Melissa Miller's series on the history of aviation in Cape Girardeau reminded me of an amusing column I stumbled across in the Southeast Missourian archives.
In 1929, the newspaper, celebrating its 25th anniversary, published a special edition that included an article making predictions for the next 25 years. The author's name isn't given, but a good number of his predictions have come true, although it has taken a lot longer than 25 years.
The writer was fascinated by air travel and the prospect that Cape may become a "junction point for air traffic." He foretold, "Each community will regard its airport as a matter of course just as it now does the railroad station."
Air travel of the future would feature "devices for individual propulsion", or personal aircraft, that could be flown by commuters and then parked (with wings folded) at downtown office buildings. "Parking problems of large cities will be solved and street congestion will not be as serious as now," he optimistically projected.
OK, so he completely blew that one. We don't have flying cars, and thanks to 9/11, probably never will. Congestion in big cities continues to get worse. If the author could see what traffic is like in St. Louis 81 years later, he would probably have a heart attack. (Or, if driving during rush hour on I-270, at least three heart attacks).
Nevertheless, he did nail this prediction: "Travel from New York to California by air will be as common as it is now by rail."
His other correct predictions include video conferencing, wireless phones, home entertainment systems, online classrooms, and farm consolidation. These developments took longer than 25 years, but his descriptions are pretty close.
He struck out, however, on his dreams for weather and volcano control, automatic snow removal, city-wide heating and cooling systems, fully automated farming, flood control "on all major streams", calendar reform, and "of course" shorter working hours. Perhaps some of these will happen in the next 81 years.
Below is a complete transcript of the article from Oct. 3, 1929:
What We May Expect in the Next 25 Years
This anniversary number endeavors to tell what has happened in the past 25 years. Not much attention has been paid to other than local achievements and happenings because most everyone knows what has happened throughout the world and The Missourian makes no pretense at keeping the record. It is hard to look forward in community development, unless we base our expectations upon what we believe will happen in a broader field. Cape Girardeau may become a great city in the next 25 years, but the indications are that it will keep up its moderate growth without any startling innovations. Likely within 25 years our city will be an important river shipping point on a deep waterway. It may become a junction point for air traffic. It may develop into a headquarters for gigantic agricultural operations. There's no telling.
Laying aside the strictly local aspect, what is to happen in the world in the next 25 years? What inventions will revolutionize the organized facilities for carrying on the routine of daily life? Prophesying is not altogether guesswork--in a large way we can judge the next 25 years by the past quarter century.
The automobile, the radio, and the airplane, the talking movies, television and many other innovations affecting our daily lives have come into general use in the past 25 years. It is not safe to be pessimistic or skeptical in prophesy. A little more than 25 years ago even the prominent men predicted that the use of automobile and airplane would never become common.
Today the automobile is a necessity of life to a far greater number than ever was the horse. Airplanes are crossing the ocean and an airship has flown around the world. Not less than a thousand scientists are busy with experiments all over the United States. Our predictions of what will be accomplished are more likely to fall short of than go beyond the actual facts. Of course such a prophecy can only touch some of the high spots in a general way.
It is likely that the present-day telephone will be out of date 25 years from now and will be replaced by portable pocket instruments on which the individual may call the number he wants by a device much like the dial call of the system now used in some of the large cities.
The current accepted standard in regard to gear shift methods and propulsion of motor cars will be antiquated in 25 years. Parking problems of large cities will be solved and street congestion will not be as serious as now.
It will have been relieved somewhat by individual aircraft landing on the stages provided on downtown buildings. They will be stored away, with wings folded, until the owners are ready to fly home at night 50, 75, or 100 miles in the country.
Travel from New York to California by air will be as common as it is now by rail. Ocean air traffic in passengers, express and light and valuable freight will be well established. Each community will regard its airport as a matter of course just as it now does the railroad station. Zones or levels will have been assigned to aerial traffic of the various kinds. The Fords of the day will be carrying on experiments on devices for individual propulsion in the lower aerial traffic lanes. Definite channels for ascent will be marked by air buoys or light beams. These will be as visible by day as at night.
At night the landscape will have an entirely different aspect. Various colors of aerial beacons breaking the horizon will mark routes and lanes. A broken red and yellow beam will have the same meaning to the flying man from Cape Girardeau to New York as the signs along the highways now have the motorist. Automobile traffic will still be heavy 25 years from now but aerial traffic will be as heavy as auto traffic was 10 years ago. Every airplane will be equipped with wireless telephone and mother can tell father to bring back something she forgot when he was leaving the house.
Directors' meetings can be helpd without the directors leaving their desks. Visual wireless telephone will enable the busy man to make an appointment, switch in his connection and sit with a group who hundreds of miles apart. He will be able to see them and hear what they say the same as if all were in the same room.
The talking movie by radio will be in many homes and people who go to the movie theaters in droves will remain at their own firesides to be entertained. The next 25 years will not an increasing movement towards eliminations of crows as breeders and carries of disease. The movement can now be discerned in the gradual tendency toward decentralization and in the application of new scientific discoveries to home amusement.
It seems likely, also, that younger children will, quarter of a century hence, get their schooling at home as far as possible. The teacer in her studio classroom, equipped with broadcasting device for sound and visualization and a screen on which she will be able to watch all of her pupils, will correcct lessons, enforce discipline, and carry on conversation with her class for a distance of five to ten miles.
Many tasks of common labor now performed by hand will be done by machinery 25 years from now. Snow will be shoved from sidewalks automatically or will be melted as it falls by heating devices which many homes and all business sections will be equipped. Fifty years from now, let us say, summer zones, made by artificial heat, will be existence in many parts of the United States. Persons in great cities will be better protected from changes in temperature than the occupants of large office buildings are at present.
In the next 25--or maybe, 50--years science will learn how to control the cyclone, or windstorm, and the volcano. Low pressure areas are now mapped by the weather bureau--it will be its duty then to regulate them. Storms will be shot to pieces by wireless volleys of light rays, heat rays, or both. Volcanic energy will be harnessed to turbine generators. Conversation, reforestation and similar problems will be taken as a matter of course. Flood control on all major streams will have been solved. The reforestation of watersheds and control of rainfall to some extent will become effective along about this time.
An improvement in the televox mechanical man of the present will be part of general equipment in many industrial plants. Part of the so-called farm problems will have been solved 25 years from now by the merging of small farms into large farms of vast areas, in which most of the labor in the fields will be carried on under wireless control from towers overlooking the fields. Operators sitting in the towers will send wireless-controlled gang plows, cultivators, harvesters, and electrical charging machines for soil fertilization up and down big fields. Labor will be incidental and mostly consist of oiling and taking care of the machinery.
The ownership of farms will shift from the individual farmer to large farm corporations that will arise as a natural and economic result of farm relief measures that may be passed within the next few years. These big corporations will operate under tariffs and freight rates which the individual farmer has not been able to secure. Areas not will adapted to farming will devoted to other purposes--parks, residential sections, reforestation.
The laboring day will be shorter for everyone, of course, and there will be fewer working days in the week. It is also probably that the calendar itself will have been changed, and perhaps in accordance with the Eastman plan to obtain standardization of the business week, month and year.
Somewhere along in the next 25 years or so lies the period for national determinism for the United States. The United States will either lead the world to peace or will be indicating a ghastly war that will shake the world to its very foundations by the immense and widespread destruction that will accompany it. In the event of such a war there will be no non-combatants. The last war showed that the forces behind the front lines are as important as any. It seems likely that the initial strokes in the next great war will be against the civilian populations who support and supply the armies. That certainty is the best incentive and the best argument in favor of peace.
In the next 25 years the civilian populations of the nations will likely have a chance to say whether this wish to be wiped out by war or whether they intend to establish a permanent peace, one guaranteed to stand. On the decision reached by America will depend much of what the nation will be doing 25 years, or 50 years, that it cannot do now.