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Predictions made by engineer in 1900 mostly come true

Two of the devices Watkins loosely predicted in 1900 - the digital camera and the cell phone.

Predicting the future is usually difficult although an American engineer did a pretty good job when he wrote his predictions for the next hundred years way back in 1900.

John Elfreth Watkins wrote an article for Ladies' Home Journal titled "What May Happen in the Next Hundred Years", where he somehow foresaw mobile phones, digital photography, television and tanks along with some incorrect predictions.

Now, 112 years later, a history editor for the Journal's sister publication, the Saturday Evening Post, dug out the article to see how Watkins did.

Watkins started by saying "These prophecies will seem strange, almost impossible. Yet they have come from the most learned and conservative minds in America."

The article made 28 predictions. Here are some of the more interesting ones he got right and wrong.

Correct predictions

Digital colour photography - Watkins didn't know how it would happen, but wrote about colour pictures being able to move around the world in minutes. "Photographs will be telegraphed from any distance. If there be a battle in China a hundred years hence, snapshots of its most striking events will be published in the newspaper an hour later...photographs will reproduce all of nature's colours."

Mobile phones - He wrote that wireless telephone circuits will span the world even though it was 15 years prior to the first transcontinental call. "We will be able to telephone to China quite as readily as we now talk from New York to Brooklyn."

Pre-made meals - He wrote people would purchase ready-to-eat meals from establishments similar to bakeries. "They (the store) will purchase materials in tremendous wholesale quantities and sell the cooked foods at a price much lower than the cost of individual cooking." He also said these meals would be made in laboratories as opposed to kitchens.

Television - He foresaw cameras and screens connected by electric circuits that allow people to see events on the other side of the world. "Persons and things of all kinds will be brought within focus of cameras connected electrically with screens at opposite ends of circuits, thousands of miles at span.

Central heating and air conditioning
- The great minds he spoke with talked about how a device would regulate the temperature in a house.

The article also correctly predicted "huge forts on wheels", what we know as tanks, that the population growth will slow, people would get taller and high-speed trains would exist.

What he got wrong

Free university - "A university education will be free to every man and woman." While more people are able to attend university, the costs continue to rise forcing many to take on huge debt.

Fitness levels - "Everybody will walk ten miles...A man or woman unable to walk ten miles at a stretch will be regarded as a weakling." Watkins wrote exercise would be compulsory in schools, but while it is mandatory to a certain age, obesity levels continue to rise in the U.S. and Canada.

Mosquitoes terminated - "Mosquitoes, house-flies and roaches will have been practically exterminated." He thought this would happen because all the breeding grounds, including stagnant pools and swamp lands would be gone.

Fewer letters - "There will be no C, X, or Q in our every-day alphabet." He thought those letters would eventually become unnecessary and spelling by sound would be adopted.

(Reuters photo)