Past Predictions That Came True

By Marion Wijnberg

Baldwin Headphones, c. 1910 (Utah State Historical Society)

If you think about it, the future that is, it’s not hard to come up with something so “out there” as a possible futuristic invention. In fact, the more ridiculous it sounds to us at the moment, the more probable is the thought of it becoming a reality in the distant future. Or, you stood the chance of becoming the laughing stock of everyone you knew.

Here’s a list of five ideas of the past that did come true and that we use in our everyday lives today.

Ear buds. You know those little white things we put in our ears that connect to our cell phones? They were invented in 1910 by Nathaniel Baldwin in his kitchen. Prior to amplifiers, the only way to listen to electrical sound signals was through the ear piece of a telephone. The successful headphones were now a reality and Baldwin sold them to the United States Navy. However, prior to this, Ray Bradbury in his famous book, Fahrenheit 451, published in 1953, described the now famous tiny earpieces like this: "And in her ears the little seashells, the thimble radios tamped tight, and an electronic ocean of sound, of music and talk and music and talk coming in, coming in on the shore of her unsleeping mind." Now did Baldwin and Bradbury know each other, I don’t think so. 

Who would have thought about debit cards back in the 1800s?

The Debit Card. Who doesn’t carry one or two in their wallet today? And who would have thought about debit cards back in the 1800s? Edward Bellamy did. A science fiction writer and journalist from Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts, explained a very parallel idea in his visionary work of fiction called, Looking Backward, 2000-1887, published in 1888. It was in chapter nine, the two characters, Dr. Leete and Mr. West discuss money and Dr. Leete enlightens Mr. West that in a new world "A credit corresponding to his share of the annual product of the nation is given to every citizen...and a credit card issued him with which he procures at the public storehouses, whatever he desires." Pretty foretelling no?

Mark Twain predicted the date of his own death. Mark Twain was born Samuel Langhorne Clemens on November 30, 1835 in Florida, Missouri, U.S. We’ve all read at some time or another several of his books, including two American literature classics: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Albert Bigelow Paine was also an author and was known to be a close friend of Twain’s. He wrote the four-volume biography of Mark Twain simply called, Mark Twain: A Biography and was published by Harper & Brothers in 1912. Just a year before Mark Twain died in 1909, Paine quoted Twain saying, "I came in with Halley's comet in 1835. It is coming again next year, and I expect to go out with it. It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don't. The Almighty said, no doubt: 'Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together.” Twain passed away one day after the comet returned on April 21, 1910, he was 74 years old.

The iPad. Who would have thought that in 1968, someone would have come up with this idea? We had paper and pen, pen pals, stamps and personalized letterhead. Notebooks were bought by the thousands for the start of the school year. Nowadays, kids go to school with laptops and iPad to take notes. Well, if you’ve ever read Arthur C. Clark’s space-age novel, 2001: A Space Odyssey, then you might know what I’m talking about. However, in the book it’s actually referred to as a “newspad”. The character would be able to plug this into the circuit board of the space ship and be able to glean from it important information from Earth. 

Portrait of The Honorable Robert Boyle (1627 - 1691)

Organ transplants. If during the 1600s, you so much as mentioned the idea that something like this would be going on in the future, you’d probably be laughed right out of town. Robert Boyle, a scientist and influenced by Isaac Newton, is best known for Boyle's law. Boyle’s law pertains to the “inversely proportional relationship between the absolute pressure and volume of a gas, if the temperature is kept constant within a closed system.” Robert Boyle lived in the pre-Enlightenment times where magic and superstition were prevalent during the 1600s. It was during this time that Boyle wrote down his ideas of might lay ahead in the future. Included in this list was the idea of transferring organs from one person’s body to another in hopes of curing diseases.

Robert Boyle's list of predictions

It would be almost 300 years later that the first successful organ transplant would take place. Dr. Joseph Murray and Dr. David Hume preformed the first kidney transplant from one twin, Ronald Herrick to his identical twin brother, Richard on December 23, 1954, at Brigham Hospital in Boston.

If you have an idea that your friends think is so far-fetched, write it down and keep it as proof for when your idea becomes a reality of the future.

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Marion Wijnberg


Marion lives in Ohio and has two grown children and one grandson. As well as loving the time she gets to spend with them, she also enjoys rescuing animals. Marion currently has 2 cats and a dog. She also loves to travel, read, play tennis and go horseback riding."