Perhaps one of the most iconic 1950s optimistic future predictions, it might surprise you to know that there actually are flying cars out there today. However, they're more along the novelty spectrum and are not quite ready for mass use on the road. (Above the road?) Interestingly enough, Henry Ford was a big advocate of the flying car as early as the late 1920s, and boasted Ford's flying cars would be as ubiquitous as his company's Model Ts.
While that hasn't come to pass yet, the century is still young.
This one's a little less commonly known: beginning in the 1960s, the U.S. pursued Operation Plowshare, which was to be a peaceful use of nuclear weapons. One of the ideas was to use atom bombs in the same role as using dynamite, to clear mountains for the expanding interstate highway system and to create artificial harbors.
Unsurprisingly, the program came under fire from protesters in the 1960s, due to the large quantities of fallout being ejected into the air, as well as radioactive contamination of groundwater. The project was terminated in 1977.
Another oft-cited example of 1950's technological optimism that never came to fruition, the idea was that a special device of some sort (probably driven by atomic power for maximum cliché usage) would be able to create weather on demand, from sunny skies to rain. The exact specifics of how this would come to pass were never fully explained.
However, there are several less elaborate but no less ambitious ways under production of controlling the weather, including building large walls in the Great Plains to block tornadoes from forming and placing non-toxic slicks on the surface of the ocean to prevent hurricane formation.
Once again, we have the optimism of the late 1950s to thank for one of the strangest fashion ideas out there. The idea really hit its stride in the mid-to-late 1960s, and included women's dresses, men's coats, rain jackets, underwear and even bikinis. People could even take crayons and customize their clothing as well.
However, the clothes were dangerously flammable, and also were generally one-size-fits-all with little stretchability. Today, you'll really only find paper clothes in hospitals.
This one's origins are a bit easier to explain, given the massive enthusiasm surrounding the space program during the late 1950s and early 1960s, and the search for simple but nutritious foods astronauts could digest in zero-g.
However, simple biology prevents this one from getting off the ground: It's simply an impossibility to cram enough calories into a small pill to make someone feel satisfied, and food pills would make people miss out on a whole host of micronutrients vital to healthy life, unknown to science in the 1950s.
Going all in with the general space mania leading up to and happening in the immediate wake of the moon shot, people were very certain that there would be well-established space colonies within their lifetimes. While that is certainly not the case at this point, one company is attempting to offer $150 million lunar vacations before the end of the decade. The trips would last 17 days, but so far, no moonwalking is planned.
Yet another sign of enthusiasm for peaceful applications of nuclear power, the fusion reaction is a holy grail of energy generation as it produces energy through a stable reaction that can't go up in a mushroom cloud, and also produces no radioactive waste.
However, the catch is how to contain a process that can reach thousands of degrees Fahrenheit in temperature, and how to create a reaction that produces more energy than you put into it. While significant advances have been made in the field since the 1970s, cheap nuclear fusion for everyone is still a ways off.
Though there have been examples in science fiction for over a century, more realistic takes on this prediction came about in the 1970s when it was a popular scientific concept that the earth was greatly cooling and could become a frozen wasteland by the early 21st century. To save humanity, great domes would be constructed over the cities of the world, and they would be self-contained, pressurized and climate-controlled.
While that hasn't become the case worldwide, Dubai is attempting to build the world's first climate-controlled mall under a giant retractable dome. In a large case of irony, one of the reasons the dome is being constructed is to combat rising global temperatures.
While some people may only be familiar with the idea from Back to the Future II, during the 1980s and at the very beginning of the 1990s before the widespread use of the Internet, fax machines were seen to be the new technology that would revolutionize communication. It was groundbreaking at the time that there was a way to send a letter, along with images, that would only take minutes to travel across the country and across the world.
For obvious reasons, the Internet quickly won out against the fax machine once it was introduced. Faxing over frames of cats doing funny things and then having to bind those pages together into a flipbook as a substitute for a GIF just wouldn't be the same.
For a long time people have been talking about shorter workweeks: this began nearly a century ago with the introduction of a five-day, 40-hour workweek, which in itself was a step up from the seven-day, 80-hour workweek common before the passage of various workers' rights legislation. Economist John Maynard Keynes predicted a 15-hour workweek by the early 21st century, citing technology's role in reducing work.
But, as we've seen, all of our advanced technology tends to add more work, rather than decrease it. And while a growing number of people may work four days in the office, they often make up the fifth day by telecommuting or working off-hours.
Predictions about future fashion have always been iffy, as we've seen with paper clothing and Jetsons-like jumpsuits. However, unisex fashion might be a more promising prediction. A logical extension of the gender revolution at the time was to assume that by the end of the century, men and women would enjoy equality in clothes as well as in rights.
While such clothing hasn't taken the whole world by storm yet by any measure, it is making inroads around the world, and unisex clothing has been increasing in popularity and acceptability since the beginning of the century.
Marconi famously said over a century ago that the great technological advances of the 20th century would make war "ridiculous," and while he was proven wrong very shortly after by WWI, many people thought carnage from that war would scare the world into peace. However, one more world war and countless wars later, we very clearly know that to not be the case.
But at the same time, though technology has actually served to fuel the capacity for war and conflict, conflicts have actually become less frequent around the world. The catch is that we aren't exactly sure why yet, so once again, this peaceful optimism may yet be upended over the course of time.