Predicting the future sounds crazy to some, but you might be surprised to hear how many real-life events and gadgets were actually prophesied far into the past—some even 200 years before the main event.
There are lots of inventions that we all wish had come into existence sooner than they did—wireless internet, smartphones, debit cards. Believe it or not, these are all inventions that, along with well-known historical events, were predicted way before they ever came to be.
Here are some of history’s memorable events and inventions that were foreseen by some of its most memorable figures.
John Brunner and Barack Obama’s Presidency
In his 1968 fiction novel Stand on Zanzibar, science fiction author John Brunner wrote about a world set in a version of 2010 that he imagined. Not only did the book end up coming eerily close to the world we live in now, but it was also lead by a President Obomi.
Yes, that’s clearly not an exact match on the spelling of our 44th president’s, but Obomi and Obama come close enough to give us a few goosebumps.
As if that wasn’t interesting enough, the novel also predicted the creation of the TiVo.
Nikola Tesla and Wi-Fi
Tesla is very well-known in his own right, but he’s also recognized as Thomas Edison’s employee-turned-rival. Though Edison thought that Tesla was an incredibly smart man, he also believe that his ideas were “utterly impractical”—maybe Tesla’s prediction of cell phones and wireless internet were two of those very ideas.
Approximately 90 years before the invention of Wi-Fi and 60 years before the world saw its first cellular phone, Tesla said to The New York Times, “ It will soon be possible to transmit wireless messages all over the world so simply that any individual can carry and operate his own apparatus.”
Morgan Robertson and the Sinking Titanic
We all know the story of the Titanic—the giant ship was said to be “nearly unsinkable,” only to meet an iceberg that threw that claim out the window, resulting in major loss of life and James Cameron’s epic film.
In 1898, Morgan Robertson wrote a short story titled “Futility, Or The Wreck of the Titan,” which was essentially the exact story of how the Titanic sank 14 years later.
“Scrubs” and Osama Bin Laden’s Hiding Spot
Most people know just how hilarious Scrubs is, and it can apparently add predicting the future to its list of achievements. In 2006, the janitor makes a comment about Bin Laden, saying, “In my opinion, we should be looking for Bin Laden in Pakistan.”
In 2011, that’s exactly where he was found by a special unit of American soldiers. It might not be the most outlandish guess as to where he could’ve been but, hey, they were right!
Jules Verne and the Moon Landing
As a science fiction author, the concept of space travel wasn’t foreign to Verne. More than 100 years before Neil Armstrong took that giant step onto the surface of the moon, Verne predicted the event in From Earth to the Moon, a novel about two men who journeyed to the moon in a rocket that was launched out of a cannon.
Even weirder is that the site of the launch in his book was in Florida, which eventually became the location of the Kennedy Space Center.
Ray Bradbury and Earbuds
In his 1953 novel Fahrenheit 451, Bradbury spoke of what we now know as earbuds in what was probably the most poetic way they’ve even been described. It reads, “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.”
Raise your hand if you’re looking down at your earwax-crusted earbuds in disgust.
H.G. Wells and the Atomic Bomb
In his 1914 novel The World Set Free, Wells described a bomb strong enough to destroy entire cities, and actually called it an atomic bomb. It has been said that while Wells probably didn’t know all of the mechanics behind detonating such a bomb, he did know a little bit about radioactive elements, which is probably where the idea came from.
In 1942, the Manhattan Project began and the atomic bomb Wells dreamt up came to life.
Mark Twain and his Death
What a prediction, right? Twain was born on Nov. 30, 1835, approximately two weeks after Halley’s comet was first photographed. In his autobiography, which was published in 1909, he claimed, “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 go out with Halley’s comet. The Almighty has said, no doubt: ‘Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together.”
Twain passed away from a heart attack on April 21, 1910, which was a single day after Halley’s comet made its return to our skies.
Roger Ebert And Netflix
It shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that a movie lover like Ebert would dream up something like Netflix.
In 1987, he told Omni Magazine, “We will have high-definition, wide-screen television sets and a push-button dialing system to order the movie you want at the time you want it.”
Robert Boyle and Organ Transplants
Boyle is often referred to as the father of modern chemistry; he was also known to be an incredible inventor, physicist, and philosopher. In the 1660s, Boyle made a note in journal that read, “the cure of diseases by…transplantation.”
He wrote this note approximately 300 years before the first organ transplant was ever performed in the year 1954. The ideas behind sleeping pills and aspirin have also been credited to Boyle.
Nostradamus and the Great Fire of London
Michel de Nostredame, best known as Nostradamus, was a French physician who was well-known for his many predictions and prophecies, one of which involved the Great Fire of London that occurred in 1666—is it just us, or does the year that it happened just make this prediction that much creepier?
His 1555 prediction read, “The blood of the just will be lacking in London,/Burnt up in the fire of ’66:/The ancient Lady will topple from her high place,/Many of the same sect will be killed.”
Arthur C. Clarke and the iPad
It’s pretty clear at this point that Steve Jobs must have got most of his ideas from dystopian novels, because another of his most infamous creations seem to stem from them.
In the 1968 novel 2001: A Space Odyssey (based on the film of the same name), Clarke described something called a “newspad,” saying, “[Floyd] would plug his foolscap-size Newspad into the ship’s information circuit and scan the latest reports from Earth. The postage-stamp-size rectangle would expand until it neatly filled the screen. When he had finished, he would flash back to the complete page and select a new subject for detailed examination.” We’d say that’s pretty on-point description of the iPad, despite the fact it was written 42 years before the Apple product came to be.
Alexis de Tocqueville and the Cold War
De Tocqueville was a political theorist and sociologist from France, as well as the author of 1840’s Democracy in America. In it, he wrote, “ There are now two great nations in the world which, starting from different points, seem to be advancing toward the same goal: the Russians and the Anglo-Americans …. Their point of departure is different and their paths diverse; nevertheless, each seems called by some secret desire of Providence one day to hold in its hands the destinies of half the world.”
It captured the gist of the Cold War perfectly—two world powers in a battle for power that would affect virtually everyone.
Edward Bellamy and Debit Cards
Credit and debit cards are pretty essential for our modern lives, or at least that seems to be how we feel about them. Surprisingly, they were an invention thought up long before they actually came to be. In his 1888 novel Looking Backward: 2000–1887, Bellamy describes debit cards pretty accurately during a conversation between two characters.
One tells the other about an interesting invention from the new world described as, “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.”
Ezra Stiles and the U.S. Population
When he was president of Yale University, Stiles spent a large amount of time analyzing growth patterns of Europe’s population.
In 1793, he concluded that America’s population would exceed 300 million people in just 200 years, and it did just that approximately 200 years after he made his prediction.