100 years ago, the New York Times predicted cars would be abolished today

Illustration for article titled 100 years ago, the New York Times predicted cars would be abolished today

Back in 1909, a fanciful New York Times journalist decided to spice things up by pretending to describe a futuristic 2009 "centennial celebration." His portrait of future NYC is surprisingly eco-conscious and pedestrian-friendly.


Thanks to pulp history scholar Jess Nevins, we've got access to a transcribed version of this story, written by mystery writer and journalist Stephen Chalmers.

Here is a particularly delightful passage, where the author describes the invention of "telephotogravures," the abolition of the "crude" automobile, and the preponderance of flying machines in the sky:

It is curious and interesting to us at this late day to examine and compare photographs of the celebrations of 1909 with the telegravures which we print elsewhere in today's issue. Aside from the subject interest of these modern pictures we cannot help noticing and commenting on the change in method of production and reproduction, even in the detail of the modern arts. Yet even in the year 1909 it was no subject for incredulity that the taking and making of pictures by wireless color telephotogravure was about to supersede the quaint, and even then archaic, camera methods.

In the telegravures of the recent celebrations, which we publish elsewhere in this issue, we realize at a glance what has happened in this old but ever new world during the 100 years which have elapsed since the centennial's first celebration. We are at once struck by the absence of all wheeled vehicles on land and of all funneled or masted surface vessels at sea. The streets which were crowded by all sorts and conditions of more or less crude vehicles are to-day devoted to pedestrian traffic, always excepting babies' perambulators. The latter, it is interesting to recall, were at the time of which we speak the daily and particular victim of the automobile, which is now an obsolte curio, while babies and perambulators survive and have come to their own gain. A nursemaid could now wheel a perambulator containing twins from the Battery to 775th Street, following the middle of Broadway, and read a book undisturbed and in perfect safety—only, of course, no nursemaid would be foolish enough to essay the task on foot.

The greatest change, to return to the telegravures, is to be remarked in the sudden complete appearance of the air vessel as a landscape feature. In olden days a writer of the romantic school stated that no picture of the tropics was complete that did not contain at least a speck representing a turkey buzzard in the background. We might say that to-day no picture is complete that does not have an airship somewhere in the back-sky. In the celebration pictures we find the aerovessel, almost absent from the celebrations of 1909, crowding in upon the vision as cabs did around the old-fashioned theatre one hundred years ago. We find the aerovessel in its many forms—from the single-seated skimmer to the vast aerocruisers, of which the Martian type is perhaps the finest example—equivalent to the Dreadnaught of the ante-pax days. Also, we perceive along the sea coast and on the Hudson River a type of vessel which was not foreshadowed even at the time of the first centennial celebrations—the submarine and flying skimmer, in playfully sobriqued the "susky-marine." Of course, the gradual elimination of earth and ocean surface travel made it inevitable that the submarine aerovessel should have the monopoly of the earth and the waters under the earth. It is hardly necessary to recall the case of the last of the old steel warships, the Amerigo, which foundered in 1947 with all souls after having been split by the Flying Diver (Jupiter: 2d class; 10 v.c.) as the latter shot from the ocean bed to the air leap.


You can read the whole thing on Jess Nevins' excellent blog, Slouching Towards Bethlehem. Thanks to Nevins for transcribing this whole crazy story!

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Some predictions rely on the descovery of still unknown things. Has been discovered something better than car to replace it?

Another thing usually not taken into account is how economy plays there in several ways, either in resources needed to reach some utopian situation, or the related cost to make it be in hands of everyone, or even existing economic interests to keep most as it is now (alternate realities could not understand how we are so tied to tobacco and alcohol, ingest massive amount of sugar, or rely on oil our entire civilization)