A watered down version of these ideas can be found in The Open Conspiracy, but it is my opinion that Anticipations will give us a much clearer and honest view into what Wells truly foresaw. A scientific, ruthless elite gains effective control of society — in the case of H. Wells New Republic by proclaiming altruistic motives to the general population — and directs the affairs of mankind. Anticipations was one of the first books dedicated to surveying the future.
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I Locomotion in the Twentieth Century It is proposed in this book to present in as orderly an arrangement as the necessarily diffused nature of the subject admits, certain speculations about the trend of present forces, speculations which, taken all together, will build up an imperfect and very hypothetical, but sincerely intended forecast of the way things will probably go in this new century.
Hitherto such forecasts have been presented almost invariably in the form of fiction, and commonly the provocation of the satirical opportunity has been too much for the writer;  [Pg 2] the narrative form becomes more and more of a nuisance as the speculative inductions become sincerer, and here it will be abandoned altogether in favour of a texture of frank inquiries and arranged considerations.
Our utmost aim is a rough sketch of the coming time, a prospectus, as it were, of the joint undertaking of mankind in facing these impending years.
The reader is a prospective shareholder—he and his heirs—though whether he will find this anticipatory balance-sheet to his belief or liking is another matter. For reasons that will develop themselves more clearly as these papers unfold, it is extremely convenient to begin with a speculation upon the probable developments and changes of the means of land [Pg 3] locomotion during the coming decades.
No one who has studied the civil history of the nineteenth century will deny how far-reaching the consequences of changes in transit may be, and no one who has studied the military performances of General Buller and General De Wet but will see that upon transport, upon locomotion, may also hang the most momentous issues of politics and war. The growth of our great cities, the rapid populating of America, the entry of China into the field of European politics are, for example, quite obviously and directly consequences of new methods of locomotion.
And while so much hangs upon the development of these methods, that development is, on the other hand, a process comparatively independent, now at any rate, of most of the other great movements affected by it. It depends upon a sequence of ideas arising, and of experiments made, and upon laws of political economy, almost as inevitable as natural laws. Such great issues, supposing them to be possible, as the return of Western Europe to the Roman communion, the overthrow of the British Empire by Germany, or the inundation of Europe by the "Yellow Peril," might conceivably affect such details, let us say, as door-handles and ventilators or mileage of line, but would probably leave the essential features of the evolution of locomotion untouched.
The evolution of locomotion has a purely historical relation to the Western European peoples. It is no longer [Pg 4] dependent upon them, or exclusively in their hands. The Malay nowadays sets out upon his pilgrimage to Mecca in an excursion steamship of iron, and the immemorial Hindoo goes a-shopping in a train, and in Japan and Australasia and America, there are plentiful hands and minds to take up the process now, even should the European let it fall.
The beginning of this twentieth century happens to coincide with a very interesting phase in that great development of means of land transit that has been the distinctive feature speaking materially of the nineteenth century.
The nineteenth century, when it takes its place with the other centuries in the chronological charts of the future, will, if it needs a symbol, almost inevitably have as that symbol a steam engine running upon a railway. And since an interesting light is thrown upon the new phases in land locomotion that are now beginning, it will be well to begin this forecast with a retrospect, and to revise very shortly the history of the addition of steam travel to the resources of mankind.
A curious and profitable question arises at once. How is it that the steam locomotive appeared at the time it did, and not earlier in the history of the world? But why was it not invented? Not for want of a crowning intellect, for none of the many minds concerned in the development strikes one—as the mind of Newton, Shakespeare, or Darwin strikes one—as being that of an unprecedented man.
It is not that the need for the railway and steam engine had only just arisen, and—to use one of the most egregiously wrong and misleading phrases that ever dropped from the lips of man—the demand created the supply; it was quite the other way about.
There was really no urgent demand for such things at the time; the current needs of the European world seem to have been fairly well served by coach and diligence in , and, on the other hand, every administrator of intelligence in the Roman and Chinese empires must have felt an urgent need for more rapid methods of transit than those at his disposal.
Nor was the development of the steam locomotive the result of any sudden discovery of steam. Steam, and something of the mechanical possibilities of steam, had been known for two thousand years; it had been used for pumping water, opening doors, and working toys, before the Christian era.
It may be urged that this advance was the outcome of that new and more systematic handling of knowledge initiated by Lord Bacon and sustained by the Royal Society; but this does not appear to have been the case, though no doubt the new habits of mind that spread outward from that [Pg 6] centre played their part. There were no such deductions from principles to application as occur in the story of electricity to justify our attribution of the steam engine to the scientific impulse. Nor does this particular invention seem to have been directly due to the new possibilities of reducing, shaping, and casting iron, afforded by the substitution of coal for wood in iron works; through the greater temperature afforded by a coal fire.
In China coal has been used in the reduction of iron for many centuries. No doubt these new facilities did greatly help the steam engine in its invasion of the field of common life, but quite certainly they were not sufficient to set it going.
It was, indeed, not one cause, but a very complex and unprecedented series of causes, that set the steam locomotive going. It was indirectly, and in another way, that the introduction of coal became the decisive factor. One peculiar condition of its production in England seems to have supplied just one ingredient that had been missing for two thousand years in the group of conditions that were necessary before the steam locomotive could appear.
This missing ingredient was a demand for some [Pg 7] comparatively simple, profitable machine, upon which the elementary principles of steam utilization could be worked out.
But it happened that the coal needed to replace the dwindling forests of this small and exceptionally rain-saturated country occurs in low hollow basins overlying clay, and not, as in China and the Alleghanies for example, on high-lying outcrops, that can be worked as chalk is worked in England.
From this fact it followed that some quite unprecedented pumping appliances became necessary, and the thoughts of practical men were turned thereby to the long-neglected possibilities of steam. But steam had already been used for pumping upon one or two estates in England—rather as a toy than in earnest—before the middle of the seventeenth century, and the attempt to employ it was so obvious as to be practically unavoidable.
Immediately the latent reactions were set going. Savery, Newcomen, a host of other workers, culminating in Watt, working always by steps that were at least so nearly obvious as to give rise again and again to simultaneous discoveries, changed this toy of steam into a real, a commercial thing, developed a trade in pumping engines, created foundries and a new art of engineering, and almost unconscious of what they were doing, made the steam locomotive a well-nigh unavoidable consequence.
At last, after a century of improvement on pumping engines, there remained nothing but the very obvious stage of getting the engine that had been developed on wheels and out upon the ways of the world.
By Trevithick had a steam locomotive indisputably in motion and almost financially possible, and from his hands it puffed its way, slowly at first, and then, under Stephenson, faster and faster, to a transitory empire over the earth. It was a steam locomotive—but for [Pg 9] all that it was primarily a steam engine for pumping adapted to a new end; it was a steam engine whose ancestral stage had developed under conditions that were by no means exacting in the matter of weight.
And from that fact followed a consequence that has hampered railway travel and transport very greatly, and that is tolerated nowadays only through a belief in its practical necessity. The steam locomotive was all too huge and heavy for the high road—it had to be put upon rails. And so clearly linked are steam engines and railways in our minds that, in common language now, the latter implies the former.
But indeed it is the result of accidental impediments, of avoidable difficulties that we travel to-day on rails. Railway travelling is at best a compromise. The quite conceivable ideal of locomotive convenience, so far as travellers are concerned, is surely a highly mobile conveyance capable of travelling easily and swiftly to any desired point, traversing, at a reasonably controlled pace, the ordinary roads and streets, and having access for higher rates of speed and long-distance travelling to specialized ways restricted to swift traffic, and possibly furnished with guide-rails.
For the collection and delivery of all sorts of perishable goods also the same system is obviously altogether superior to the existing methods. Moreover, such a system would admit of that secular progress in engines and vehicles that the stereotyped conditions of the railway have almost completely [Pg 10] arrested, because it would allow almost any new pattern to be put at once upon the ways without interference with the established traffic.
Had such an ideal been kept in view from the first the traveller would now be able to get through his long-distance journeys at a pace of from seventy miles or more an hour without changing, and without any of the trouble, waiting, expense, and delay that arises between the household or hotel and the actual rail. It was an ideal that must have been at least possible to an intelligent person fifty years ago, and, had it been resolutely pursued, the world, instead of fumbling from compromise to compromise as it always has done and as it will do very probably for many centuries yet, might have been provided to-day, not only with an infinitely more practicable method of communication, but with one capable of a steady and continual evolution from year to year.
But there was a more obvious path of development and one immediately cheaper, and along that path went short-sighted Nineteenth Century Progress, quite heedless of the possibility of ending in a cul-de-sac.
The first locomotives, apart from the heavy tradition of their ancestry, were, like all experimental machinery, needlessly clumsy and heavy, and their inventors, being men of insufficient faith, instead of working for lightness and smoothness of motion, took the easier course of placing them upon the tramways that were already in existence—chiefly for the transit [Pg 11] of heavy goods over soft roads.
And from that followed a very interesting and curious result. These tram-lines very naturally had exactly the width of an ordinary cart, a width prescribed by the strength of one horse. Few people saw in the locomotive anything but a cheap substitute for horseflesh, or found anything incongruous in letting the dimensions of a horse determine the dimensions of an engine.
It mattered nothing that from the first the passenger was ridiculously cramped, hampered, and crowded in the carriage. He had always been cramped in a coach, and it would have seemed "Utopian"—a very dreadful thing indeed to our grandparents—to propose travel without cramping. By mere inertia the horse-cart gauge, the 4 ft.
Before every engine, as it were, trots the ghost of a superseded horse, refuses most resolutely to trot faster than fifty miles an hour, and shies and threatens catastrophe at every point and curve. That fifty miles an hour, most authorities are agreed, is the limit of our speed for land travel, so far as existing conditions go.
People of to-day take the railways for granted as they take sea and sky; they were born in a railway world, and they expect to die in one. But if only they will strip from their eyes the most blinding of all influences, acquiescence in the familiar, they will see clearly enough that this vast and elaborate railway system of ours, by which the whole world is linked together, is really only a vast system of trains of horse-waggons and coaches drawn along rails by pumping-engines upon wheels.
Is that, in spite of its present vast extension, likely to remain the predominant method of land locomotion—even for so short a period as the next hundred years? Now, so much capital is represented by the existing type of railways, and they have so firm an establishment in the acquiescence of men, that it is very doubtful if the railways will ever attempt any very fundamental change in the direction of greater speed or facility, unless they are first exposed to the pressure of our second alternative, competition, and we may very well go on to inquire how long will it be before that second alternative comes into operation—if ever it is to do so.
Let us consider what other possibilities seem to [Pg 13] offer themselves. Let us revert to the ideal we have already laid down, and consider what hopes and obstacles to its attainment there seem to be. The abounding presence of numerous experimental motors to-day is so stimulating to the imagination, there are so many stimulated persons at work upon them, that it is difficult to believe the obvious impossibility of most of them—their convulsiveness, clumsiness, and, in many cases, exasperating trail of stench will not be rapidly fined away.
And upon that assumption, in what direction are these new motor vehicles likely to develop? At present they seem to promise developments upon three distinct and definite lines.
There will, first of all, be the motor truck for heavy [Pg 15] traffic. Already such trucks are in evidence distributing goods and parcels of various sorts. And sooner or later, no doubt, the numerous advantages of such an arrangement will lead to the organization of large carrier companies, using such motor trucks to carry goods in bulk or parcels on the high roads.
Such companies will be in an exceptionally favourable position to organize storage and repair for the motors of the general public on profitable terms, and possibly to co-operate in various ways with the manufactures of special types of motor machines.
In the next place, and parallel with the motor truck, there will develop the hired or privately owned motor carriage. This, for all except the longest journeys, will add a fine sense of personal independence to all the small conveniences of first-class railway travel.
One will change nothing—unless it is the driver—from stage to stage. One will be free to dine where one chooses, hurry when one chooses, travel asleep or awake, stop and pick flowers, turn over in bed of a morning and tell the carriage to wait—unless, which is highly probable, one sleeps aboard.
All this seems fairly safe prophesying. And these things, which are quite obviously coming even now, will be working out their many structural problems when the next phase in their development begins.
The motor omnibus companies competing against the suburban railways will find themselves hampered in the speed of their longer runs by the slower horse traffic on their routes, and they will attempt to secure, and, it may be, after tough legislative struggles, will secure the power to form [Pg 17] private roads of a new sort, upon which their vehicles will be free to travel up to the limit of their very highest possible speed.
It is along the line of such private tracks and roads that the forces of change will certainly tend to travel, and along which I am absolutely convinced they will travel. This segregation of motor traffic is probably a matter that may begin even in the present decade.
Once this process of segregation from the high road of the horse and pedestrian sets in, it will probably go on rapidly.
It may spread out from short omnibus routes, much as the London Metropolitan Railway system has spread. The motor carrier companies, competing in speed of delivery with the quickened railways, will conceivably co-operate with the long-distance omnibus and the hired carriage companies in the formation of trunk lines. Almost insensibly, certain highly profitable longer routes will be joined up—the London to Brighton, for example, in England.
And the quiet English citizen will, no doubt, while these things are still quite exceptional and experimental in his lagging land, read one day with surprise in the violently illustrated popular magazines of , that there are now so many thousand miles of these roads already established in America and Germany and elsewhere. And thereupon, after some patriotic meditations, he may pull himself together.
We may even hazard some details about these [Pg 18] special roads. For example, they will be very different from macadamized roads; they will be used only by soft-tired conveyances; the battering horseshoes, the perpetual filth of horse traffic, and the clumsy wheels of laden carts will never wear them. It may be that they will have a surface like that of some cycle-racing tracks, though since they will be open to wind and weather, it is perhaps more probable they will be made of very good asphalt sloped to drain, and still more probable that they will be of some quite new substance altogether—whether hard or resilient is beyond my foretelling.
They will have to be very wide—they will be just as wide as the courage of their promoters goes—and if the first made are too narrow there will be no question of gauge to limit the later ones. Their traffic in opposite directions will probably be strictly separated, and it will no doubt habitually disregard complicated and fussy regulations imposed under the initiative of the Railway Interest by such official bodies as the Board of Trade.
The promoters will doubtless take a hint from suburban railway traffic and from the current difficulty of the Metropolitan police, and where their ways branch the streams of traffic will not cross at a level but by bridges.
It is easily conceivable that once these tracks are in existence, cyclists and motors other than those of the constructing companies will be able to make use of them. And, moreover, once they exist it will be possible to [Pg 19] experiment with vehicles of a size and power quite beyond the dimensions prescribed by our ordinary roads—roads whose width has been entirely determined by the size of a cart a horse can pull.
For example, it has been assumed, perhaps rashly, that the railway influence will certainly remain jealous and hostile to these growths: that what may be called the "Bicycle Ticket Policy" will be pursued throughout. Assuredly there will be fights of a very complicated sort at first, but once one of these specialized lines is in operation, it may be that some at least of the railway companies will hasten to replace their flanged rolling stock by carriages with rubber tyres, remove their rails, broaden their cuttings and embankments, raise their bridges, and take to the new ways of traffic.
H. G. Wells
I Locomotion in the Twentieth Century It is proposed in this book to present in as orderly an arrangement as the necessarily diffused nature of the subject admits, certain speculations about the trend of present forces, speculations which, taken all together, will build up an imperfect and very hypothetical, but sincerely intended forecast of the way things will probably go in this new century. Hitherto such forecasts have been presented almost invariably in the form of fiction, and commonly the provocation of the satirical opportunity has been too much for the writer;  [Pg 2] the narrative form becomes more and more of a nuisance as the speculative inductions become sincerer, and here it will be abandoned altogether in favour of a texture of frank inquiries and arranged considerations. Our utmost aim is a rough sketch of the coming time, a prospectus, as it were, of the joint undertaking of mankind in facing these impending years. The reader is a prospective shareholder—he and his heirs—though whether he will find this anticipatory balance-sheet to his belief or liking is another matter.
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Wells predicts that "new motor vehicles " will lead to trucks, cars "motor carriages" , and buses "the motor omnibus" that will be "segregated" from horse traffic on " special roads " competing with railways. Rather than producing even larger cities, a new sort of "human distribution" will be created, with the increase in the distance a worker can travel in an hour acting as a "centrifugal" force leading to a considerable development of "suburbs" while this development is counterbalanced by "centripetal considerations" like a desire for access to shopping districts, good schools, doctors, and "the love of the crowd. The revolution in technology, he predicts, will produce in the 20th century a system of four classes: 1 "the shareholding class " administering "irresponsible property"; 2 "the abyss," consisting of people "without either property or any evident function in the social organism"; 3 a reconstructed, productive, and "capable" middle class, including, notably, "mechanics and engineers," whose potential will depend on the education this class receives, no longer being "middle" in any meaningful sense; and 4 a class of non-productive business managers , political organizers, brokers , financiers, clerks, etc. The shareholder class will cultivate opulent, archaic decoration, which Wells clearly deplores, and he also fears that its wealth may enable it not only to "buy up almost all the available architectural talent" but also "in a certain figurative sense—buy up much of the womankind" that would otherwise belong to the capable class.