How Past Cincinnatians Predicted The Future

Hourly newspapers? A universal language? Horse-less roads? These are just a handful of predictions the Queen City’s past residents had about the future.
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Although the boy of the future sports rocket-powered wings, he is still clad in the Buster-Brown style of the early 1900s.

Image Courtesy the Cincinnati Enquirer, January 6, 1901 | Image extracted from microfilm by Greg Hand

As a child of the 1950s, I gaze upon this Twenty-First Century with scorn. Where is my ray-gun? My spaceship? My house on Mars? Where is my doggone time machine? The future, as ever, is not what it was cracked up to be. That has been the conclusion of forward-looking Cincinnatians since way back in the city’s history.

As early as 1846, Charles Cist published, in the Cincinnati Advertiser, a look at the city 30 years in the future. When 1876 arrived, Cist predicted, hourly newspapers—one called The Cincinnati Rocket—would replace the immense “bedsheet” daily newspapers of the 1840s. He predicted an additional 38 states added to the Union after the conclusion of the Mexican-American War. Cist projected Cincinnati’s population would be 675,000 (it actually reached about 230,000 in 1876) and a revolutionary new method for paving streets:

It consists of a chemical preparation, which in its fluid state, passes over and through a layer of six or eight inches deep of tan bark or sawdust, and hardens to a degree which keeps the whole pavement perfectly elastic, while the surface is smooth enough to pass the water during and after rains immediately into the gutters. Nothing can be more delightful than the noiseless revolution of carriage wheels over such surfaces. It is like rolling over an unbroken sward, or rather over carpeting.

By 1887, the Cincinnati Post [June 6, 1887] issued a whole sequence of predictions, based on the recent invention of a so-called universal language known as Volapuk:

Already the scientists of Europe have provided in volapuk a universal language; the next move will be universal coinage; the next a universal system of measures; the next a worldwide free trade; the next a delegated and authoritative parliament of the earth; the next a distributive organization to equalize the distribution of comforts and civilization, and last a magnificent Earth race, in which shall be represented, absorbed, and extinguished all the races and bloods of mankind.

Some people predicted changes in language. William H. Morgan, Superintendent of Cincinnati’s Public Schools endorsed a simplified spelling system in which though became tho, programme became program, catalogue became catalog and thorough became thoro. Well, 50-50 isn’t a bad prediction. Less accurate, mayhap, was the 1888 prediction in the Post that bowling would contribute as many idioms to English as baseball had. That prediction got stranded on base.

While not indulging in universal rhapsodies, the Post [January 19, 1888] predicted a far more mundane, yet necessary future in which Cincinnati had clean drinking water:

The city of the future will not drink a dilution of mud, street washings, slaughter-house scourings, and privy vault and water-closet emptyings. The water which the city of the future will drink, cook with, and bathe in will be the pure, soft, limpid distillation of the sky.

Image Courtesy the Cincinnati Enquirer, August 9, 1900 | Image extracted from microfilm by Greg Hand

In the 1890s, Cincinnatians predicted all sorts of good things for the century to come. The Cincinnati Post in 1892 raved about a “skycycle”—a pedal-powered flying machine to be exhibited at that year’s World’s Fair, with the headline “It Is Solved, The Great Problem Of The Centuries.” Alas, not so. Nor did the Post’s prediction [September 5, 1894] that chemistry would replace farmers and chefs with artificial food come to pass. The “Fast-Flying Cosmopolitan Express,” a proposed railroad running from St. Petersburg, across Siberia and the Bering Strait all the way to Rio de Janeiro remained a pipe-dream despite the Post’s 1893 support for the concept.

More accurately, in 1899, the Post carried an artist’s rendering of motorized tanks, 15 years before they blasted through the trenches of World War I. Equally accurate was a 1900 cartoon published in the Cincinnati Enquirer of a “horseless paradise” in which automobile drivers monopolized the roads and decimated pedestrians.

Charles A. Hinsch, president of the Fifth-Third National Bank, addressed the Cincinnati Businessmen’s Club in 1913 with his vision for the city’s future. As reported in the Post [November 12, 1913], he foresaw:

A mall, convention hall, new Courthouse, interurban terminal depot, boulevard system, subway, civic center, with broad walks, on which will be the new Businessmen’s Club; new union depot, with smokeless trains; ocean-going steamers on the Ohio River, high-pressure water system, parkways, driveway along the Ohio River and billboards abolished.

Herman Schneider, the University of Cincinnati dean who created cooperative education, predicted [Post, May 4, 1928] that university students by 1978 would receive much of their instruction via radio or television.

Fifty years from now, when any person seeking education may . . . see and hear a world famous authority speak and demonstrate by simply turning on the radio, present day educational methods will seem very crude.

Despite all the predictions in his own newspaper, an editor at the Cincinnati Post [January 10, 1901] took a more skeptical look at the future.

After thousands of columns of Twentieth Century predictions have been printed, after visionary men have prophesied that people will live without labor at the end of a hundred years, the fact remains that affairs will probably run along in the same old groove.  There will be development in all lines, labor may find its burdens lightened and gain a greater share of the benefits of invention, but the injunction, ‘By The Sweat Of Thy Brow Shalt Thou Eat Thy Bread,’ was not formed for any one century, but for the ages.

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