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Aeroplanes and Climate Change: Step into the Future According to 1901

The past can be charming and the future can be thrilling. But what about the future according to the past? Here on the eve of the 57th presidential inaugural in American history we get an enchanting forecast of the future in the year 2001 from the official program of William McKinley’s second inauguration on March 4, 1901.

At the new Capitol the scene was one of activity. From early in the morning until the noon hour the crowds had accumulated until nearly a half million people had been packed into the great glass-covered arena which fronts the east facade of the new Capitol building. From the Department of Transportation on the right to the Department of the Press on the left was a solid line of spectators which taxed the enormous Crystal Auditorium to its utmost capacity. Four great automatic bands were placed in the corners of the space and, operated by buttons, simultaneously rendered a programme of popular music.

The creative fantasy is wildly wrong about some things. By 2001, machines called “automobiles” and “bicycles” would be obsolete. Our government would apparently have 336 senators and a “vice supreme court.” Strangely, the writer figured that by the new millennium, the imperial U.S. would have acquired Chile, Brazil, Mexico, Cuba, and Canada.

But the prescience is breathtaking in other areas. Two years before the Wright Brothers made their first test flight, people were musing about “aeroplanes” and “aerialtrains.” The inaugural address in 2001 would include a proposal to “turn the Arctic current aside, off the coast of Labrador, so as to enable the Gulf Stream to change the climate.” The fictional president would also urge strict taxation on corporations.

The 104-page program is certainly worth perusing. Not just for the next-century forecast. The ads, the photos, the language all offer a rich lens to imagine life back when the world was extremely different—and yet in many ways, highly recognizable.

The bigger question might be what 2113 will look like on inauguration day. Perhaps there will be teleport stations to let all one billion Americans attend, or virtual tank-top kiosks to beat the grueling January heat. Maybe the president a century from now won’t just take an oath, but use the occasion to publicly be given surgical implants of courage, wisdom and indefatigable energy after decades of biotechnological advances. Let’s hope that we’ll have plenty of flying cars by then, too, and that everyone, even 180-year-olds, will be able to drive.