What did 1923 predict for 2023?


Erik Deckers

By Erik Deckers | For The Times-Post

A Twitter thread on Jan. 1 showcased some ideas that the people of 1923 had about us 100 years later.

The thread was written by Paul Fairie (@paulisci), a researcher and instructor at the University of Calgary, whose bio says he shares “curiosities from old newspapers.” He pulled a few gems from several sources around the United States and Canada. Some of them were eerily accurate, and others were a bit, well, silly.

For one thing, in early 1923, Dr. Charles Steinmetz said that the work day would be no longer than four hours and no one would have to work very hard “owing to the work of electricity.” Steinmetz wasn’t far off since many people now work in offices using computers and barely move at all for a lot longer than four hours, though, which seems like a fair trade.

Steinmetz was a highly regarded electrical engineer who was also a staunch socialist who worked for General Electric. Still, we can’t hold that against him because he was a product of his time and only did what he thought was right, even though his leaders were amoral, power-mad troglodytes bent on world domination and actually cared little for people.

He probably shouldn’t have been a socialist, either.

Meanwhile, airplane expert Glenn Curtis predicted that by 2023, gasoline would be replaced by radio as a fuel. He also thought “the skies will be filled by myriad craft sailing over well-defined routes.” One out of two ain’t bad, although I would have loved it if my car could have been powered by Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies.”

We’re also all supposed to be beautiful. Experts believed that by 2023, there would be no need for beauty contests, including beautiful baby contests because there would be so many beautiful people that it would be impossible to select a winner.

Having looked at myself in the mirror this morning and at the rest of you gorgeous people, I can say that this prediction was spot on. Point for 1923.

A snippet in the Savannah (Georgia) News said that beauty trends would change and evolve over the next century. For one thing, men would curl their hair, even though it was a woman’s fashion in those days.

Meanwhile, women were going to shave their heads regularly. Moreover, they were going to consider it the height of fashion to blacken their teeth.

“Won’t we be pretty?” asked the Savannah News, in that passive-aggressive motherly way when your friend wore a midriff-baring crop top to the mall.

In 1923, the life expectancy was 56.1 years for men, 58.5 for women. But they thought we could live 100 or 150 years by 2023. And in some cases, we could live as long as 200 years.

If I had to curl my hair every day, why would I even want to?

One reason we would live so long is that we would eradicate cancer, tuberculosis, polio and leprosy, which meant fewer doctors. They certainly never expected healthcare to become the largest industry in the U.S., at $1.3 trillion per year, with 5,875 hospitals.

One downside of living that long? The U.S. population would number around 300 million people. (We have 332 million.) This would result in the drainage of the lowlands to irrigate the arid lands. (We do this, too.)

On the other hand, Canada was also expected to have 100 million people by this time. But they have 38 million; California has 39 million.

Private kitchens in our homes were supposed to be eliminated. Instead, food would be prepared by “chemical formulas, which will preserve the freshness of fruits and meats… and send them to the table ready to use.” They certainly never predicted the insufferable organic food movement or the entire country becoming “allergic” to gluten.

On chilly days, we would all wear kidney cozies. They work just like tea cozies, except they’re for your kidneys. Which would make them pee cozies.

Flights from Chicago to Hamburg, Germany, were going to take 18 hours — they take nine — and people “… will record, on talking films, orders from merchants in Peking.” And those orders would be delivered on 1,000-mile-an-hour freighters to arrive before sunset.

In fact, there would be no mail between New York and San Francisco. Why? Because “watch-size radio telephones will keep everyone in communication with the ends of the earth.”

Pretty good, 1923. You may have whiffed on the end of coast-to-coast mail or the supersonic ocean freighters. But how many of us are wearing an Apple Watch or a Fitbit that alerts us whenever we get a text message on our mobile phone?

On the other hand, Professor A.M. Low believed that the war of 1923 would be a “wireless war,” fought with electrified jets of water — his own invention, of course.

Also, we would have wireless telephony, sight, heat, power, and writing. Another point for 1923. Except Professor Low also said mental telepathy will be a “very useful method of communication.”

So close, Professor, but no cigar. Hang your curly head in shame.


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