Herbert Bayard Swope, the editor of The World newspaper, flung this headline at readers in 1923: "How Will The Troubled Old World Take Step A Century Hence?"
"The result ... is a pretty consistent optimistic appraisal of the year 2023 by people who have a wide experience and many points of contact with 1923," Swope summarizes. "There's a good time coming ... The problems that beset us, the strife and normalcy, will all be banished and forgotten, and the world will be a much better place for our great-great grandchildren to live in."
That should be good news for us. We just need to hold out for another decade.
Swopes "experts" offered some equally broad pronouncements:
On motion pictures, D.W. Griffith, motion picture producer, said: "The great publishing industry will be the publishing of motion pictures instead of print. Motion picture libraries will be as common as private libraries today -- more so. Talking pictures will have been perfected and perhaps have been forgotten again. For the world will have become picture trained, so that words are not as important as they are now."
On democracy, Cordell Hull, chairman, Democratic National Committee, said: "The principles of democracy being eternal, they will necessarily exist a hundred years from now, and the achievements of government, through the application of those principles to changing conditions, will logically be greater than they have been in the last 100 years."
On race relations, James Weldon Johnson, secretary of the NAACP, said: "In the year 2023, the Negro problem in the United States will not have entirely disappeared, but will be entirely changed. Through the constant forward changes in the Negro himself, which force constant changes in his local and national environment, the race, by 2023, will have achieved equality of political and civil status and of industrial, economic and cultural opportunity, and the Negro problem will probably be reduced to a thin and wavering line of opposition to social recognition and intercourse."
On women, Mary Garrett Hay, chairman of the New York City League of Women Voters, said: "The life of even the average woman will be broader and better. Woman's drudgery in the household will be eliminated, her care of the family will be lessened, as new inventions come in and new methods of work. Women, like men, will do the tasks for which they are best fitted by temperament, gifts and training. Politically, women will be powerful. They will share with men the real constructive work of government. Many will hold office. If there is not a woman president, the thought of one will shock no one."
The World also took up problems of the day, such as New York Mayor James Walker's habitual tardiness due to that household nuisance -- the telephone. "He gets up in the morning in plenty of time," his wife said, "but the telephone will ring. He will answer it and talk as long as the other party wishes. He is never abrupt and always afraid of hurting somebody's feelings."
Ah, the problems of another age. Would that our ancestors could have envisioned gridlock, airport security, global warming, the Internet or citizens scurrying about with cell phones grafted to their heads.
And what do we owe posterity? Very little, according to Groucho Marx: "What have they ever done for us?"
Burt Dragon teaches journalism at Laney College.