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The New York Times tries its hand at prediction: 2009 from the viewpoint of 1909.

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From the New York Times, Sunday, September 26, 1909:

By Stephen Chalmers

(Editorial on "The Pioneers' Centennial" from The Universal Times, Oct. 1, A.D. 2009)

With this year of our city, 2009, epochmaking, eramarking celebrations have come and gone--centennial exercises in honor of Henry Hudson, Robert Fulton, the Wright brothers, William Marconi, and other pioneers of last century's strides in science, industrial and otherwise.

It is the second time in our city's history that two weeks of her varied life have been given over as a mighty tribute to those men who marked the beginnings of great inventions, improvements, discoveries, and of applications which have for their result the amazing facilities for life and living afforded in this year of grace 2009.

The celebrations just ended not only mark the close of another great chapter in the history of New York; they have been an episode in the story of the universe. Since 100 years ago, when the replicas of Hudson's Half Moon and Fulton's Clermont sailed the Hudson River amid the saluting cannon of the navies of earth, times have indeed changed. The first centenary celebration was merely a local affair, gigantic though it was. The celebrations of later date have been of universal importance--the universal spirit which has characterized such functions since the reorganization of world government did away with the purely local interest.

It is curious and interesting to us at this late day to examine and compare photographs of the celebrations of 1909 with the telegravures which we print elsewhere in today's issue. Aside from the subject interest of these modern pictures we cannot help noticing and commenting on the change in method of production and reproduction, even in the detail of the modern arts. Yet even in the year 1909 it was no subject for incredulity that the taking and making of pictures by wireless color telephotogravure was about to supersede the quaint, and even then archaic, camera methods.

In the telegravures of the recent celebrations, which we publish elsewhere in this issue, we realize at a glance what has happened in this old but ever new world during the 100 years which have elapsed since the centennial's first celebration. We are at once struck by the absence of all wheeled vehicles on land and of all funneled or masted surface vessels at sea. The streets which were crowded by all sorts and conditions of more or less crude vehicles are to-day devoted to pedestrian traffic, always excepting babies' perambulators. The latter, it is interesting to recall, were at the time of which we speak the daily and particular victim of the automobile, which is now an obsolte curio, while babies and perambulators survive and have come to their own gain. A nursemaid could now wheel a perambulator containing twins from the Battery to 775th Street, following the middle of Broadway, and read a book undisturbed and in perfect safety--only, of course, no nursemaid would be foolish enough to essay the task on foot.

The greatest change, to return to the telegravures, is to be remarked in the sudden complete appearance of the air vessel as a landscape feature. In olden days a writer of the romantic school stated that no picture of the tropics was complete that did not contain at least a speck representing a turkey buzzard in the background. We might say that to-day no picture is complete that does not have an airship somewhere in the back-sky. In the celebration pictures we find the aerovessel, almost absent from the celebrations of 1909, crowding in upon the vision as cabs did around the old-fashioned theatre one hundred years ago. We find the aerovessel in its many forms--from the single-seated skimmer to the vast aerocruisers, of which the Martian type is perhaps the finest example--equivalent to the Dreadnaught of the ante-pax days. Also, we perceive along the sea coast and on the Hudson River a type of vessel which was not foreshadowed even at the time of the first centennial celebrations--the submarine and flying skimmer, in playfully sobriqued the "susky-marine." Of course, the gradual elimination of earth and ocean surface travel made it inevitable that the submarine aerovessel should have the monopoly of the earth and the waters under the earth. It is hardly necessary to recall the case of the last of the old steel warships, the Amerigo, which foundered in 1947 with all souls after having been split by the Flying Diver (Jupiter: 2d class; 10 v.c.) as the latter shot from the ocean bed to the air leap.

The picture of last week's celebration has been vividly described in the columns of The Universal Times; also a programme of the Hudson-Fulton Celebration was reprinted for purposes of comparison. There can be no doubt after a comparative reading that times have changed since 1909. We reproduce one portion of an article of 100 yars ago. It has a quaint sound to twenty-first century ears and carries with it a suggestion of the verbiage and smallness of viewpoint which tended to mar the journalistic style of the middle American period:

Beginning next Saturday, Sept. 25, and continuing until Oct. 9, the State of New York will celebrate the three hundredth anniversary of the discovery of the Hudson River by Henry Hudson in 1609 and the one hundredth anniversary of the successful inauguration of steam navigation upon the same river by Robert Fulton in 1807.

The first week will be New York City's City's week, although that is rather a narrow description of it, since the celebration will lap over into New Jersey and points on the lower Hudson as far as Newburg. The second week will belong to the lower upper Hudson.

"Rather a narrow description of it," indeed. But at that time world affairs were "rather narrow"--being confined to the "world." The Ramseian metal had not yet been discovered, and airship construction was still in its infancy, stumbling as yet over the problem of lighter motors. Although Prof. Blowell had received his famous message from the Grand Astronomical Axilla of Mars, Prof. Bickering had as yet refused to credit it. In fact, he died discrediting Blowell's statement that he had discovered Mars. In the early part of the century, too, exploration had been somewhat retarded by the famous Peary-Cook controversy, in which, it will be remembered, it was conclusively shown that both men had reached the north pole, but neither of them had brought it back, the other having got it first and having refused every inducement to give it up or reveal its whereabouts. After seven years of party feeling, which rivaled the famous Dreyfus case in Paris, one Oscar Flounder of Hoboken landed on Mars in a balloon which had fourteen patches in it, and after having been called a liar on eighteen specific occasions, in nineteen different places, and always in unequivocal terms, Oscar Flounder--that is to say, Mars, was discovered. Science then forgot the north pole incident, or as it has been written in history, the "Peary-Cook Mincident."

The discovery by Prof. Ramsey of the light but durable metal which bears his name stimulated progress in aerial navigation. With the death of Mr. Flounder, following a slight accident to his famous balloon, (it went up and never came down,) the embargo--the individual copyright--on discovery was lifted. Many ba-lunatics [sic] and aeroplanters then visited Mars and the adjacent suburbs. They found the Martians a highly refined people, who had known the use of safety matches and gum pastilles for some time.

After that, aerial navigation superseded the then paramount automobile. A fortunate circumstance in the development of aerial transportation facilities was a dispute over New York's sky-line. The dispute had been going on for some time. The question was not the necessity for an even sky-line, (this was admitted,) but whether it should be fixed at the maximum or the minimum. As the maximum point would make further storeying necessary in too many cases and the minimum would require a great deal of sawing-off operations, a medium was struck, and the Mayor signed an order compelling owners of buildings to plane off, or build up, their roofs to 1,000 feet above street level. In this way a level plain was arrived at which presently became useful as a landing place for aerial liners and was highly adapted for practice speeding with skimmers.

The perfecting of the submarine, following the introduction of the airship for overland travel, produced a startling metamorphosis in general transportation. With the exception of subterranean (then called subway) transit, all traffic was by air or submarine. The improvement by Frank Reade, a boy inventor, of Jack Wright's "Flying Diver" did away with the necessity for transfer companies, and presently the world was winged, or rather plunged--or both--into that era which had hitherto been considered in the realm of "Circling the Girdle in Eight Minutes," b the authro of "Girdling the Circle in Seven," copyrighted in Great Britain by the publishers of "Squaring the Circle in Six."

As compared with the programme published yesterday of the ancient celebrations of 1909, the following programme of aerial, submarine, feathered, and aquatic sports in 2009 should suggest to the perceptive mind some of the improvements that have been effected in the last 100 years: 

PROGRAMME

The chief features of the opening day will be the rendezvous of Earthian and foreign planetary aerial vessels over the Hudson River and extending from the Baseball Grounds (roof of the Universal Times Building) to the Hackensack Terminals (High Level). Aerial parade of vessels of every type starting from the Narrows and circling Chicago, returning at 3. P.M. (Eastern time.)

Parade to be repeated at night, with Martian halo illuminations, Jupiterian fires, &c., and Earth illuminated by electricty from the harnesses of Niagara Falls and Fundy tides.

Sunday will be devoted to religious by those accustomed to worship.

Tuesday will be devoted to the historical pageant, all nations and known planetary peoples participating, while Wednesday will be Education Day, during which the President will review the relics of the Wright Brothers' first flying machine, the first submarine, the balloon with the fourteen patches (replica), and a sample of Prof. Koch's tuberculin.

On Thursday nothing will happen, a military parade being out of the question, but a bust of A. Carnegie, (the twentieth century Rameses) and an authetic photograph of The Hague requiescating in pace will be exhibited to the true believers.

Friday's celebrations will be held on Mars. Return tickets, (including berth on the forward aeroplanes,) $17.

The week will close with a grand procession of the planetary delegations to finish with a rendering of the "Anthem of the Starry Hosts." (Universal Keyboard.)

One of the most interesting features of the entire celebration is EXPECTED TO BE a 2,000 mile clipper aeroscat dash from New York to Chicago and return, by Dr. Scuten P. Hodges of Hoboken, and Baam Gaaaab of Mars, (respectively portraying Wilbur Wright and Glenn H. Curtiss.)
 
We cannot refrain, in conclusion, from printing that admirably written climax of our special correspondent in describing the historic pageant as it passed the reviewing eye of President Bryan, (a great-great-great-grandson of the great-great-great Commoner:)

Slowly the birdlike monsters glided past, hung aloft the sunlight like giant Auks of the Dark Ages.

It was Man's Triumph! And below, cutting the sun-kissed waters of the Hudson with their peering gyroscopes, came the vast dark flotilla of the waters under the earth.

Beyond, upon the Palisades, darted swift flocks of skimmers, while from the level towers of Manhattan shot coveys of welcoming aeroyaks, their wings beating the thin air like the gossamer of moths and their dynamos humming like large quantities of bees confined in small bottles.

But--What is this? What draws from a million throats a sob of reminiscent grief--exquisite and refined? What relics are these that come, borne in triumph aloft the planes of yon giant cruiser? What objects are these that we venerate to-day?

A transfer ticket, mounted on a brass lion rampant; a Raines law sandwich, clutched in the teethy jaws of a Tammany tiger; an Amsterdam Avenue car, mounted on rusted rails of an ancient franchise; a Grand Street car horse, (stuffed,) loaned by the Municipat Zoo; a King, the last of his kind, loaned by the British Museum, with a ticket attached, "Do not feed or annoy his Majesty"; and--now, why do the people take off their hats?--an aeroplane, crushed and bruised and spattered with gore!

From the telephonicon three thousand feet overhead bursts a paean of music. No human musician touches the keys. The mysteries of wireless currents in ether waft the strains from far forests and waterfalls, frozen gorges and sweltering deserts. It is the world's tribute. And now the primitive Clermont creaks and splashes throught he waters, (sun-kissed,) and now comes a float, showing icebergs, bears, and gumdrops, and bearing two men and a legend, "We both done it, but he's a liar." And lastly comes a silver dollar mounted on a crystal of common salt. At that President Bryan's eyes fill and friends who are standing near see him remove his hat and hear him murmur:

"My great-great-great-grand--"

The rest is drowned in a blast of triumphal music from the overhead telephonicon. The clipper aerostats are off on the 2,000-mile dash to Chicago and back!

Current Location:
United States, Texas, Spring
Current Mood:
rushed rushed
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On September 9th, 2010 02:58 pm (UTC), ffutures commented:
Lovely stuff! Would you mind if I copied this to my site / the next Forgotten Futures disk etc.?

Was it illustrated?
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On September 9th, 2010 04:26 pm (UTC), ratmmjess replied:
I'd be flattered--by all means, use it!

No, not illustrated--just pure text.
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On September 9th, 2010 03:43 pm (UTC), head58 commented:
Those pesky perambulators, always clogging up Broadway!

And given how WJB's grandson turned out I'd be pretty scared to see three more generations down the line would have been.

I love this kind of stuff! one of these days I'm going to run a game set in the distant future of the year 2000 as envisioned from the 1920s/30s.
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On September 9th, 2010 04:24 pm (UTC), ratmmjess replied:
Ha, I was thinking about this in gaming terms as well!
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On September 9th, 2010 03:48 pm (UTC), kadath commented:
Solid A on cell phone cameras ("telephotogravures"), C- on the usual "planes for all!" thing. It has the typical problem of the era of extrapolating transportation and totally missing communication/networking/data storage. Makes me wonder what we'll have missed on in a century.
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On September 9th, 2010 04:24 pm (UTC), ratmmjess replied:
Oh, yeah. The really interesting question--well, one of the really interesting questions--about these sorts of predictions is, "*Why* did they think this way, to make such a bad prediction?" In this case the answer is kinda obvious, but ofttimes it's not so much.

The cell phone prediction--I haven't done the research, but I'm wondering if this is one of the first English-language predictions of cell phones.
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On September 9th, 2010 04:29 pm (UTC), kadath replied:
I seem to recall "smaller wireless telegraphs" as being fairly prevalent, which predicts 90s cell phones well enough, but this is the first time I've seen small-handset wireless communication + non-voice transmissions from a pre-TV source. So that's cool.
On September 13th, 2010 06:16 pm (UTC), (Anonymous) replied:
For the past couple decades, we extrapolated on robots, but missed the Internet. Most sci-fi movies predicted what we mostly think will happen in 100 years, e.g. Artificial Intelligence, destruction of Earth, and I think most of them will not happen. It will be more be in the lines of bio-technology or nanotechnology instead.
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On September 9th, 2010 03:56 pm (UTC), panmodal commented:
"...by those accustomed to worship." is interesting, because it suggests that there are those who are not so accustomed, and suggests it without implicit censure. It doesn't go quite so far as acknowledging atheists--more like the softer "unchurched"--but it does allow for them.

When President Obama mentioned "non-believers" in his inaugural address (in 2009), it was still noteworthy enough to draw fire from religious conservatives (and praise from atheists and secularists). If the simple acknowledgment of people not "accustomed to worship" can still surprise people in 2009, how much bolder must it have been in 1909 (even allowing for the softer reading)?
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On September 9th, 2010 04:22 pm (UTC), ratmmjess replied:
I had that exact thought about that passage. Relatively daring on his part, yeah.
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On September 9th, 2010 11:53 pm (UTC), full_metal_ox replied:
Although President Obama himself is a development that I suspect the author of this piece might never have anticipated.
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On September 9th, 2010 05:22 pm (UTC), ffutures commented:
Mincident?
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On September 9th, 2010 10:36 pm (UTC), donsimpson commented:
Days of Past Futures
I love this stuff. My library includes the books listed below (in approximately decreasing order of relevance to the subject; I have lots more old S-F illustrations). Many of the predicted futures get some aspects correct, while others just seem silly today (computer technology surprised even most science fiction writers). Estimates of relative speeds of technology development are off. And no-one gets the actual appearance right....

Predictions - pictorial predictions from the past, by John Durant

Yesterday's Tomorrows - past visions of America's future, by Joseph J. Corn and Brian Horrigan

Wasn't the Future Wonderful? - a view of trends and technology from the 1930s, by Tim Onosko

One Hundred Years of Science-Fiction Illustration, by Anthony Frewin

Fantastic Science-Fiction Art - 1926-1954, by Lester del Ray

2000 A.D. - illustrations from the golden age of science fiction pulps, by Jacques Sadoul
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On September 10th, 2010 11:39 am (UTC), pingback_bot commented:
100 years ago, the New York Times predicted cars would be abolished today [Retro Futurism]
User gizmodo_vip referenced to your post from 100 years ago, the New York Times predicted cars would be abolished today [Retro Futurism] saying: [...] ck in 1909, a fanciful New York Times journalist decided to spice things up by pretending to describe a futuristic 2009 "centennial celebration." His portrait of future NYC is surprisingly eco-conscious and pedestrian-friendly.
Thanks to pulp history scholar Jess Nevins, we've got access to a transcribed version of this story, written by mystery writer and journalist Stephen Chalmers.
Here is a particularly delightful passage, where the author describes the invention of "telephotogravures," the abolition of the "crude" automobile, and the preponderance of flying machines in the sky:

It is curious and interesting to us at this late day to examine and compare photographs of the celebrations of 1909 with the telegravures which we print elsewhere in today's issue. Aside from the subject interest of these modern pictures we cannot help noticing and commenting on the change in method of production and reproduction, even in the detail of the modern arts. Yet even in the year 1909 it was no subject for incredulity that the taking and making of pictures by wireless color telephotogravure was about to supersede the quaint, and even then archaic, camera methods.
In the telegravures of the recent celebrations, which we publish elsewhere in this issue, we realize at a glance what has happened in this old but ever new world during the 100 years which have elapsed since the centennial's first celebration. We are at once struck by the absence of all wheeled vehicles on land and of all funneled or masted surface vessels at sea. The streets which were crowded by all sorts and conditions of more or less crude vehicles are to-day devoted to pedestrian traffic, always excepting babies' perambulators. The latter, it is interesting to recall, were at the time of which we speak the daily and particular victim of the automobile, which is now an obsolte curio, while babies and perambulators survive and have come to their own gain. A nursemaid could now wheel a perambulator containing twins from the Battery to 775th Street, following the middle of Broadway, and read a book undisturbed and in perfect safety—only, of course, no nursemaid would be foolish enough to essay the task on foot.
The greatest change, to return to the telegravures, is to be remarked in the sudden complete appearance of the air vessel as a landscape feature. In olden days a writer of the romantic school stated that no picture of the tropics was complete that did not contain at least a speck representing a turkey buzzard in the background. We might say that to-day no picture is complete that does not have an airship somewhere in the back-sky. In the celebration pictures we find the aerovessel, almost absent from the celebrations of 1909, crowding in upon the vision as cabs did around the old-fashioned theatre one hundred years ago. We find the aerovessel in its many forms—from the single-seated skimmer to the vast aerocruisers, of which the Martian type is perhaps the finest example—equivalent to the Dreadnaught of the ante-pax days. Also, we perceive along the sea coast and on the Hudson River a type of vessel which was not foreshadowed even at the time of the first centennial celebrations—the submarine and flying skimmer, in playfully sobriqued the "susky-marine." Of course, the gradual elimination of earth and ocean surface travel made it inevitable that the submarine aerovessel should have the monopoly of the earth and the waters under the earth. It is hardly necessary to recall the case of the last of the old steel warships, the Amerigo, which foundered in 1947 with all souls after having been split by the Flying Diver (Jupiter: 2d class; 10 v.c.) as the latter shot from the ocean bed to the air leap.

You can read the whole thing on Jess Nevins' excellent blog, Slouching Towards Bethlehem [...]
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On September 10th, 2010 12:43 pm (UTC), (Anonymous) commented:
You may also enjoy...
Nice find. Along similar lines, you might also like http://sundaymagazine.org, which reprints the most interesting articles from the New York Times Sunday Magazine exactly 100 years ago each week, with some notes for historic context or commentary.
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On September 10th, 2010 12:51 pm (UTC), ratmmjess replied:
Re: You may also enjoy...
I did something like that on Twitter for a while--good to see a better version of it than I did!
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