Classic Bad Predictions for Our Time

Some may say that bad predictions are almost as entertaining as correct ones. Below is an assortment of various predictions from decades past about what our forefathers thought life would be like in our time. Some were surprisingly accurate, while others humorously missed the mark.

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1979 Prediction Featured $320,000 cars by 2011

A December 30, 1979 article entitled “Why Does Everything Cost So Much?” in the Beaver Country Times discussed inflation and the future. The writer suggested that a $50,000 home in 1979 would cost $3.2 million in 2011, while a $5000 car would cost $320,000.

While this sounds far-fetched, the writer later corrects his math and predicts that such a car could cost as little as $40,000 in 2011, and that is not an unheard of figure today. The article went on to hint at a depression in the 1980′s, which did not happen.

UN Population Prediction for 2010 in 1976

According to a NY Times article dated March 5, 1976, the UN predicted that the global population in 2010 would be nearly 8 billion. They based it on 1974 data, using a 1.9% growth rate.

At the end of 2010, however, the world population stood at about 6.8 billion.

1964 US Census Bureau Predictions for 2010

In 1964, the US Census Bureau predicted US populations in the future through the year 2010. Were they accurate or was this just another bad prediction?

They predicted:

1967: 200 million
1970: 206-211 million
1985: 248-276 million
2010: 322-438 million

The actual numbers were:
1967: 198 million (2 million below projection)
1970: 205 million (1-6 million below projection)
1985: 238 million (10-38 million below projection)
2010: 310 million (12-128 million below projection)

It’s really not too bad considering these predictions were made 50 years ago.

Source: Sarasota Journal, July 9, 1964.

1938 Prediction of Population Decrease After 1980

A 1938 article in the Evening Post attempted to predict the United States population 42 years in the future. Surprisingly, the writer predicted that the population would actually start to decrease after 1980.

“The population of the United States will reach a peak of 158,000,000 in the year 1980, but thereafter it will slowly decrease unless births increase or immigration policies are altered, according to a report by the National Resources Committee made to President Roosevelt.”

Evening Post, July 7, 1938, page 9

Note that the actual population, according to the 1980 census, was 226,500,000, and of course the decline after that never happened.

1974 Prediction that Natural Gas Would be Almost Out by 2010

Prediction: World’s natural gas would be down to its last 10% by 2010
Date: 1974

Amid the 1970′s oil crisis, there was a lot of talk about the long-term supply of petroleum and of natural gas. In an article dated 10/14/1974 in the Ludington Daily News, writer H.J. Heller quotes William R. Gould, chairman of the Atomic Industrial Forum, Inc. as saying that  “we are expected to reach the last 10 per cent of the earth’s supply of natural gas.”

Cursory research of various sources leads to the conclusion that this prediction was way off. We have at least 60-100 years left of natural gas supplies – that we know of.

Year 2000 Predictions in 1967

In an article posted on New Year’s Eve, 1967, writer Andrew Squibb Jr. outlined predictions for the year 2000 – 32 years away – by the Commission on the Year 2000. Here is a list of those predictions:

  • 6 or 7 billion people
  • Intercontinental travel by rocket
  • Decision-making by computer
  • Decline of US and Soviet control of world events
  • Abundant thermonuclear energy
  • Farming in the oceans
  • Mining on the moon
  • Permanent research labs orbiting in space
  • 2 careers per lifetime due to longevity
  • Less disease
  • More psychological stress
  • Weather control
  • Population control
  • Personality control
  • Couples designated to breed
  • More clerks, researchers, and technicians
  • Routine use of drugs to alter behavior
  • Ten more countries with A-bombs
  • More leisure
  • Rationing of recreational facilities
  • End of democratic government due to apathy
  • Destruction of traditional marriage due to birth control and artificial insemination
  • Over-emphasis on education
  • More dangerous weapons available to poor countries
  • Widespread affluence
  • Humanely designed cities and housing
  • Decline in international violence
  • New sources of food products to feed a stabilized population

1957 Prediction: Atomic Luxury Spaceships by 2007

In a 1957 article, predictions were made for what life might be like 50 years later, in the year 2007. Here’s what they had to say:

“Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker predicted Saturday that within 50 years interplanetary travel will be commonplace in atomic powered luxury spaceships carrying 2,000 persons. And by the year 2007, some spaceships will be semi-self sustaining planets withing themselves,” he added.

He made these other forecasts of things to come withing 50 years:

  • Airplane flights from Florida to New York will be made within half an hour. Transcontinental flights will take an hour and transatlantic flights will be made in less than two hours. Passenger planes will be travelling at 2,500 miles per hour.
  • Military aircraft driven by ramjet engines will reach speeds up to 3,000 mph. Such aircraft will be stepping stones to the guided missiles zooming through the air at 25,000 mph.
  • The earth’s arid areas will be reclaimed by atomic equipment and supplied with water to provide food so that no man ever need be hungry.
  • Anti-collision devices for automobiles will be developed.
  • Fuel exhausts will be harnessed so that fuel consumption will be reduced.

“Interplanetary Travel Seen by Rickenbacker,” The Daily Reporter, October 13, 1957

Assorted Population Predictions from 1859 – 1954

Below is a small collection of population predictions for our time (and beyond), published in past publictions. The earliest dating from 1859, looking all the way out to 1990. Some were surprisingly accurate, while others were far off the mark.

1859 prediction for 1990

To justify the existence of a park in Brooklyn, it was aruged that “in the year 1990, Brooklyn will contain a population of six and a half millions, while New York, at the same period, will have but about five millions.”

“The Brooklyn Park,” The New York Times, September 30, 1859

Note: While Brooklyn became a part of New York in the 1890’s, the total population of New York (including Brooklyn) in 1990 was 7.3 million, far short of the combined population of 11.5 million predicted in 1859.

1890 Prediction for 2072

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E. G. Ravenstein predicted that in the year 2072 the population would be 5,850,700,00 and that the earth could only sustain 5,994,000,000 people, thus leading to starvation or a diet of grass due to the planet being full.

The Otago Daily Times, November 13, 1890.

Note: We surpassed 6 billion people in 1999, about 73 years earlier than the writer predicted, and there was still apparently room for more.

1954 Predictions for 2000, 2010, and 2054

A 1954 article wrote, “…the current world population of 2.5 billion will rise to about 7 billion by the year 2010 and 15 billion in the next 100 years.”

On the same page is an article about world population that states: “The world’s population is growing at an unprecedented rate and may top the four billion mark by the year 2000, according to the Population Reference Bureau.”

Warren Bennett, “World, Gaining 49 People A Minute, May Have to Live on Synthetic Food” The Palm Beach Post, Feb 5, 1954, page 23.

Note: The first article is quite accurate, as the 7 billion mark was reached in October 2011. The later article fell far short of the actual number.

Bottom Line

It’s always fun to read the predictions of experts, and sometimes even more fun to read them decades later. What are some of your favorite bad predictions?

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