How 19th-Century French Artists Thought The New Millennium Would Be

France in the year 2000 – Air cab station │
France in the year 2000 – Air cab station │ | © Jean-Marc Côté / Wikimedia Commons
Paul McQueen

Predicting the future is a fickle business, no matter how blithely fortune tellers and city traders go about it. Over a century ago, a group of French illustrators was tasked with imagining what technology would look like in the year 2000. Their ideas weren’t always on the money (how we wish whale-buses, seahorse-polo, and barracuda-quidditch were things) but many have been realized albeit not exactly according to the original drawings.

Jules Verne and the 19th-Century Imagination

If you had to guess the artist that imagined bonneted tourists cruising around the ocean depths in a tram car strapped to the belly of a humpback whale, you’d be forgiven for suspecting one of the San Franciscan members of the 1960s psychedelic art movement like Rick Griffin or Alton Kelley, or maybe even Salvador Dali in his interwar clock-melting days. Then again, the brutality of the 20th century’s world wars does tend to make us forget the optimism and vitality of the preceding Belle Époque.

France in the year 2000 – Whale-bus │

This was an age when copies of Jules Verne’s Voyages Extraordinaires, a series of 55 novels written between 1863 and 1905, were on bookshelves in homes up and down France and, despite some shoddy translation work, in households across the English-speaking world, too. Considered still the grandfather of science fiction, Verne fed the public imagination with sensational technological inventions that the age of science seemed to be bringing into the realm of possibility. To an audience not just familiar but obsessed with a story like that of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1869-70), the prospect of a whale-bus, or a life lived under the waves in a myriad of other ways, probably didn’t seem that far-fetched at all.

France in the year 2000 – Race in Pacific │

The Origins of ‘En L’An 2000’

No one’s quite sure exactly how the En L’An 2000 image series, which is translated both literally as In the Year 2000 and loosely as France in the 21st Century, came about. Some believe it was the pet project of a toy maker while others attribute its development to a now-defunct tobacco company. In any case, the 87 illustrations were created first in small format, capable of being inserted into a cigarette packet, and later as postcards, though these were never widely distributed.

France in the year 2000 – New-fangled barber │

Though numerous artists are thought to have contributed to the collection, Jean-Marc Côté is the name most often associated with those published in 1899, 1900 (the year in which they were displayed at the Exposition Universelle in Paris), and 1901 and Villemard with those that appeared in 1910. In any event, they were all forgotten for the better part of a century until the American science fiction writer Isaac Asimov stumbled across a preserved set of them, which he later published in his 1986 book Futuredays: A Nineteenth Century Vision of the Year 2000.

France in the year 2000 – Toilette madame │

Which predictions have come true and which haven’t (yet)?

If you can look past all the levers and pulleys (which, along with propellers, dominate most of the illustrators’ designs), it’s not difficult to discern modern-day cleaning robots like the Roomba in a postcard of an electric scrubbing device.

France in the year 2000 – Electric scrubbing │

While you’d be hard pushed to find quite such a frilly maid’s uniform in a Paris hotel these days – which isn’t to say you wouldn’t have luck in some of the velvet curtained stores up in Pigalle – the getup of flat cap, waistcoat, puffy shirt, and culottes has persisted out in the rural provinces. (Okay, maybe not the culottes, sadly.) What is undeniable about farm life in France and elsewhere, however, is the rapid, job-robbing rise of mechanization over the past 100 years.

France in the year 2000 – Very busy farmer │

Another premonition which has (unfortunately) come true is that of the mobile home. Admittedly, Côté’s rolling villa – with its pinstripe awnings and observation deck – is quite a bit more elegant than the road-hoggers we 21st-century road users have to put up with, but the idea was bang on.

France in the year 2000 – Rolling villa │

Obviously, even though major strides (or, more accurately, leaps) have been made in the field of human flight we are still some way off having airborne postal workers. However, at the end of 2016, residents and businesses in the Var département in south eastern France became the first anywhere in the world to receive mail by drone on a regular commercial route.

France in the year 2000 – Rural postman │

Schoolwork may still be a metaphorical grind for most of today’s children but this illustration does contain the nuclei of the ideas behind audiobooks and digitized information generally. We may not yet be able to download information directly into our brains but if the makers of the Matrix can dream it then surely there’s an inventor out there who can make it a reality.

France in the year 2000 – Future school │

What can we learn by looking at the past’s future today?

According to Tom Standage of The Economist, writing in an introductory chapter of the 2017 book Megatech: Technology in 2050, technological innovation comes about thanks to a combination of the past – the insights offered by reactions to similar inventions in previous eras – the present – the acceptance of a product in one specific market prior to a global rollout – and the future – the incredible things that science fiction writers are able to dream up and explore the implications of in the controlled setting of an imaginary world. So, even if the wildest of these 19th-century drawings (more of which can be viewed on Wikimedia Commons) don’t provide a blueprint for success, it never hurts to look back when trying to think of the next big thing.

But, before you scurry off into your basement laboratories to work on your game-changing invention, take some time to reflect on the far-from-complex ideas that society is taking far too long to implement. Case in point: equal pay.

culture trip left arrow
 culture trip brand logo

Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip

meet our Local Insider


women sitting on iceberg


2 years.


It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.


I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!

culture trip logo letter c
group posing for picture on iceberg
group posing for picture on iceberg

Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.

map of volcanic iceland trip destination points
culture trip brand logo
culture trip right arrow
landscape with balloons floating in the air


Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world

Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.

Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.

Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.

We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.