Internet or, for that matter, the wonders of the Post-It note (which wasn't invented until 1974).

Still, these simple people of 1962 had some not-so-simple ideas.  In fact, they had some big hopes, dreams and plans for the future of mankind.  The Seattle World's Fair - known as The Century 21 Exposition - was a 6-month-long event that offered visitors a peek at the "glittering world of the future" and, more specifically, a peek at what our lives were supposed to be like by now.

Visitors to the Century 21 expo were shown a future in which people flew to work in their personal "gyrocopters" and lived in cities covered by giant domes (to control the climate - not to play baseball in and later blow up).  "TV telephones" were supposed to be as popular now as typewriters were then.  The official World's Fair souvenir program boasted that the predictions were "certain to be realities by 2001."

So, here we are. It's 40 years later and it's officially the 21st century.  We're not sure what crystal ball the people of 1962 were looking in (or what they were smokin') but it's safe to say the fortunetellers and futurists of that era were occasionally right but most often (laughably) wrong.  In fact, looking back at the World's Fair it seems as though the people of 1962 expected the year 2002 to look an awful lot like an episode of The Jetsons.

Still, it's not so hard to understand why the folks back then thought we'd be living fantastical Space Age lives by now.  The 40 years prior to 1962 had delivered some mind-boggling changes to humanity.  The planet had survived its second World War and witnessed the dropping of the atomic bomb.  We had invented the television, the microwave oven and penicillin (not to mention Velcro, Valium and non-dairy creamer).  Perhaps it didn't seem so far-fetched to think that, given another four decades to work on it, we'd be zipping to the grocery store in a flying car.

In celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Century 21 Exposition, we look back in time to see what visitors to the World's Fair saw when they looked forward in time.  Did their predictions turn out to be facts of our 21st-century life or just a futuristic fantasy?

bulletPrediction: Scientists will develop "new foods rich in protein" and tap "new, inexhaustible sources of food."
bulletFantasy: We don't have Soylent Green, but we do have tofu.
bulletPrediction: Supersonic air travel will allow people to circumnavigate the world in minutes.
bulletFantasy: Around the globe in minutes?  On an airplane?  Little did they know.  These days it takes at least three hours just to get from the airport's front door, through five security checkpoints and onto the plane.  Air travel seems to be getting slower rather than faster.
bulletPrediction: In the 21st century, we will have a variety of new transportation methods to get us from here to there - gyrocopters, air-cushioned trains that move 500 mph, air-cushioned cars and rocket belts "that enable a man to stride 30 feet."
bulletFantasy: Personally, we're grateful the whole "flying car" thing hasn't taken off.  We can't even seem to get it right on the ground yet.  [Perhaps the Segway aka "Ginger" will fulfill some of this prediction in the near future?]
bulletPrediction: "Most of us will use rapid transit jet-propelled monorail systems," announced the official World's Fair souvenir program.
bulletFantasy: Bah ha ha ha!  Ooooh ha ha ha!  Whew!  Sorry, but THAT is funny.
bulletPrediction: "We'll work shorter hours.  We'll have more time for art, sports and hobbies," claimed the souvenir program, which also predicted we'd only have to work 24 hours a week.
bulletFantasy: Lord, don't we wish.  Who could have predicted that all the time-saving gadgets and gizmos of the future would actually make it so we had to work longer hours - just so we could afford all those time-saving gadgets and gizmos.
bulletPrediction: "Men living today will land on the moon."
bulletFact: 20 July 1969, men landed on the moon, planted a flag and pretty much called it good.  We predict that by the year 2042 several suburban neighbourhoods, a gated community, three strip malls and at least five Starbucks coffee shops will have sprung up on the moon.
bulletPrediction: The "home of tomorrow" will be "a castle of ease, convenience and relaxation."  The kitchen will be "a miracle of push-button efficiency" with "a cool-wall pantry, push-button electric sink, electronic bakery drawer, clothes conditioning closet."  It will have a private heliport as well as an indoor swimming pool and garden.  It will rotate to take advantage of the sun and will feature wall-to-wall television.
bulletFantasy (for most of us): We're pretty sure Bill Gates' crib looks a lot like this.  And maybe Puff Daddy's ... er ... P Diddy's place.  But the only "miracle of push-button efficiency" our home has is a little thing called a microwave.  Ahh, the future.  It sure is amazing.
bulletPrediction: Home computers will be used for "record-keeping, shopping and check-writing."
bulletFact: Mostly we use our home computers for playing games, surfing the Internet and sending e-mail, but we'll give them a point for hitting close to the mark.
bulletPrediction: We'll be able to watch movies immediately after they're filmed.
bulletFact: Hello, digital video.
bulletPrediction: We'll have push-button phones, cordless telephones, and phones that will let you see the person you're talking to.
bulletFact: (mostly) The first commercial touch-tone phones were previewed at the World's Fair and went on, as we all know, to great success.  Same goes for cordless telephones.  Video telephones, however, are another matter.  Thanks to the Internet, people can talk to each other and look at each other - if they have the appropriate camera and enough bandwidth.  Still, most of us don't want the person on the other end of the line to see us when we're talking on the phone.  After all, that's the beauty of the telephone - you could be sitting there in your skivvies with two days of stubble on your face and a stain on your shirt and the person on the other end of the line wouldn't have a clue.  And we'd like to keep it that way.
bulletPrediction: The school of tomorrow will have "walls made of jets of air, its tables standing on invisible legs, its floating canvas roof controlled to catch the sun.  Memory-retention machines whir in the background.  Television screens mirror the day's lessons."
bulletFantasy: Walls made of air?  How about concrete walls, barred windows and doors fitted with metal detectors?  Now that's a 21st-century classroom.

Winda Benedetti is a reporter for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and can be reached at windabenedetti@seattlepi.com

Source: Seattle Post-Intelligencer Thursday 18 April 2002

Perhaps 1900's Predictions Came Closer?

Modern Christmas: A Prediction from 1900 of Christmas Day 100 Years Hence

Christmas day in the year 2000 dawned bright and clear over Chicago, but comparatively few people were interested in it at that early stage.  Santa Claus and St Nicholas had been myths for 75 years, and the ravages of the past had stripped the north woods of their evergreens.  Reindeer were extinct and the furry robes their hides once made were now found only in museums of natural history.

So Chicago slept - slept until sun reflected in frosty window panes and white snow on roofs and in streets and lawns was streaked by long, dazzling shafts of light.  Children had to be awakened for breakfast and there wasn't a sock or a stocking hung in all of Chicago.  Changes had occurred in Chicago in 100 years - changes in keeping with the material transformation that had made it a city of four million people and a seaport open to shipping all over the world.

Grandfathers and grandmothers could recall a time when Christmas was different than at the far end of the 20th century.  Some, indeed, were old enough to remember how they had searched downtown shops and had crowded and fought and jammed through heavy storm doors to the counters, where hundreds of others scrambled for goods hauled down by weary clerks.  By the year 2000 there was a disaffection for Christmas customs - the spirit of Christmas was lost.  It had degenerated into a season for trampling down 1,000 fellow-beings in order to give the trophies of the fight to a dozen.  As means of communication grew, man’s circle of acquaintance enlarged until gift-giving became too expensive.  First came ethical protests against the juvenile fiction of Santa Claus/Kris Kringle/St Nick.  Lovers of forests had next protested against destruction of evergreens.  Society had long before ceased to give wedding presents - it soon became vulgar to give presents to any acquaintances - only the children in the family were remembered.  Finally, once mechanical toys became so intricate and so nicely adjusted that machinists had to be employed for weeks after Christmas to keep them going, even the young were forced to drop holiday expectations.

Santa Claus Forgotten

Santa Claus was only a memory as were the pine forests of the North which had passed into fertile fields.  A new spirit revivified religious feasts and the season of Christmas became the thing it should be.  Church creeds were as dead as was Santa Claus, existing only in a glass case in the Public Library - though school children could repeat the Declaration of Independence from end to end.  But social conditions had been revolutionised.  These conditions began to change when the state began to acknowledge its responsibility toward all its citizens, when it began to realise that poverty and crime were only the surface marks of a diseased social body, when it began treating criminals as it had been treating the diseased and the insane.  Schools of correction took the places of prisons, asylums took the place of penitentiaries.  With the abolition of the death penalty for certain crimes, the protection of society as the object of criminal law had been accentuated until the burden of proving innocence was put upon the wrong-doer.  Courts called upon men to show cause why they should not be committed for reformation or to life confinement in an asylum.  This cleared the city of its pest spots, physical and social.  Vagrancy was a crime, so the opportunity to work was given to all.

As a result, there were no "Christmas" dinners in public institutions - every day food served was of a character to please palates and satisfy the body’s needs.  The state, acknowledging itself as the keeper of all "wards of society", cared for them and dismissed sentiment; there were no political ends for it to serve.  At all institutions the largest liberty compatible with public safety was allowed - on all days.

Only One Day’s Rest

Schools closed for Christmas for one day only, as was natural.  Money had ceased to be the end toward which all people moved; with opportunity gone for the hasty piling up of millions, all of society now looked to economise.  The loss of many days in closed schools for silly holidays was intolerable, financially and ethically; in the hearts of most of the children was the feeling that one day was a sufficient sacrifice.

That Christmas morning, large numbers of schoolchildren went to the Coliseum to hear Fernando Jones lecture on old-time Christmas as he knew it at the end of the 19th century.  He told of the time when Christmas snow in Chicago was so black and grimy that one could scarcely see a shadow on it.  He told of boats that used to come in from Michigan loaded with Christmas trees, and how they used to stick on the tunnels that were just underneath the bed of the old river.  The children were especially pleased when Mr Jones told how men used to stand on the sidewalks downtown for days before Christmas winding up birds, elephants, camels and beetles and then letting them run around in circles under the feet of the people, who were expected to buy them for children’s Christmas presents.

But, if the children were delighted with Mr Jones’ description of these curious mechanical toys, they were serious enough when he touched upon the "Christmas face" at the latter part of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century.  This "face" Mr Jones described as being almost indescribable.  He said that it was partly sad, pathetic, appalling, stern and vicious mixed together.  He said that a woman, for instance, looking this way at any other season of the year would have half a straight lane made for her through the most crowded street.  But just before the Christmas holiday, 9/10ths of grown people began to look that way - at these times they seemed to become all elbows, packages, and set chins.  Many a time he had seen men and women so loaded down with packages for Christmas giving that they could hardly see over them, but that, in spite of this, they would start through one of the great storm doors of a department store just behind other groups laden in the same way.  Sometimes one of these doors would fly shut, breaking delicate articles and almost knocking the breath out of the owner.

Visit to the Museum

After the lecture, at the suggestion of Mr Jones, hundreds of children went to the Chicago Museum of Christmas Antiquities where they saw many queer mechanical toys.  Most of them were too rusted and disabled to run, but museum attendants explained their mechanisms.  In the museum was a fine representation of a Santa Claus, clothed in real fur.  The reindeer, however, were artificial creations, though the plush skins were said to be excellent imitations of real animals’ coats.

On the morning of Christmas day the small parks of Chicago were great attractions for people.  With the perfection of combustion for coal in 1935 and the previous perfecting of insulation for electric wires, the heating, lighting, and motive powers of the fluid in Chicago passed into control of the city.  Central distributing plants had been established at intervals all over the city, the site of the plants being the centres of the small parks.  Each of the 100 parks was a conservatory, enclosed in by unbreakable glass, into which waste heat energy of the plants was distributed.  In each of these parks beauty and utility combined and gardening and fruit culture were paramount.  Some parks had an area of 10 acres or more and these became "kitchen gardens" for wide neighbourhoods.  Such households as chose to do so drew upon these parks’ supplies, presenting coupon books as authority for it.  On Christmas and Thanksgiving days especially these gardens would be thronged, special effort having been made to meet the occasions.

On this particular Christmas morning more than the usual number of patrons crowded in because it had recently become popular for citizens to volunteer and work in these public gardens under supervision of head gardeners.  To some extent, this form of exercise had displaced golf, though that game was still popular and was played indoors on the Winter Palace links on the north shore.

Utilisation of Art

Adaptation of public parks to the needs of public gardening had come about in urban areas and electric transit - noiseless, dustless, and giving a service of 80 miles an hour - had made suburbs of territory as far as 55 miles away.  The lines of the old downtown district had virtually disappeared.  The "skyscraper" was replaced by lower, more attractive buildings.  With time to live and place to live assured to the citizen, he had begun to ask for more.  With the scramble for wealth no longer his chief incentive he needed something more than the utilitarian. Art came; cities had changed.

The passing of the horse, the attainment of perfect combustion for coal, and the education of the people in cleanliness and sanitation had made Chicago clean. Rational dress made out-of-doors in all weather an attraction, and sidewalks and pavements of almost indestructible material were further inviting to pedestrians, to drivers of the swift noiseless vehicles, and even to passengers in the underground trains, whisked along at lightning speed by the forces of compressed air.

As part of the great chain of streets, avenues and the boulevards in Chicago, wide roads, smooth and well-kept, radiated north, west and south, reaching out to 100 towns.  Cars operated on compressed air and ran on rubber-rimmed wheels.  This had put the country more than ever in touch with the city, socially and economically, and thousands of citizens spent the day in he country, while thousands of country people thronged the churches, theatres, libraries and museums of the city.

In general, however, citizens of Chicago living at home spent the day at home.  Living had become rational before the coming of rational Christmas; home was becoming the thing it should be.  Long before this, apartments had been abandoned.  They had served their purpose in the times when the activities of the new city did not allow a man of ordinary means to shoulder the responsibilities of a home.  But rapid transit had made distances immaterial, and ground room had become a necessity instead of a luxury.  Home became a place in which children were expected to be born, and in which one's children’s children might be expected to play.

Homekeeping Made Easy

Public utilities had grown until homekeeping was easy.  Light, heat, and power were available to every household - electric "plugs" allowed power to be drawn from the municipal plant.  Electricity heated water and turned the family washing machines, sewing machines, floor sweepers and dusters.  It lighted the house, heated it in winter, and drove machinery for cooling it in summer.  It ran the lawn mower and the snow sweeper and did service in a hundred ways.

By this means Christmas dinner, once was eaten at restaurants and hotels as a labour-saving and cheaper method, became a pleasure to scientific cooks.  Recognition that the art of living was in close relation to the art of cooking and of keeping clean, domestic labour had taken on a new dignity.  It was labour no longer.  Stripped of drudgery, it became art.  Foods long ago had been correlated, with reference to the proper distribution of nutritive elements.  Purity in manufactured foods had become imperative, for the reason that every housekeeper had an elementary knowledge of chemistry.

Thus, while Christmas dinner had become easy because of domestic equipments, it was doubly easy to serve because of the standard dishes that had been added to the 19th century list of milk, eggs, butter, and cheese.

In general, the observance of the day in Chicago was quiet.  Only 15 arrests were made by the police in all the metropolitan district and most of these were for minor offenses.

Source: Chicago Sunday Tribune 23 December 1900

See also:

bulletWhat Was Life Like a Century Ago? - A 3-minute call from Denver to New York City cost $11.  There were 8,000 cars in the US and 144 miles of paved roads.  The population of Las Vegas, Nevada was 30...

How Well Will Folks in 2100 Think We Were Able to Predict?

Lifestyles of the Next Millennium

by Alexandra Frean

A child born in the next decade can expect to start school at 3, launch its first business by the age of 20, return to fulltime education at 48, retire at 80 and die at 120, according to a study.

The report, written by the Future Foundation, a commercial think tank, concludes that one of the most startling results of the increasing longevity and affluence that characterises Western societies at the end of the 20th century will be a radical restructuring of the traditional timetable of our lives.

In a life spanning 120 years, there will be room for three or more careers, several college education stints and at least two families, the report concludes.  We will start school and work earlier, but marry, buy a home and have children later.  The report, entitled "What's Next?", is the latest in a string of quasi-scientific reports from think tanks and market researchers that attempt to paint a picture of daily life in the next century.

Prompted by the advent of the millennium and based on forecasts of an ageing population and a growth in the number of single-person households, the studies vary widely in their predictions.  Most agree on one thing: that our perception and enjoyment of "old age" will alter radically.

As Melanie Howard, of the Future Foundation, points out, those reaching the present retirement age of 60 in 2060 may still have another 60 years of active life to fill and to fund.  "With a booming generation who are increasingly active and affluent at 60-plus, society is heading for a reappraisal of its views of maturity.  People won't want to retire at 60, they won't see themselves as old and youth will no longer hold the exclusive notions of beauty," she says.

The "What's Next?" report says that education will no longer start and finish in youth.  A fifth of tomorrow's generation is likely to remain in formal education till they reach 25 - possibly having started their own Internet enterprise in their teens to fund their learning.

Once in jobs, people will punctuate periods of employment with phases of study.  By the age of 60, for example, a stint at college could prepare a typical employee for a third career or enterprise, which will see him or her through till retirement at the age of 80.  Even then, he or she will still have 40 years of leisure to enjoy.  The report anticipates the arrival of the "serial entrepreneur", who dabbles in various enterprises from their teens to their 60s and 70s.

Though marriage will decline, cohabitation will increase to compensate, rising from 8% of couples in 1995 to 13% in 2010.  Those who marry will do so later.  By 2010, men will wait till the age of 35 to marry (compared with 29 at present) and women till 31 (27 now).  Women will spend less time forming families and relationships and more time in work.  A mother born in 1950 would typically spend a quarter of her life raising children in the "family phase"; a mother born in 2010 will spend just a fifth of her lifetime in that role.  A third will have no children.

People will need to plan their long-term financial futures earlier in their lives - because they will live longer - and adults will start saving for their old age by the time they are 20. - The Times

Source: The Dominion, Friday 19 November 1999

I feel these predictions are somewhat simplistic.  While it may not matter how old you are, I think it will always matter how old you look.  Further, unless people curb their innate tendencies to overeat and under-exercise - whether through will-power or drugs - they may not have enough enthusiasm about life to behave as if they were half their chronological ages.

See also:

bulletAn Extraordinary World's Fair (the first page in this section) - Computers and copiers in our offices, microwave ovens in our kitchens, TVs in our living rooms, high-speed jets for travelling - every one of those technologies appeared in 1939...
bulletComputers of a Bygone Era  (the previous page in this section) - for photos of computers in the 50s and for one prescient electrical engineer's 's prediction of computers today.
bulletWhat Was Life Like in the 1500s? (in the section on Photographs, at the bottom of the page) - "Most people got married in June because they took their yearly bath in May and still smelled pretty good..."
bulletWhat Was Life Like a Century Ago? (in the section on Wellington) - The average life expectancy in the US was 47.  Only 14% of US homes had a bathtub...
bulletOrder the Home of Your Dreams (in the Oddities section) - for an idea of what else could be ordered from the Sears catalogue 100 years ago...

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