Shortly before the 19th century came to a close, Mayor William C. Maybury sent requests to 56 prominent residents asking for their observations, insights, and possible prophecies for the future of Detroit. The letters were placed in a metal “Century Box” at midnight on December 31, 1900, where they remained for the next 100 years until their opening by Mayor Dennis Archer at Orchestra Hall at 11:20 PM on December 31, 2000. The opening celebration carried into the early hours of 2001 which coincided with Detroit’s 300thAnniversary.
The writers covered their subjects with varying degrees of thoroughness and included some general predictions on population growth, increased manufacturing, or faster transportation and communication. However, some writers offered specific predictions for the future that were a bit unusual. Here are predictions from five writers that were not quite fulfilled:
On the subject, A Prophecy for Detroit as a Metropolis, James E. Scripps, President of the Evening News Association, predicted “in the year AD 2000 a population of over two millions” and “if no war, pestilence, or other destructive influence intervenes . . . . . Detroit will enjoy a population of fully four millions.” He also made the prediction “that a century hence, the belt embraced between the 38th and 43rddegrees of north latitude and extending from the Atlantic sea board to the Mississippi will be the most densely populated region in the world.”
Orrin R. Baldwin, President of the American Harrow Company, wrote on the subject, Merchants and Manufacturers Exchange. He predicted that “Detroit will have on January 1st2001 about 5000 manufacturing plants” that will support “2,500,000 inhabitants (estimated).” He also predicted that “factory products will largely be transported in Air Ships.” His most far-reaching prediction was that “Sandwich, Windsor and Walkerville now in Canada will be part of the City of Detroit and that Ontario will be a state of the United States of America.”
On the subject, The Future of Biopathy, Dr. Samuel S. Stephenson, M.D., predicted that “In one hundred years Biopathy will be known as the only system of medicine. It will be practiced in every family, every sanitarium, in every country.” He explained that “Biopathy, the new system of rejuvenation has proven the human body to be an electric battery, to have only twelve indestructible elements… If [a] child is supplied plentifully with those twelve elements it will live to over a hundred and forty years.”
Frederick F. Ingram, President of the Public Lighting Commission, wrote on the subject, Public Lighting of Detroit – Past, Present and a Prophesy for the Future, and predicted that “street sweepings, garbage, and all refuse matter” will be used to produce heat, light, and power at a central plant and that “a free bath and wash house of sufficient capacity to accommodate all who wish to avail themselves of its privileges shall be an auxiliary of this central plant.”
The Police Commissioners wrote about the Police Department of Detroit and predicted that “prisoners instead of being conveyed to the several police stations in Automobile patrol wagons will be sent through pneumatic tubes, flying machines, or some similar process.” Also, the Commissioners noted that “crime is not very prevalent at the present time, and we now have occasional days when we are not called upon to make an arrest. We prophesy that arrests will be less frequent than now in comparison with the population.”
Lastly, “Mayor Maybury and Commissioner Stanton prophesied that Detroit will have a population of 1,500,000 and Commissioners Phelps and Fowle prophesied that the population will be 2,500,000 and all agreed that Canada would be annexed and become a part of the United States and that Detroit would be known as Greater Detroit.”
All of the Century Box letters have been digitized and can be viewed in our online digital collection.