Past Perfect- New Years Predictions
The New Year has always been the traditional time for crystal ball gazing offering tantalizing predictions for our imagined future.
For forward thinking post war Americans, peering into the future was a favorite pastime. So it was with great interest that on my very first New Years day 1956 my mid-century mom gazed ahead 20 years for a glimpse of life in 1975.
Despite the cold weather and the cold war, everyone was filled with high hopes not only for the new year, but for the future. Never before had a country so heralded the future, never before had a country so surpassed one’s highest hopes.
New Years Day 1956
On the first day of January in 1956 New Yorker’s were hit with an icy, blustery snowstorm and it showed no signs of stopping. Cars were at a standstill as Ford Fairlaines were replaced by flexible flyers. The eerie suburban silence was broken only by the occasional sound of kids building forts in the snow drifts.
As the snow continued to fall silently, the weathermen advised everyone “to stay put in their igloos.” Fortunately for us, we were as well stocked with frozen food as any Eskimo.
Snowbound in our suburban ranch house, Dad raised the temperature on the thermostat to a balmy 80 degrees and why not; oil was still the biggest bargain in the American budget.
By late afternoon, with the dishes washed, laundry folded, and my baby bottles sterilizing in the electric sterilizer patiently awaiting refill of baby formula, Mom could take a rare moment off for herself.
My 3-year-old brother was busily engaged with the TV. Displaying the skill of a safe cracker, he delicately adjusted the large knobs on the mammoth mahogany encased set- one for the snowy picture, another for the sound.
Mom could sit back, relax and give me my afternoon feeding while flipping through the latest issue of Everywomans Magazine.
All The News Thats Fit to Print
As usual my father had his nose buried in the Sunday New York Times.
It was a slow news day. A new book released that day by the young Senator from Massacheusets, John Kennedy, garned some press. Other than the story of Sudan declaring its independence from Egypt and the UK, and Egypt’s Nasser declaring his new year’s resolution “to conquer Palestine,” the paper was filled with the usual new year’s predictions.
Dad read one optimistic article aloud:
Man is being thrust into the future even as he lives in the present,” the article buoyantly noted.
Mankind has already had a mouth-watering taste of the meal that technology is cooking up. Such modern wizardry’s as plastics, miracle yarns, TV, air conditioning and frozen foods, once the dream children of imaginative inventors has become commonplace…
Back to the Future
As Mom read through the woman’s magazine, she skimmed over the feature story on family weight planning chock full of helpful hints on “how to slim husbands painlessly” and “add pounds to thin kiddies.”
Suddenly one article caught Moms eye.
Entitled “Predictions of Family Life Twenty Years From Now,” the colorful feature promised to transport the reader two decades ahead with a preview picture of life in America in 1975. Envisioning future technology, it ventured a guess at what we might find in a 1975 home.
In 1956 it was hard to imagine life getting any better.
Tomorrows Living Today
In 1956, Mom felt we were already living tomorrow’s life today.
Only 10 years earlier many of the post-war dreams envisioned by manufacturers busy with war production , had come true.
One end of the year ad in 1945 from Westinghouse offered a glimpse into that promised post-war world “Madam lets look to your future,” announced the headline.
What will it be like-your bright new world of tomorrow? New styles…new comforts new conveniences…new joy of living. All kinds of marvelous things to brighten your days to lighten your burdens to make life more enjoyable than ever before.
Now, it was a world of no waiting- no wondering- no defrosting- no fuss- no muss. Everything was long wearing, fast drying, king sized, the last word, the most convenient, working twice as fast.
From morning to night the colors of the rainbow were all around me thanks to all the gay and festive plastic toys and household items that surrounded me. From my pink polyethylene teething ring and vinylite pacifier right down to my cheerful Playtex waterproof Happy Baby pants in five happy lollipop colors, these laboratory-born wonder materials would make life easier and more convenient.
Yes, mine would be a sugar-frosted world of colorfast, frost-free fun.
Predictions of Family Life 20 years from Now
Intrigued by what the crystal ball-gazers would foresee for 1975, Mom read the lavishly illustrated, futuristic article aloud to me in the hopes of offering a guided tour of what we might find 20 years from now – my own world of tomorrow.
With a dramatic flourish they announced spectacular changes for the American family. “Homes, food shopping, and transportation of all kinds will undergo tremendous transformations. Some of the great advances to be expected in the realm of family life by 1975.”
“Tomorrow’s kitchen will be a triumph of controlled gadgetry,” Mom read with wonder and amazement, and the same enthusiasm used for reading me a fairy tale.
The article explained:
You’ll probably have a dishwasher and clothes washer in which ultra sonic rays do the cleaning without mechanical agitation.
Mom gushed with obvious delight, visualizing her future homemaker daughter in this most modern of homes.
When you telephone, your image will be flashed on a screen for the party at the other end, and vice versa. TV sets will be wafer thin and hung like pictures. You’ll wear a two-way wrist radio. And your electronically guided automobile will have an automatic parking brain.
Some of the great advances to be expected in the realm of family life by 1975 are shown in the pictures.
Profit with Progress
The upbeat article was based on a 28-minute film that was put out in 1955 entitled “People, Products, and Progress-1975” produced by the Chamber of Congress of the United States with the cooperation of industries and trade associations.
Interested readers were advised they could get a more detailed insight into life in 1975 from the film that was made available for showing at local PTA meetings, Rotary and other civic clubs, and church groups.
“Does tomorrow’s world intrigue you?” the article asked the reader at the end.
“All these wonderful things will be possible,” they assured us, “so long as we maintain our free market economy, our American Way of life.”
Of course by 1975 the future had turned from promise to pessimism.
A post Watergate America saddled by an oil embargo, inflation, recession and dangerous pollution, had seen the future and nothing had turned out as advertised.
© Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
Those are always fun…especially decades later! It’;s interesting to see how close their predictions were to future realities, of course, and it seems there always is a fixation with transportation by personal flying devices. The self-controlled cars, too pop up a lot, so the coming reality of common transportation in cars that do all the icky parts – drivng the car… – for the passengers is yet another one of those predictions coming true.
Happy New Year, Sally! I predict I will look forward to all of your amazing and interesting posts in 2019!
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Happy New Year to you too, and look forward to reading your always insightful commentaries. Many of the future predictions came fairly close, but that always popular flying car scenario has always remained elusive, but they never stop predicting them
Thanks! Now I need to remember to be insightful! LOL!
When I was 10 in 1965, I found my father’s collection of Popular Mechanics. He had issues going back to the 1920’s. I used to love to sit & read the mid-fifties issues with they’re predictions of flying cars. 50 odd years later, I still love to read those issues of Popular Mechanics… and I never tire of dreaming about the future. Thanks for a fabulous trip back to fantasy land, and Happy New Year!
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Popular Mechanics were fantastic when it came to Future predictions. I have a fair collection from the 1940’s and 1950s and they are just fascinating. I never had a chance to read them as a kid but began collecting them as an adult and they are a treasure trove of interesting predictions. Happy New year to you too!
So many of these made happy assumptions about human nature that either aren’t true or would require drastic changes to the culture.
Others presumed technological developments that likely still would have been years away even if necessary R&D had been funded, while others required someone be innovative enough to make it work.
Flying cars are only feasible for long-distance commutes between towns or cities. Launch, straight flight, land, with driving on each end.
And now our visions of the future are dependent on us not destroying ourselves.