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Special Event

Millennium 2000: Predictions From the Past Miss the Mark

Aired January 1, 2000 - 9:23 a.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

JIM CLANCY, CNN ANCHOR: Well, the millennium itself a milestone that has, of course, many people making predictions about what we're going to see in the coming years. But this is also a good time to look back and compare those past predictions with what actually happened.

CNN's Garrick Utley has the scorecard.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GARRICK UTLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was the time and the place to look to the future: the World's Fair held in Chicago in 1893, viewed then and now as a gateway to the modern age. Visitors were introduced to the new marvel of electricity, and also Cracker Jack, diet sodas, and for the first time in the United States, the hamburger.

The organizers of the exposition called on some of the leading thinkers in the United States to predict what life would be like at the dawn of the 21st century. In the age of the steam engine, how did they see us traveling 100 years later?

"The railway and steam ship will be as obsolete as the stagecoach," said John Ingalls of Kansas, who served in the U.S. Senate. "It will be as common for the citizen to call for his dirigible balloon as it is now for his buggy or his boots."

Another predictor saw balloons crossing the nation tied to wires 100 feet above the ground in order to pass over trees and buildings. Only 10 years later, the Wright brothers proved them wrong.

And what of those on the ground?

New York's Broadway, according to one visionary, would have glass tubes above the sidewalk through which moving cars would provide public transportation. Moving sidewalks and other people movers we have. But you might want to wait another century or two before throwing away your walking shoes.

A century ago, Broadway also meant theater, the live entertainment of the time. Richard Mansfield, a superstar actor of his day, saw American stage drama becoming, quote, "one of the proudest achievements of American civilization of the 20th century. How right he was -- except it happened on screen more than on stage. Movies became the new art form of the 20th century. Movies and marketing made the American film a global cultural force.

At the end of the 19th century, the United States was well on its way to becoming an urban society.

(on camera): But there was a rivalry as to which city would become the predominate American city by the end of the 20th century. Several predictors said that Chicago would take on that role. One claimed that Buffalo would become the greatest manufacturing city in the world. And more than one, looking west, said that the American city would be Salt Lake City.

(voice-over): In 1893, Grover Cleveland was president of the United States. Did voters have a real choice between the two major parties? Of course they did, according to Chauncey Depew, who served two terns in the U.S. Senate.

"By 2000," he wrote, "little will have changed," he said confidently. "The Republican Party will still be the party of big government, to advance the interests of the people, while the Democratic Party," Depew predicted, "will continue to fight for smaller government."

At the start of the 20th century, women were not a political force in the United States because women didn't have the vote and wouldn't gain it until 1920. And yet one prediction saw some, quote, "rare, noble woman being elected president of the United States by the 20th century."

And Mary Lease, a social activist, saw women gaining equal opportunities with men, becoming less dependent on them, and even having, quote, "the sole right to say when she shall wear the crown of motherhood." Mary Lease also saw the working day by 2000 being reduced to three hours.

(on camera): So, what are predictions? Sometimes we can't see the future even when we are literally looking into it. This is the television set used in 1927 for the first ;long-distance transmission of television pictures in the United States. They were carried on a telephone line between Washington, D.C. and New York City. The pictures on the tiny screen were grainy, and what they would lead to was not at all apparent.

(voice-over): The next morning, the front-page story in "The New York Times" reported the experiment, in which Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover appeared. The historic importance was evident. But, of course, television, it was thought, would have no commercial future.

In 1893, the postmaster general, John Wanamaker, predicted that by 2000 mail would be sent through electronic tubes. How right he was -- except that it's sent through the digital pipes of the Internet as e-mail in addition to paper mail.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He knew that the passage through the city... UTLEY: And a century ago there was even an inkling of voice recognition technology. A journalist wrote that through forces just beginning to be understood, the spoken word could be set in type.

Seen from the World's Fair at the end of the 19th century, the future was a land of promise. Yet one of the thinkers refused to attempt any predictions, saying "Even the wisest man cannot possibly foresee the results of the next invention.

Garrick Utley, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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