Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Edge of the Future: 1894

Experts, Including Tesla, Predict the Future.

In December of 1894, the Dallas Morning News asked experts in various fields to predict what lay ahead for 1895. This group of prophets included Nikola Tesla along with the renowned in labor, business, health and art.

I found this article interesting but I wish I could say more interesting. Tesla, who often made fantastic (and accurate) predictions of the far future spoke of incremental progress. The physician who spoke of health made too grand of prophecies. Others spoke to their particular fields. Nonetheless, it speaks to a moment of history.

This piece makes a pleasant appetizer for another predictions of the future piece I will try to have up for tomorrow.

Summary of the Experts.

Labor: Samuel Gompers remains one of the leading figures in the history of organized labor, founding the American Federation of Labor (AFL) and leading it for nearly forty years.

Art: Bernhard Gillam was a caricaturist and satirist, one of the several greats of an age when this medium could change history.

Science: Nikola Tesla was the great inventor of his generation. As a Boston Herald piece on Thomas Edison compared the fame of the two: "With the possible exception of Nikola Tesla, no inventor of recent years has awakened keener curiosity than the "Wizard of Menlo Park." [Thomas Edison]" Boston Herald, December 19, 1894.

Health: Dr. Cyrus M. Edson was the son of Franklin Edson, mayor of New York, and he was Health Commissioner of the state of New York. Here he predicts major advancements in the war against infectious diseases.

Transoceanic Trade: Clement A. Griscom was a shipping magnate who aggressively grew the American shipping industry establishing it on par with Britain and Germany.

Railroading: In an age of railroad barons, Chauncey M. Depew was the chief lawyer to Cornelius Vanderbilt and president of New York Central & Hudson River RR, and sat on the boards of ten other railroads.

Finance: Henry W. Cannon became comptroller of currency under President Chester Arthur at age 33 and helped avert a banking crisis in 1884. He became the president of Chase National Bank at age 36.

Sunday, December 30, 1894  Dallas Morning News, page 18.


Outlook for Coming Year From Several Standpoints.

What Labor, Art, Electricity, Healing and Finance May Expect.

"No year in the history of organized labor," said Samuel Gompers, until recently president of the American federation of labor and now delegate from America to the world's trade union congress in 1895 in England, "has promised more than does this coming year. The labor movement is assuming an international scope. The principle of solidarity will assert itself in the year to come. The working classes now realize the need of acting together as a single force, and if we can bring about the things aimed at now, I should say that the labor unions will amalgamate into one great cohesive organization which, while preserving the autonomy of the various unions will give enough centralized power to make concerted action effective.

  "The labor situation, truly, will need such a union of unions. I do not think the working classes will share very largely in the prosperity anticipated by the trading classes during 1895. That is, of course, the way it nearly always is. Everybody gets a share of the good things that happen to be going, but the workingman puts his hand in last. The demand for labor may, perhaps, be greater next year than it has been during this coming one, but so far as compensation is concerned, I am afraid there will be disappointment for the workers. The only remedy is the perfection of existing organizations and their prudent management. For my part I think that labor unions are destined to achieve great success in 1895. Their immediate future is very bright."

[Context and assessment of predictions. Starting with the Great Panic of 1893, unemployment hit a near-record high and strikes were frequent and violent. The economy recovered in 1895 but dipped again in 1896 and unemployment remained high through the end of the decade.]


Evanescent as caricature must ever be, it makes history. Bernhard Gillam knows this, if ever a man knew it yet, for he already has planned in outline a year's work in the field in which his fame has been won. "This year to come," said he, discussing the future of his work, "will place American caricature in the front. That may seem a bold thing to say, but I think our country affords the best of all fields for the display of modern genius. In America we are better judges of caricature than they are in other countries. Our wit is keener, our sense of humor brighter. The year of 1895 will undoubtedly witness a bolder departure from the conventional in caricature. The cartoon will appeal to the intellect while losing none of its satire. We are undoubtedly on the eve of a development that will make the refined and, if I may so express it, the permanent, a feature of what we try to satirize. An appeal to the broadly human keeps its value for centuries.
  "It would be nearly correct to say that art is caricature for the moment. The marvelous effect upon more serious art by Aubrey Beardsley's daring blacks and whites, and the French poster school during 1894 has shown that art was ready for changes that can not fail to become more marked in 1895. Beardsleyism is not to be taken too seriously; but art will learn caricature in 1895 the lesson that Napoleon taught the strategists—that of massing effects."

[Context and assessment of predictions. Gillam provides much of the context. This was a golden age of newspaper and magazine caricatures and those such as Thomas Nast could bring down a government. His predictions for 1895 did not foresee his death in January of 1896 at age 39.]

One of the gorgeous satirical caricatures of Bernhard Gillam.


What the great electrical work of the immediate future will be," said the Napoleon of the science, Nicola Tesla, "it is not easy to say offhand. My opinion is that the application of higher steam pressure to the generation of the electricity itself will be one of the ends to be attained before very long. This may seem a trifling matter, but it means much to the future of the science. Another work still waiting to be done satisfactorily is the securing of better results from street illumination. Electricity is still in its infancy as a science. In the year to come we may see its illuminating power applied on a scale and in a way as yet undreamed of. We have been working on the problem for years, but it never was nearer solution than it is to-day. If the year 1895 witnesses a solution of this problem our streets at night will rival the brilliancy and even exceed the beauty of day."
  Mr. Tesla deems cost the great impediment. Electricity, in spite of the wonderful progress made in its production as a force, is still but crudely applied. It is too expensive yet for many purposes, but once the cost problem is eliminated, the current may work a transformation of our civilization itself.

[Context and assessment of predictions. In 1895 the Niagara Falls hydroelectric plant went online and provided cheap electricity.]


Young doctors always have to battle with the prejudice of people who think a white beard is essential to ability as a healer. Cyrus Edson's discoveries in the field of medicine have enabled him to set this prejudice at flat defiance and have won him the title of America's Jenner. Few physicians have had his opportunities of keeping posted in the latest developments of the healing art, and since he became New York's commissioner of health he has studied the problems of his profession with every appreciation of the opportunities it affords.
  "The coming year will witness a greater interest than ever in the investigation of what may be termed the higher problems of medicine," said he. "Important discoveries are being worked out in a number of lines and the problem of prolonging life is one which I think will be dealt with scientifically. We shall get nearer to the source of things. It is not enough merely to cure the ills of man. We must prevent them. In connection with this view of medicine, it is perhaps a trite thing to say that health is a thing for nature to deal with and that we can but assist nature. She can be best assisted by removing obstacles in her way. Along these lines we may look for brilliant work by specialists in diseases of the lungs, for example. Tuberculosis is the scourge of the human race, and modern science will not rest content until the trail on which they are following after a cure shall grow hotter and lead them to the remedy. The stage of experiment has been a long one but I believe decisive progress will appear in 1895."

  "One of the newest medical marvels is anti-toxine, the new treatment of diphtheria. If, by its use, a death proportion of one in three can be reduced to one in thirty-five, as has been claimed recently, one great scourge of humanity will have lost most of its terrors. Emmons Clark, secretary of the health board, considers diphtheria as truly a preventable disease as smallpox, cholera and typhus have been proved.

  Men will not learn in 1895 to live an average term of 100 years, but the death rate grows constantly lower. What can be done by modern science is indicated in a London death rate of 17 compared with a death rate of 40 in a smaller manufacturing town!

[Context and assessment of predictions. Diphtheria antitoxin, the heat-disabling of diphtheria toxin, was the latest great finding in health sciences and is still used today. Major breakthroughs for tuberculosis were far away. A vaccine for children was introduced to humans in the 1920s and continues to this day. It is not effective for adults. Modern drug treatment allowed the cure of tuberculosis beginning in the 1950s. The disease has made a resurgence and is still a scourge. Humans have not extended life expectancy beyond 80 years. Cyrus Edson would die of pneumonia in 1903 at age 46.]


Even in this land of brilliant careers few have been so brilliant as that of Clement A. Griscom. He is, in the real sense of the term, a financial magnate. To him is due the preset prominence of the American steamship line.

  "It is scarcely possible to select one detail among so many as a matter of development," said he. "What the future has in store for American steamships is a vast subject, you see. There is the quesiton of speed, not to speak of equipments and safety, and construction. We are doing wonderful things over here, and the coming year will be even more brilliant than the immediate past has been. There is no doubt that we have the skill and material out of which the best ocean lines in the world are made. That we can profit by these advantages goes without saying. American steamships are going to be the peers of all competitors."

  Mr. Griscom, in speaking thus confidently seems to foreshadow in the new St. Louis of the American line a record-breaker surpassing the Cunard flyers. Nor does he overlook the activity on the other side: there never was a time in the history of American voyaging when competition was so keen. This Mr. Griscom looks upon as a desirable thing, since Americans are most successful when competition is fiercest. If a four-day boat is to be built—not in '95, but before the century goes out—it will be a competition that forces the triumph.

  Passenger steamship building is, however, only one branch of a fascinating subject. Torpedo boats will undoubtedly continue to break the record, although that has not been pushed beyond thirty knots an hour, and that American river, sound and lake boats, already the finest in the world, will show constant improvement is fairly predictable from the recent increase in lake traffic.

  Aluminum for material and electric power are the unknown elements in future problems of speed and force. The former has already been tried in a French yacht, the latter in small launches. The year will undoubtedly witness their combination.

[Context and assessment of predictions. Aluminum was an expensive metal in 1894, it required what was then expensive electricity to separate and purify. When the Niagara Falls hydroelectric power came online, an oversupply of electricity was available and Alcoa, a major aluminum processing plant, moved into the area.]


"Anyone may predict," said Chauncey M. Depew when the future was suggested to him as a topic, "but who can fulfill? I might tell you a dozen things that might make the year 1895 historical in railroading, but they may not materialize. Take for instance the New York Central Railroad. You know what its achievements have been. And yet how essential it is that we should be continually looking out for improvements. The roadbed must be studied, the coal stations need attention—in a word we must never be satisfied with the results that have been attained, no matter how good they are. So much for detail. Now for the general.

  "You know that Engine 999 of the New York Central road has attained a speed unheralded of its kind in the history of travel. Our trains may also be termed flashes of lightning, but their rate is not a circumstance to the speed they are now aiming at. Then there is the matter of safety. I need not assure you that the safety of passengers is the most important thing a railroad man has to do with. This year we expect to attain what some people may consider a chimera—namely perfect freedom of risk in the transportation of human beings by rail. We have, we believe, solved the problem, and that, I should say, will make 1895 an unequaled year in railroading.

  "In the far as in the near future romantic things are done, or are being projected. A tunnel to the summit of the Jungfrau is one of the things possible. The TransSiberian railway and the South African line to Mashonaland are two projects on the edge of the future—the former already well under way—and the poetry of railroading will be experienced in the new rush of railroad building certain to ensue in Japan when the Chinese war indemnity is paid—which will certainly happen in 1895."

[Context and assessment of predictions. Safety: The available statistics during this period had inconsistent methods of collection. In 1892, 460 railroad workers were killed on the job per year. In 1907, 4534 railroad workers were killed along with 610 passengers.
The Trans-Siberian railroad, begun in 1891 and completed in 1901 was one of the most incredible undertakings of mankind. The South African line to Mashonaland was completed in 1896.]


Rarely does a man so young as Henry W. Cannon achieve eminence in the world of finance. Ever since he was made comptroller of the currency and demonstrated his wonderful grasp of financial problems Mr. Cannon has been recognized as a master in his line. No name is more prominent on Wall Street than his. What may result next year in the financial world, in view of the rather strained monetary situation, is a subject which he has been called on to investigate with special care.

"I am quite confident that the coming year will show improvement financially," said he. "I should say that the work of 1895 will consist, generally speaking, in such a recasting of our monetary policy as will save the country the useless strains upon its resources and the quite needless dread of the outcome. We are a trifle too much in the experimental stage of finance, I think. But I feel sure that the people will insist on sound monetary measures next year and then we shall all be better off."

  Mr. Cannon thinks that the people have in one way benefited by the country's financial experiences since the rise to prominence of the silver question. It has provoked discussion and spread knowledge. The people have been forced to see that you can't make something out of nothing in finance anymore than in physics. Perhaps, therefore, the ills of the past have been a blessing in disguise and for 1895 he predicts that out of evil good will come. Mr. Cannon does not think any of the financial heresies will be potent for mischief.

[Context and assessment of predictions. With a major recession just behind them, 1895 was a prosperous year, followed by another recession. The question of silver standard versus gold standard would be the issue of the 1896 election. Gold won.]

A Predator's Game is available for pre-order through Amazon.

A Predator's Game, available March 30, 2016, Rook's Page Publishing.

Nikola Tesla, Arthur Conan Doyle and Dr. Henry H. Holmes are all characters in my forthcoming thriller, A Predator's Game, Rook's Page Publishing, March 30, 2016.

Back page blurb of A Predator's Game (advance copy, subject to change).

Manhattan, 1896.

When the author Arthur Conan Doyle meets Nikola Tesla he finds a tall, thin genius with a photographic memory and a keen eye, and recognizes in the eccentric inventor the embodiment of his creation, Sherlock. Together, they team up to take on an "evil Holmes." Multi-murderer Dr. Henry H. Holmes has escaped execution and is unleashing a reign of terror upon the metropolis. Set in the late nineteenth century in a world of modern marvels, danger and invention, Conan Doyle and Tesla engage the madman in a deadly game of wits.

Martin Hill Ortiz, also writing under the name, Martin Hill, is the author of A Predatory Mind. Its sequel, set in 1890s Manhattan and titled A Predator's Game, will be available from Rook's Page Publishing, March 30, 2016. It features Nikola Tesla as detective.

His recent mystery, Never Kill A Friend, is available from Ransom Note Press. His epic poem, Two Mistakes, recently won second place in the Margaret Reid/Tom Howard Poetry Competition. He can be contacted at mdhillortiz@gmail.com.


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