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What the future looked like way back when

By: Laura Moss on May 7, 2012, 1:22 p.m.
man holding model of futuristic car prototype

Photo: GM executive holds a model of a prototype car (Ecell/Getty Images)

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Flying cars were a popular prediction, and in 1940, Henry Ford said, “Mark my words: A combination airplane and motorcar is coming.” In 1973, Henry Smolinski tried to bring such a car to market by fusing a Cessna Skymaster plane with a Ford Pinto; however, Smolinski and his pilot were killed when a wing strut detached from the car. The FAA approved the first flying car in 2010, which sells for more than $200,000.

According to a 1968 Mechanix Illustrated article, by 2008, Americans will travel between climate-controlled domed cities in cars that don’t require steering and reach 250 mph. Auto accidents will be a thing of the past, thanks to traffic computers that keep vehicles 50 yards apart. Google has tested a self-driving car, but sadly, more than 30,000 people die in U.S. car accidents each year.

Public transportation was also expected to change dramatically by the 21st century. The Mechanix article predicted hubs called modemixers where commuters would ride tube trains powered by compressed air, or they could board rockets or hypersonic planes. While the U.S. military has developed hypersonic aircrafts, we’re not blasting off to work quite yet. Still, in 1900 John Elfreth Watkins Jr. wrote in the Ladies’ Home Journal that trains will one day travel at 250 mph. Today’s high-speed trains can travel more than 300 mph.