100 Years Ago, This is What an American Civil Engineer Predicted Technology Would Be Like Today

In 1911, cars and the telephone were new, bleeding-edge technology. And back then, like at any single point in history, guessing what any aspect of the world would be like in a century’s time was a daunting—nay, impossible—task.

Still, American civil engineer John Elfreth Watkins Jr. attempted just that. He wrote an article titled “What May Happen in the Next Hundred Years” and in was published in the Ladies Home Journal in 1911.

Technology wise, the odds were stacked pretty heavily against him—it would have been difficult for any man to anticipate how advanced technology would become over the next century. But John was commendably bold, predicting there would be “wireless telephone and telegraph circuits around the world” and that there would be no need for a “hello girl.” He was as right as he could have been without anticipating the advent of the internet; we do have telephones spanning the globe and they do not require hello girls. 

John also predicted that commercial trains would reach speeds of 240 kilometres per hour. Indeed, today’s fastest commercial train reaches 575 kilometres, although most conventional train cannot exceed 300 kilometres. Also on the transportation front, he anticipated that automobiles would render horses obsolete—he was correct, of course—and that “fast electric ships” powered by “jets of air” could rapidly transport humans. While not a common mode of transit, such vehicles do exist—although his prediction that “in storm, they will dive below the water and there await fair weather” fell short of reality. Though, we do have submarines, so he wasn’t too far off.

He makes plenty more predictions, including many non-technology ones, all of which are worth a read. And each one begs the question; what may happen in the next hundred years?

Photo credit: Jon Brown