3. John Elfreth Watkins, Jr.
Predicted: Television and mobile phones in 1900.
Mr. Watkins was a civil engineer, a railroad man who became a curator at the Smithsonian Institute after suffering a disabling accident. In 1900, he contributed an article to Ladies’ Home Journal titled “What May Happen in the Next Hundred Years”. Within this article, Mr. Watkins made lots of predictions, large and small, for the next century; some of these proved, despite their counter-intuitiveness, to be amazingly accurate. Among the more astonishing predictions—and keep in mind this was over a hundred years ago:
“Man will see around 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 a span.” —could apply to satellite television, the Internet, or both.
“There will probably be from 350,000,000 to 500,000,000 people in America.” —most were guessing much higher at the time, as the American population was exploding.
“Ready-cooked meals will be bought from establishment similar to our bakeries of today.” —Freeze-dried and packaged foods, not to mention electric refrigerators, were still far on the horizon.
“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 newspapers an hour later . . . . photographs will reproduce all of nature’s colors.” —digital photography and picture sharing. And perhaps most impressive of all:
“Wireless telephone and telegraph circuits will span the world. A husband in the middle of the Atlantic will be able to converse with his wife sitting in her boudoir in Chicago. We will be able to telephone to China quite as readily as we now talk from New York to Brooklyn.” —nobody on the planet not named Tesla was thinking along these lines, except apparently Mr. Watkins.
Unfortunately, Watkins died before seeing a single one of his predictions come to fruition, in 1903.