PUNCH'S THE COMING CENTURY

Probably every publication in world made a huge deal out of the rollover from 1899 to 1900. Punch, the London humor magazine, foremost in the world, created an entire special edition of jokes and cartoons, Punch's Almanack for 1899.

The humor is dated, rather literally, but one set of jokes deserves attention, their humorous takes on The Coming Century. In truth, most of them are incomprehensible to modern Americans but all of them play on the theme of change, radical change, change that makes the comfortable familiar icons of the 19th Century outmoded and lost to the sure-to-arrive ultra-modern world. For all the talk of constant change today, people then saw an even greater whirl of change around them and were both awed and frightened, amused and appalled by the onrushing future.

Oh, and one more thing. Many people have heard of - or read, since it appeared in numerous books - Charles Duell, Commissioner of the U.S. Patent Office in 1899, declaring that “Everything that can be invented, has been invented.” It's false, patently false as some have punned. But someone did say that in 1899. Punch, in the first Coming Century clip below. I'm sure they would have been amazed that the patent line, of all their work in 1899, would be the one to live in posterity.

EK

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