Predictions For 2011 – From 1931

Henry Ford

Henry Ford

With thanks to disinformation reader JMD for sending us the link, the Abnormal Use blog reviews predictions for the future 80 years hence, made in 1931 by such luminaries of the time as Henry Ford and physician and Mayo Clinic co-founder W. J. Mayo:

…What did the great minds of 1931 predict the rapidly approaching 2011 would be like?

There is actually an answer to that question.

Way back on September 13, 1931, The New York Times, founded in 1851, decided to celebrate its 80th anniversary by asking a few of the day’s visionaries about their predictions of 2011 – 80 years in their future. Those assembled were big names for 1931: physician and Mayo Clinic co-founder W. J. Mayo, famed industrialist Henry Ford, anatomist and anthropologist Arthur Keith, physicist and Nobel laureate Arthur Compton, chemist Willis R. Whitney, physicist and Nobel laureate Robert Millikan, physicist and chemist Michael Pupin, and sociologist William F. Ogburn. Since these guys all have their own Wikipedia entries so many decades later, they had to have been important for their time, right? Perhaps not a diverse lot, but it was 1931.

Ford, perhaps the most recognizable name to modern readers, set the tone of the project in his own editorial of prognostication:

To make an eighty-year forecast may be an interesting exercise, first of the imagination and then of our sense of humility, but its principal interest will probably be for the people eighty years on, who will measure our estimates against the accomplished fact. No doubt the seeds of 1931 were planted and possibly germinating in 1851, but did anyone forecast the harvest? And likewise the seeds of 2011 are with us now, but who discerns them?

We’re not certain why The Times chose to celebrate an arbitrary 80 years of existence. Whatever the case, the predictions are full of gems, so we encourage you to read the original articles (which, hopefully, The New York Times will unlock from its paywall as 2011 approaches). Today, we are just two weeks shy of 2011, so we must ask, how did some of these men fare in their predictions? Let us do as Ford suspected we would and measure their estimates against accomplished fact (at least as much as a humble products liability blog can do).

Dr. Mayo had this to say:

Contagious and infectious diseases have been largely overcome, and the average length of life of man has increased to fifty-eight years. The great causes of death in middle and later life are diseases of heart, blood vessels and kidneys, diseases of the nervous system, and cancer. The progress that is being made would suggest that within the measure of time for this forecast the average life time of civilized man would be raised to the biblical term of three-score and ten.

Dr. Mayo predicted the average life span in 2011 would be 70. He wasn’t far off. According to this post at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it’s currently 77.9 years…

[continues at the Abnormal Use blog]

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