Predictions for 2020 from 1920

Published in the Dayton Daily News - Sep 29, 1920. What stands out to me is that the author believed that entirely new forms of power would be in use in 2020... and while wind, solar, and nuclear do provide some power nowadays, the old forms of power (coal and gas) still dominate. So the author was too optimistic about the pace of change.

Wooden houses may not be known in 2020. The street cars, railroad cars, and other familiar methods of travel doubtless will have passed the way of history a century from this hour. Out of all the agencies which men use today electricity alone seems likely to survive. Many scientific men believe that coal and gas will have passed out of common use within the century.

Some one has suggested that the air and the water will furnish us our methods of heat and power in 2020. No one can doubt but that the flying machines of a new and important type, not known today, will be in general use a century removed.

Airplanes probably will be driven by electricity with storage batteries providing the power. Gasoline is not likely to be utilized in 2020. The fuel problem will be solved in a far different way than it is solved now. The air will provide an immense motive power for various things. The sun, doubtless, will be called upon to furnish the greater portion of the heat utilized by manking. Out of the waters on the face of the earth something will be developed for the benefit of the human family.

The automobile will be succeeded by something entirely different. Horses and cows may not be known.

Students of the human race have told us that the primitive man, like the primitive animal, was great in stature. The bones that the scientists have unearthed have verified this. Maybe human beings a century hence will become either much smaller of much larger than they are today. Everything will have changed.

A century past has given us an unlimited amount of great inventions, the sewing machine, electric irons, electric washing machines, airplanes, automobiles, radium and electricity. The next 100 years will see this process of enlargement carried on until it reaches even greater heights.

It may not be a cheerful picture to paint, but most of us will not be here to see the year 2020 roll around. But we can rest assured time will bring changes and improvements. This is a progressive earth and progress has marked each succeeding year since the beginning.

     Posted By: Alex - Wed Jan 01, 2020
     Category: Predictions | Yesterday’s Tomorrows | 1920s

The future's so bright, I gotta wear shades.
Posted by KDP on 01/01/20 at 06:49 PM
Sadly, the retrofuturist Syd Mead passed away just the other day.

To be fair, coal and gas are not as 'common' as they were when the article was written. At that time, many (most?) homes had a coal bin in the basement for fueling the furnace, and 'city gas' provided the lighting. Movies of the 1930s (such as "Penguin Pool Murder" (1932)) show schools and other public buildings using coal furnaces and having gas light fixtures.

Now, coal is restricted to power plants and refineries (ever try to get a load of coal delivered to your home? It's an exercise in futility). The last city gas works I knew about was torn down more than thirty years ago to make room for a shopping center (which is now standing empty).

I'd grant a little wiggle room concerning the prediction about cars -- you can't look at a 1923 Duesenberg Model A Touring Car and a 2019 Smart Forfour and completely disagree with: "The automobile will be succeeded by something entirely different."
Posted by Phideaux on 01/01/20 at 09:45 PM
Considering this prediction is now a century old, it isn’t terribly off the mark. Also, I second Phideaux’ observation about our use of coal.
Posted by Brian on 01/02/20 at 04:44 AM
I'll have to disagree here. This reads like a journalist summarising wannabe-scientists, not like someone who has a real idea of the science. Come on - anyone who can talk about humans, in a century, becoming as small compared to then-current humans as elephants are to mammoths, is a Guardian columnist at best, and more likely a Fox "News" presenter.
Posted by Richard Bos on 01/02/20 at 11:36 AM
Here are a couple of my favorite predictions of the future, from the past:

1) From Nikola Tesla: The Wonder World to be Created by Electricity

2) From Isaac Asimov: What Isaac Asimov Thought 2014 Would Look Like
Posted by Joshua Zev Levin, Ph.D. on 01/03/20 at 03:26 PM
I'm going with a wannabe-journalist summarizing wannabe-scientists. He's apparently proud that he's able to do the math between human life expectancy and the number 100. Then comes the drivel about seeing "...this process of enlargement carried on until it reaches even greater heights." Golly. Worst of all, he seems to have something against cows.

By the way, where's my flying car?
Posted by Virtual in Carnate on 01/04/20 at 02:48 PM
Virtual, here is a realistic alternative to flying cars -- a MagLev rail system that can accommodate individual cars, as well as all sort of other ground vehicles (buses, trucks, etc.) Look at
Posted by Joshua Zev Levin, Ph.D. on 01/04/20 at 03:57 PM
Rather Vague and safe predictions. Robert A. Heinlein was fairly good at some predictions by breaking things down. Look at the history of communications, then the present, then make short term predictions based on trends in research. Repeat for medicine, Astronomy, Physics, Transportation, etc. The further you go forward the harder it becomes to get anything right. He also thought that most visible and important changes would be in the home. I believe this is correct. At the Royal British Columbia Museum in Victoria, there is a exhibit of an old kitchen. It is an almost exact duplicate of my Grandmother's kitchen in Golden, BC. from the early 1960s, right down to the Cast Iron Stove and the White doorknobs. By the time she died in 1996, there were enormous changes to that kitchen, modern stove, fridge, and as of 1978, a telephone. She never did get a TV, however.

As a fan of Science fiction I've noticed that Robots and Air Cars are supposed to be our future, but instead we've got home computers and the internet. Not a bad trade, but I still long for an Air Car.

I'm going to be dusting off a Sci Fi book called 2020 Vision, a 1970's view of the world in 50 years. If memory serves, it is far more out of whack than the article above.
Posted by Jay Harper on 01/17/20 at 03:33 PM
Commenting is not available in this channel entry.