A Series of Tubes

Via Tyler Cowen and Kottke, Ladies Home Journal's predictions about 2000 written in 1900:

Prediction #22: Store Purchases by Tube. Pneumatic tubes, instead of store wagons, will deliver packages and bundles. These tubes will collect, deliver and transport mail over certain distances, perhaps for hundreds of miles. They will at first connect with the private houses of the wealthy; then with all homes. Great business establishments will extend them to stations, similar to our branch post-offices of today, whence fast automobile vehicles will distribute purchases from house to house.

Prediction #23 is a curious mix of the prescient and wrong. "Ready-cooked meals will be bought from establishments similar to our bakeries of today." This is correct. Prepared food "to go" is now widely available, a concept they didn't really have in 1900 but is well-captured by the idea of being "similar to our bakeries of today." Then things go awry: "They will purchase materials in tremendous wholesale quantities and sell the cooked foods at a price much lower than the cost of individual cooking." In fact, people are just richer today than they were in 1900 and can afford more costly food-acquisition methods, especially if they save time. Interestingly, the premise here that wholesale purchase will make the food cheaper than home-cooking seems based on the idea that ingredients rather than labor are the main cost of prepared foods. Last, of course, the tubes return: "Food will be served hot or cold to private houses in pneumatic tubes or automobile wagons." The pneumatic tube is a real technology, still in use to some extent today, but it was always more of a niche product than its proponents had hoped.