Miracles You’ll See in the Next 50 Years: A retrospective

In February 1950, Popular Mechanics ran an article titled “Miracles You’ll See in the Next 50 Years”, written by Waldemar Kaempffert, the Science Editor of the New York Times. How many of these prophecies came true by 2000? Let’s look at a few of them. In the article, Kaempffert describes a hypothetical town of 100,000 – Tottenville. This Eden-like community seems to offer it all – a clean, quite environment surrounded by green open spaces.


Most power is provided by solar power. FALSE – globally maybe 1% of power is provided by solar power. Certain smaller countries (e.g. Denmark) have made great strides, and with the advancement and cost reductions, solar will make a larger impact in the near future.

Atomically driven ocean liners. FALSE – There are still a few aircraft carriers and similar warships driven by nuclear power, but no ocean liners. This went the way of atomic trains.

Light metals have displaced steel. TRUE (kind-of) – light metals are becoming more common, but steel is still heavily used in construction, partially because it is cheaper than lighter metals.

By 2000, wood, brick and stone are “ruled out” as building materials because they are too expensive.  FALSE – In fact wood is making a comeback, especially in the form of laminated wood products, which are often just as structurally sound, and much greener than metals. Wood is now seen by some as the “building material of the future”.

The houses are galeproof and weatherproof, but only designed to last 25 years. “Nobody in 2000 sees any sense in building a house that will last a century”. TRUE and FALSE – True, in that gale-proof house can be built, although they are often costly. False, in that nobody designs houses that will only last 25 years – inadvertently however some people do construct houses of inferior materials/design that likely won’t last very long.

Everything in the house is synthetic. There are no dishwashers. Dishes are “thrown away after they have been used once, or rather put into a sink where they are dissolved by superheated water”. The plates are made from raw materials such as cottonseed hulls, oat hulls, Jerusalem artichokes, fruit pits, soy beans, straw and wood pulp. FALSE (sort-of) – Many things in our houses are synthetic, although there is a movement back towards natural products. Thankfully dishes are not thrown away after use, although there are companies making plates etc out of biodegrable products.

Furniture, rugs etc. are all made of synthetic fabric or waterproof plastic, and can be cleaned using a hose. FALSE – It is possible to buy things that could be cleaned with a hose, but that is usually for outdoor use. Thankfully no-one thinks using a hose to clean their house is a good thing.

Food is dominated by the frozen food industry. Electronic stoves that can prepare a meal in 75 seconds. “In 8 seconds a half-grilled frozen steak is thawed, in two more minutes it is ready to serve”. FALSE and TRUE – I think food was likely dominated by frozen food for a few decades, however there has been a movement back towards real food. Unfortunately “electric stoves” in the form of microwave ovens do cook food, although not in the times given!

Sawdust and woodpulp and converted into sugary foods. TRUE – Although not known by a lot of people the cellulose in wood pulp is used to stop pre-packaged shredded cheese from clumping, keeps low-fat ice cream creamy, and pre-made milk-shakes smooth.

The television set is connected with the telephones and the radio receiver. People can “see” each other through the televisions, “shopping by television”. TRUE – Yep, people can shop via TV, although people can’t see each other through TVs, they can through computers – practically the same thing.

Every operation in factories will be electronically, and automatically controlled. TRUE – mostly anyways. We still need people in factories doing tasks machines can’t and making sure the machines function properly.

A system to predict the weather from hour to hour – combination forecaster and calculating machine. “storms are more or less under control”.

It is easy enough to spot a budding hurricane in the doldrums off the coast of Africa. Before it has a chance to gather much strength and speed as it travels westward toward Florida, oil is spread over the sea and ignited. There is an updraft. Air from the surrounding region, which includes the developing hurricane, rushes in to fill the void. The rising air condenses so that some of the water in the whirling mass falls as rain.”  FALSE – We can’t properly predict weather (well, *maybe* 1-2 hours ahead), and certainly can’t control it.

Supersonic planes cover 1000 miles an hour, crossing the Atlantic in 3 hours. 1000-mile-an-hour rocket planes between Chicago and Paris. TRUE and FALSE – The Concorde flew New York to London in an average of 3.5 hours, however there aren’t any rocket planes (not yet at least), and the Concorde isn’t flying anymore.

People have family helicopters, kept on the roof. Cars are used for journeys less than 20 miles. FALSE – personal helicopters? Not anytime soon thank heavens. Cars still rule.

Commuters go to the city in huge aerial buses that hold 200 passengers. FALSE – It will never happen.

Messages are transmitted by phototelegraphy. TRUE – Faxes did exist, but have been largely superseded by electronic media.

Life span has been lengthened to 85. TRUE – The life span of humans may be about 120 now, but more realistic is the life expectancy, which is an average of 67 worldwide, and 82.2 in Canada




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