Milton Goldsmith Predicts the Future

After the publication of his first book Rabbi and Priest in 1891, Milton Goldsmith contributed a number of essays and short stories to the Philadelphia newspapers. My favorite is “In the Next Century”1 dated August 28, 1892, when he predicted—with tongue in cheek—what life would be like in the year 2000:

Here are a few highlights from this clever and humorous look at the future—or in our case, the past:

It is safe to assume that the world is but in its infancy, and that coming generations will show a vast mental and physical improvement over the present inhabitants of the globe. Our varied knowledge, the wonderful progress on which we are so prone to pride ourselves, will probably appear as absurd to our progeny as the fragmentary information of our forefathers appears to us. Knowledge will be universal, and the inhabitants of our continent will, in the next century, be intellectual giants.

Imagine yourselves transported to the year 2000….What a change greets our wondering eyes. Ignorance appears to be unknown. The child of 5 knows more than the college graduate of the present era. Let us examine the system that has wrought this improvement.  The guide of that year first leads us into the School for Infants. It is here that the babies are taught under the supervision of the government. Competent teachers are appointed the very young idea to shoot. For example, as soon as a child is old enough to drink milk from a bottle, it is taught at the same time the fundamental laws of suction and the principle of the air-pump. Experiments with valves, Torricelli vacuums, etc., form part of the curriculum.

An illustration of Torricelli’s vacuum
By Kilom691 (The New Student’s Reference Work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

How disappointed my cousin Milton would be. I am far past infancy yet I still didn’t know what a Torricelli vacuum was!

He continued with further examples of how babies and children would be instructed in gravity, zoology, geometry, trigonometry, and other mathematical and scientific concepts. Then he looked at medicine and health in the year 2000:

With a people of such mental caliber it is but natural that arts, science and inventions should prosper. The pleasure and comfort of man is greatly enhanced by the numerous devices invented for his welfare. Principal among these are the appliances for fostering the health of the community. Sickness is absolutely unknown. The medical fraternity, having discovered the germ of each disease, have at the same time provided an antidote for such germs. At the age of 2 months the child is vaccinated against tuberculosis. At the age of 3 months against cholera; at the age of four months against smallpox, and so on at regular intervals against all the diseases in the modern doctor books.

Here, Milton has done a better job of prognostication; we do have vaccines against smallpox and tuberculosis and many other diseases. But alas, we certainly have not eliminated all diseases.

Smallpox vaccine
By Photo Credit: James Gathany Content Providers(s): CDC [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Milton went on to describe, with tongue in cheek, the extreme measures that would be taken to prevent the reintroduction of germs into society—“Before a mother kisses her child she cleans her teeth and lips with an antiseptic solution. All water is boiled, and all milk sterilized before it is taken.”

He then takes this notion and applies it to the way adults will behave in the year 2000.

When the boy or girl reaches the age when matrimony appears a consummation devoutly to be wished, there are no haphazard marriages as in former days.  The partner to be chosen is carefully examined by a psychologist, a pathologist and a phrenologist, and every peculiarity of mental or physical structure carefully noted.  Only such parties who are perfectly sound and whose peculiarities are fitted to one another, are allowed to mate. Such a thing as an unhappy marriage, or a divorce, are as a matter of course impossible. Sick or weakly offspring are unknown.

What would Milton think of couples meeting through online dating? Of our over 50% divorce rate? Of birth control and premarital sex?

He then discussed married life:

The intelligent groom knows that promiscuous kissing is injurious; that each kiss, acting upon the sensitive nerves of touch, are apt to create a depletion of nervo-vital force. He therefore limits his kisses to two a day. The lips are carefully disinfected before and after each osculations.  …. The groom retires promptly at 10 o’clock, as sufficient sleep is found to be more important than making love.

Imagine Milton watching some of the movies or television shows of our era. What would he think?

Finally, Milton reached his conclusions about life in the year 2000:

As a result of this wonderful system sickness is unknown in the community. People live to the normal age of 100 years and then die suddenly without a struggle. The remains are immediately cremated, the ashes disinfected and buried ten feet in the earth.

Taking it all in all one is almost glad that this happy time has not yet arrived, for though we may have more disease than the possible inhabitant of A.D. 2000, we have a great deal more fun.

Ah, Cousin Milton, how wrong you were! We are still having a lot of fun, probably more than your generation did, as we have fewer diseases, more leisure time, looser social mores, and all the amazing toys that modern science has given us.

I loved the satiric tone of his essay.  And I also loved the sense that while I am now looking backward to learn about the life that Milton led as a young man in the 19th century, in 1892 he was looking forward to the future to imagine what life would be like for his descendants in the 21st century.

By Tony Grist (Photographer’s own files) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

Milton’s creative output in the 19th century was not limited to short stories and essays. In December 1893, Milton’s burlesque entitled “Jay Cesar, Esq.”—which he wrote and acted in—was performed by the Stag Opera Comique Company in Philadelphia. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, “it was a distinct success from every standpoint and from a social standpoint it was decidedly the leading event in Hebrew society this season so far.”  The performance consisted of two hours of “catchy airs, humorous songs, fantastic dances and whimsical dialogue.” 2

Milton was obviously a very talented young man.  The 20th century would find him leaving behind his life as a merchant and making a new career in a new city.  I wonder what he would have predicted for his own future when he wrote “In the Next Century” in 1892.

 

 

 


  1. Milton Goldsmith, “In the Next Century,” The Philadelphia Times, August 28, 1892, p. 19. 
  2. “Stags on Stage,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, December 29, 1893, p. 3. A full copy of the text of Jay Cesar can be found here. It is quite clever, and Milton is credited not only with the whole text, but also with some of the music. For other stories, essays, and other works by Milton Goldsmith during the 1890s, see, “Milton Goldsmith’s Lecture Before the Young Men’s Hebrew Association,” The Philadelphia Times, March 28, 1897, p, 9; Milton Goldsmith, “That Grateful Ghost,” The Philadelphia Times, March 5, 1893, p. 23; Milton Goldsmith, “Raps Told of Murder,” The Philadelphia Times, December 11, 1892, p. 23; Milton Goldsmith, “The Pride of the Circus,” The Philadelphia Times, August 14, 1892, p. 10; Milton Goldsmith, “The Three Responses,” The Philadelphia Times, March 27, 1892, p. 14. 

Another Writer in the Family: Alan Baer Green

In many ways the life of my cousin Josephine Baer parallels that of her sister Amanda.  As I wrote here, Josephine Baer married Morris Alon Green in January, 1906.  Their son Alan Baer Green was born less than eleven months later.  They were living in Pittsburgh.  In 1918 Morris was an executive with the Crucible Steel Company in Pittsburgh.  In 1925, they were living in New York City, and Morris was working as a manager.  In 1930, they were still living in New York, and Morris listed his occupation as “financial.”  Their son Alan was working in advertising.

In 1931, Alan married Gladys Bun, and they had three sons in the late 1930s.  Although Alan continued to work in the advertising field, like his first cousin Justin Baer Herman, he also became a successful writer.  As reported in his obituary, Alan wrote “Love on the Run,” which became a movie starring Clark Gable and Joan Crawford in 1936.  It is a screwball comedy about two competing newspaper reporters covering the wedding of a socialite.

Love on the Run poster

He also wrote several other books during the 1930s, primarily mysteries, sometimes written under the pseudonym Roger Denbie (co-written with Julian Paul Brodie), sometimes as Glen Burne (co-written with his wife Gladys).

Alan’s parents are listed in the 1938 directory for Los Angeles, so I thought perhaps they had all moved out to Hollywood, but Alan himself is not listed in that directory.  And by 1940, all three were listed as living in New York City in the census.

Josephine Baer and Morris Green 1940 US census Year: 1940; Census Place: New York, New York, New York; Roll: T627_2655; Page: 13B; Enumeration District: 31-1349

Josephine Baer and Morris Green 1940 US census
Year: 1940; Census Place: New York, New York, New York; Roll: T627_2655; Page: 13B; Enumeration District: 31-1349

On the 1940 census, Morris and Josephine were living on East 77th Street, and Morris was retired.  Alan and Gladys and their three sons, ages 2, 1, and eleven months, were living on East 86th Street. They had two nurses living with them.  Alan listed his occupations as “author” and “advertising.”

Alan Baer Green and family 1940 US census Year: 1940; Census Place: New York, New York, New York; Roll: T627_2658; Page: 61B; Enumeration District: 31-1454

Alan Baer Green and family 1940 US census
Year: 1940; Census Place: New York, New York, New York; Roll: T627_2658; Page: 61B; Enumeration District: 31-1454

During World War II, Alan served on the War Writers Board, a privately established organization that worked with the government to create propaganda to promote the war effort.  The US Holocaust Museum had this information about the War Writers Board:

Two days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau, Jr., proposed organizing the nation’s writers as civilians “under arms” to promote the war effort. A month later, a group of prominent American authors formed the Writers’ War Board, a private association partially supported by government subsidy. The board coordinated more than 2,000 writers in diverse activities including slogans, poster contests, syndicated articles, poems, radio plays, dramatic skits, government publications, books, advertisements, and war propaganda. In May 1942 and 1943, the board sponsored anniversary observances of the Nazi book burnings to keep alive the connection between the destruction of books and the consequences of intolerance.

Alan and Gladys had moved to Westport, Connecticut, by 1943, where they would live for more than thirty years.  After the war Alan was a founder of the Writers Board for World Government, an outgrowth of the War Writers Board formed to promote peace through a “world federation” of all nations.

In 1950, Alan won an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for his book, What A Body, which was selected as the best first mystery novel of that year. [1] It is a murder mystery involving a police officer who falls for the niece of the murder victim.

What a Body by Alan Baer Green

On December 9, 1954, Morris Green died at age 79 in Atlantic City, where he and Josephine were then living.  A year later Josephine established a scholarship in his name at the University of Pittsburgh; as reported in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, although Morris himself did not have much formal education, he “was always devoted to the higher ideals of higher education.”

Morris Green scholarship

 

At some point after Morris’ death, Josephine moved closer to her son Alan in Connecticut.  Alan continued to write.  One of his best known books, Mother of Her Country, was published in 1973. It was subtitled, “A Comic Novel about Pornography and Censorship.” Kirkus Review wrote the following about it:

A clean joke about porn which doesn’t run to more than one line but tells you something about publishing in general (Mr. Green was around in it for quite some time) and censorship and those not too fine distinctions to be made between words whether they appeared in the Oxford English Dictionary or Macbeth. Laura Conroy, a vestal virgin from the Midwest comes to New York to get a job in the book business which she does — with a small press — to the consternation of her mother who is the Carry Amelia Nation of something called the Americans for Clean Entertainment. There’s a court case and a tacked on coda re a rediscovered journal as to where George Washington might really have slept but the story’s not really much more than a stretcher to fill the space between brou and haha — however cheerful and sensible its reprimand.

Mother of Her Country by Alan Green

Two years later, Alan Baer Green died on March 10, 1975.  He was 68 years old.  He was survived not only by his wife and three sons, but also by his mother Josephine, who was almost 97 years old. Alan Baer Green obit NYTimes March 11 1975-page-001

 

Josephine died in August, 1975, less than six months after the death of her son.

So how did Josephine’s life parallel that of her sister Amanda? No, she didn’t marry her sister’s widower and raise two nephews.  But like Amanda, she raised a son who grew up to be a successful writer.  Like Amanda, she survived her husband by many years, 28 for Amanda, 21 for Josephine.  Like Amanda, she lived a long life.  Amanda was 89 when she died, Josephine was 97.

 

 

[1] I am not sure how he qualified for this as it seems he had already written and published several mystery novels by that time, but perhaps those didn’t count for some reason.