Do you ever imagine what life will look like one hundred years from now? The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) provides ta global stage to introduce next-generation innovations in today’s marketplace. In 1900, the Paris Exposition (April 14 to November 12) heralded upcoming innovations for the next century. In celebration, several companies commissioned artists to produce futuristic Victorian postcards depicting the world in the year 2000. From the Roomba to flying cars, to cell phones to hover boards and Dubai’s aerial firemen, many of these Postcards are not so far off the mark.
People have always been fascinated by visions of the future. In the 19th century, the possibilities seemed limitless. It was a time of awe and wonder, with new ideas and inventions surfacing daily. (Sound familiar?) It was a time of profound excitement when original thinkers paved the way to innovation. It was the second wave of the Industrial Revolution, or Technological Revolution (roughly 1870 to 1914). It was a time when economic and technological progress flourished and visions of the future were unstoppable.
Science fiction writer Jules Verne undoubtedly influenced many of the artists creating the Futuristic Victorian Postcards. To this day he remains a stellar example of his times with his predictions of travel from the ocean floor to the moon. Verne envisioned the future, but was always grounded in reality. While he had no formal scientific education, he researched endlessly and surrounded himself with a circle of friends who were interested in science, inventions and exploration.
Just one example: his 1865 novel, From the Earth to the Moon, told the story of The Baltimore Gun Club’s attempts to launch three men to the moon with a powerful canon. He worked some rough calculations and some of his data came surprisingly close to reality. He also envisioned
And then there was Nikola Tesla. In 1901, Tesla who envisioned cell phones among many devices. He described to J.P. Morgan, his then business partner, his vision for a new form of electronic communication in which bits of information, such as stock quotes and telegram messages, would be funneled to a central station where the bits would be encoded and assigned a frequency that would be broadcast to a “device.” That device would fit in the palm of your hand. Also among his many futuristic visions was the use of renewable energy.
Theodore Hildebrand & Son Chocolate factory in Germany jumped into the game with a series of Futuristic Victorian Postcards that predicted upcoming technologies, many regarding transportation. Hildebrand’s chocolate Factory was founded in 1817 in Berlin. He was one of the first businesses to use steam engines in 1830 in what was then Prussia. Thanks to the latest technology he was able to produce his confections in greater quantities, thus lowering the price.
Ever the innovator, Hildebrand seized a great marketing opportunity presented by the Paris World’s Fair. Hildebrand’s futuristic Victorian Postcards were produced under his “Germany in the Year 2000” campaign. Twelve cards were created. Each featured a visionary look at the 21st century. One was included in every box of Hildebrand candy.
A cigarette company (or possibly a toy company) commissioned French commercial artist Jean-Marc Côté in 1899 to produce 50 illustrations of life in the year 2000. The company went out of business so only one set of the cards was produced. The full set can be seen in Futuredays: A Nineteenth-Century Vision of the Year 2000 published in 1986 with commentary by Isaac Asimov.
These illustrations offer an impressive glimpse into the general public’s perception of our lives in the 2000s—from the perspective of people stepping into the future of the year 1900.
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