Thursday, June 26, 2008

Brussels Girl Geek Dinner

Peter Van Wijnaerde recently emailed me and asked for my opinion on various paleo-futuristic topics. He was doing a presentation for the Brussels Girl Geek Dinner and was looking for some insight. I felt bad that I didn't have much time to contribute but he was able to put together a rather interesting presentation which can now be viewed online:

Peter was kind enough to post the first draft of his presentation as well:

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Victorian Internet

It is easy to forget (for my generation, anyways) that attempts to make language more efficient did not start with text-messaging. In a piece for the December 1900 Ladies' Home Journal, John Elfreth Watkins, Jr. predicted that the letters C, X and Q would be deemed unnecessary in the 20th century:
There will be no C, X or Q in our every-day alphabet. They will be abandoned because unnecessary. Spelling by sound will have been adopted, first by the newspapers. English will be a language of condensed words expressing condensed ideas, and will be more extensively spoken than any other. Russian will rank second.

The five-needle telegraph invented by Wheatstone and Cooke in the 1830s saw a similar efficiency that one might exploit. From the book The Victorian Internet by Tom Standage:
However, the limited number of possible combinations with the five-needle design meant that only twenty letters were included in the telegraphic alphabet; thus "C," "J," "Q," "U," "X," and "Z" were omitted. Although this design required separate wires between sender and receiver for each needle, it could transmit messages quickly without the need for a codebook.

See also:
What May Happen in the Next Hundred Years (Ladies Home Journal, 1900)
The Next Hundred Years (Milwaukee Herold und Seebote, 1900)

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Nuclear Rocketship (1959)

I take a lot of pride in providing material you can't find anywhere else on the internet. But there's an easy way to tell when I'm having a busy week: I steal images from the website Plan59.

Still beautiful though, ain't it?

This illustration is by Frank Tinsley from 1959. The image appeared as part of a series of ads in Fortune magazine for the American Bosch Arma Corporation.

See also:
Air Force Predictions for 2063 (1963)
Fusion Energy in Space (1984)

Monday, June 23, 2008

Sports Fans of the Year 2000 (1967)

The August 20, 1967 Progress-Index (Petersburg, VA) ran a piece titled, "Hard Times Facing Joe Fan," about the overcrowding of sports stadiums that was sure to come with exponential population growth.

My favorite quote of the article comes from the only source, real estate developer Joseph Timan: "With unprecedented leisure time on their hands, millions of sports fans will want to patronize more than one team."

The cartoon at right, reading, "Bleachers $8," appeared in the July 30, 1967 Lima News (Lima, OH) publication of the article. Adjusted for inflation $8 in 1967 is a little over $50 in 2008 currency.
NEW YORK (NEA) - It is the year 2000 and you want a ticket to a baseball or a basketball game. You figure it will be just like today, walk up to the box office, push your money over the counter and buy a reserved seat for $2.50.

Forget it.

This opinion comes from one Joseph Timan, city planner and president of Horizon Land Corp., a real estate development company in Tucson, Ariz.

Timan made his prediction following a Horizon-sponsored sociological study of future planning problems in metropolitan areas.

The study revealed that city populations are expected to double and triple by the year 2000. This means there will be two to four times more sports fans in the next 30-40 years. Stadium capacity will remain relatively the same.

"Stadiums could be built to seat 150,000" TIman says, "but watching a sporting event in a structure this size would be like watching a flea circus from a block away.

"Besides, the crushing chaos of getting this much humanity in and out of such a facility makes management of today's World Series crowds a simple routine by comparison."

Because of the increased number of fans and the lack of space, tickets, Timan says, will be sold months and in some instances, seasons in advance.

"Even third baseball and football leagues won't meet the demands for tickets," Timan said. "With unprecedented leisure time on their hands, millions of sports fans will want to patronize more than one team."

To obtain a ticket, the average fan is going to need influence as well as affluence.

"Diamonds, mink and champagne, instead of shirtsleeves and beer, will be commonplace in the bleacher section at ball games," Timan continued.

"These sports will no longer be for the masses. The box seats, upper stands and bleachers will be filled up with junior and senior executives - and mostly senior at that. The rest of us will have to be content to see sports over television.

"Prices for a bleacher seat that goes for $2 today will sell for $8 because of the great demand and limited supply. Box seats, for those lucky enough to get them, will bring $20 or more."

Far fetched?

"Not at all," Timan said, "It's a simple matter to extrapolate from history and project into the future. Consider these facts:

"In the past 30 years the number of fans attending major sporting events have more than tripled while population has increased about 50 per cent.

"Consider salaries of sports greats of 30-40 years ago. Today they're easily four or five time bigger. By 2000 they can be expected to quadruple again.

"Now, larger stadiums are being built, but they are very close to maximum possible size for viewing team sports.

"Thirty years ago bleacher seats were going to 50 cents while they are generally four times this amount today.

"Tickets to many major league football and hockey games are already almost impossible to obtain, unless you have 'pull.' Today just try to get a ticket to a hockey game; a big Saturday college game, or a baseball game when the team is on top.

"Multiply these factors by a doubled or triple urban population by the year 2000, a population with many more upper-income people with more leisure time; couple this with the physical limitations of stadiums, and you can't escape the conclusion that soon there won't be enough stadium seats to go around."

It sounds like something out of a Walter O'Malley dream.

See also:
Mile Run in 3:41 by Year 2000 (1965)
Lunar High Jump (1979)
Sport in Space Colonies (1977)
Olympic Games on the Moon in 2020 (1979)
Zero-Gravity Football (1981)
Future Without Football (Daily Review, 1976)
"Grasshopper" Golf Cart (1961)

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Animals Must 'Pay Their Way' (1926)

It is astonishing how many predictions of the early 20th century assumed animals (that is, all animals) would eventually be extinct simply because they were not needed by humans. A piece by John Elfreth Watkins, Jr. in the December, 1900 Ladies Home Journal predicted that there would be, "no wild animals except in menageries."

The article above, from the November 11, 1926 Galveston Daily News (Galveston, TX), operated under similar assumptions. Titled, "To Find Some Use For Every Wild Animal," the piece assumed that in the future animals would have to justify their existence by proving their usefulness to humankind. That's a far cry from today when we're trying to save polar bears, which everyone knows are lazy and deceitful. I mean really, what has a polar bear done for you lately?
[Scientists] predict that the day will come when the wild creatures of the earth will have to pay their way or become as extinct as many forms of animal life have in the dim distances of the past.

Unless an animal can contribute something definite to human life - food to be eaten, clothes to be worn, labor to lighten the burden of man - then his doom is sealed and the last of his tribe will one day pass out of the picture.

See also:
What May Happen in the Next Hundred Years (Ladies Home Journal, 1900)
Animals of 2076 (1977)
Animal Food Abandoned (The Anaconda Standard, 1914)
French Prints Show Year 2000 (circa 1910)

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

'Brain Wave' Music Possible (1949)

The August 28, 1949 San Antonio Light (San Antonio, TX) ran this article and cartoon about the "brain wave" music of the future. The piece quotes heavily from electronic music pioneer Raymond Scott.
CHICAGO, Aug. 27 - (AP) - Some day composers won't write music, and musicians won't play it - yet fans will enjoy it in never-before-heard perfection.

The composer or artist will simply project it by brain waves - "thought transference," says Raymond Scott.


This man, who thinks in terms of electronics and music, thinks that is all quite possible. Scott said in an interview:
"Brains put out electrical waves. I wouldn't be at all surprised if some day it were possible to do away with lines in music, such as writing it out and playing the notes. You'll just be able to think it.

"Imagine fastening electrodes to your head, inviting some people to your home and then thinking your music. If you wanted 1000 violins you could have them - and if you wanted the bass fiddle to play piccolo parts, you could do that, too."


Scott says even recordings will carry, instead of musical sound, the brain waves of the composer. No arrangers, no rehearsals.

Scott is a New Yorker who has spent most of his adult life working on new developments in his two loves, music and electronics. He maintains a permanent electronics research laboratory in New York, while he composes music and directs his bands for radio shows and night club appearances. His musical theories have always been off-beat.

See also:
Robots vs. Musicians (1931)
The Future is Now (1955)
How Experts Think We'll Live in 2000 A.D. (1950)
All the Music of the Centuries (1908)
Every Era Produces Good Music (1968)

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Bucky Fuller's Dymaxion Car on Display

From the June 15, 2008 New York Times:
Buckminster Fuller’s 1933 Dymaxion, a streamlined pod on three wheels, is one of the lovable oddballs in automotive history. Three were built, fawned over by the media and by celebrities, but the car pretty much disappeared after one crashed, killing the driver.

Other streamlined designs have followed the Dymaxion, including, from top, the 1936 Lincoln Zephyr, the and the Aptera.

Only one of the cars survives, and New Yorkers will get a chance to see it this summer in an exhibition opening June 26 at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York called “Buckminster Fuller: Starting With the Universe.” The car, a nonrunning shell, has been lent by the National Automobile Museum in Reno, Nev.

“The Dymaxion was the zenith of the first wave of semi-scientific streamlining,” said Russell Flinchum, a design historian. It showed up in newsreels and magazines, along with teardrop designs drawn by Norman Bel Geddes, the futurist. It helped lead to public acceptance of streamlined cars like the 1936 Lincoln Zephyr.

The Dymaxion appealed to the era of the Depression, when people dreamed of radical new technological solutions to solve overwhelming problems.

See also:
Dymaxion Car of the Future (1934)
Buckminster Fuller Screenprints (1981)
Fuller's Traveling Cartridge (circa 1960s)
The Most Well-Documented Lives in History

Friday, June 13, 2008

Shopper Hoppers (1959)

The August 2, 1959 Chicago Tribune ran this Closer Than We Think strip about personal flying platforms of the future. It's in an image like this that I realize how fundamentally different our world would be had the flying car ever become a reality. You just can't beat an "over the rooftops" perspective.
A kind of "flying carpet" may be the answer to the problem of personal transportation in the future. The flying platforms shown here would be suitable for such uses as low altitude hops to neighboring shops.

Military models of these "hoppers" have already been developed at Piasecki Aircraft and Chrysler. The flat platforms are lifted by air blasts through ducts at the bottom. The vanes of the ducts are movable, to permit control of direction. These vehicles would hover like helicopters and move at city traffic speeds. Construction would be simple, and costs could be kept low enough for civilian requirements.

Next Week: Farm Rainmakers

See also:
Online Shopping (1967)
GM's Shopping Cart Car (1964)

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Border Surveillance of 1990 (1977)

The November 26, 1977 Tucson Citizen (Tucson, AZ) imagined the border and facility surveillance technology of 1990.
Special sensors designed to look like rocks, plants and other natural objects could be seeded along borders, and transmit via satellite the sounds of voices, footsteps and vehicles of potential illegal aliens and smugglers.

See also:
The Road Ahead: Future of Police Work (1995)
Closer Than We Think! (1958-1963)
Jet Flying Belt is Devised to Carry Man for Miles (New York Times, 1968)
Headlines of the Near Future (1972)

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Real Picturephone? (1939)

This (most likely doctored) photo of a picturephone in 1939 or 1940 is featured in the book Exit to Tomorrow: World's Fair Architecture, Design, Fashion 1933-2005.

The weird thing is that I haven't been able to verify the authenticity of this photo outside of this book. In fact, it is rare to find mention of a working picturephone, with any degree of specificity, pre-1955. Anyone who might be able to shine a light on this is encouraged to educate us all. The caption to the photo appears below.
Charles F. Kettering, General Motors vice president in charge of research, appeared on the screen in the first demonstration of what might be termed the "television-telephone." By means of this equipment, which was the first of its kind ever operated in this country, Ernest L. Foss could see the person to whom he was talking. The apparatus was displayed at the formal opening of the Previews of Progress, General Motors Research's stage show at the fair.

See also:
Tomorrow's TV-Phone (1956)
Television Phone Unveiled (1955)
Futuristic Phone Booth (1958)
Governor Knight and the Videophone (Oakland Tribune, 1955)
Face-to-Face Telephones on the Way (New York Times, 1968)
Picturephone as the perpetual technology of the future
The Future is Now (1955)
Discovering the Videophone (1970)
A Ballad for the Fair (1964)

Monday, June 9, 2008

Final Date of the Earth: August 18, 1999 (1973)

I don't know whether Criswell believed his own predictions or not. I only know that he was wrong. A lot.

An excerpt from the January 11, 1973 Oakland Tribune (Oakland, CA) containing Criswell's prediction for our last day on Earth appears below.
His rubicund countenance aglow with camaraderie, Criswell said the predictions in [his book] were prompted by a ghostly visitation of Nostradamus, the 16th century prophet who reputedly had correctly predicted the founding of America and World Wars I and II, not to mention flights to the moon and - hold your hats - the final date of this earth, August 18, 1999.

I'd really like to think that "psychics" believe their own nonsense. The emotional and psychological abuse they perpetrate is otherwise unexcusable.

Sorry about the soapbox rant today. Sometimes the paleo-future can get kind of heavy. Consider my anti-psychic-powers posts to be public service announcements interrupting our regularly-scheduled shenanigans. Jet packs, meal pills and rowbuts will return tomorrow.

See also:
The Prophetic Year 2000 (1968)
The 1980s: Countdown to Armageddon
Nucelar War to Start September 12, 2006
Nuclear War Revisited (2006)
Apocalypse Soon (1980)

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Bubble-Top Car (1948)

Leo Rackow's 1948 illustration of a bubble-top car of the future appears above. Its sleek, uber-streamlined design can be found in the book Out of Time by Norman Brosterman.

You may observe that there doesn't appear to be cord coming from the driver's phone. Is Mr. Future just listening to the ocean inside that handset? Or do you suppose that he's so rude he can't be bothered to speak with his mistress, who's so clearly making breakfast for him in the backseat?

See also:
Gyroscopic Rocket Car (1945)
Commuter Helicopter (1947)
Dymaxion "Car of the Future" (1934)

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Official Guide Book: 1939 World's Fair

The motto of the 1939 New York World's Fair was, "Science Finds, Industry Applies, Man Conforms."

And you wonder why 1930's America was afraid of automation! It was practically the theme of the '39 Fair that Man would adhere to the will of whatever Science and Industry dictated. An international fear of robots in the 1930s seems downright reasonable when seen through that lens.

The Official Guide Book to the 1939 New York World's Fair is a beautiful, hardbound book full of paleo-futuristic delights. The introduction to the guide book appears below. I recommend listening to the official theme song of the Fair, "Dawn of a New Day," while reading the intro.
To the millions of Fair visitors, assembled from the many nations of the world, we bid a hearty welcome. During more than four years we have labored mightily to provide you with the great spectacle which you now see. The talents and genius of many men and women - architects, designers, artists, engineers, industrialists, businessmen, civic leaders, and educators - have been assembled to give graphic demonstration to the dream of a better "World of Tomorrow:" that world which you and I and our millions of fellow citizens can build from the best of the tools available to us today. We show you here in the New York World's Fair the best industrial techniques, social ideas and services, the most advanced scientific discoveries. And at the same time we convey to you the picture of the interdependence of man on man, class on class, nation on nation. We tell you of the immediate necessity of enlightened and harmonious cooperation to preserve and save the best of our modern civilization. We seek to achieve orderly progress in a world of peace; and toward this end many competent critics have already noted marked progress.

The completed Fair is a living, eloquent tribute to the men and women who planned, built and operate it - to the executives and many members of a loyal and talented staff. Tribute to each and every one who worked to translate a vision into a pulsing reality.

This is your Fair, built for you and dedicated to you. You will find it a never ceasing source of wonder. We feel that it will delight you and instruct you. But in the midst of all the color, and rhythm, and music and festivity you cannot fail to receive that more serious message: how you and I and all of us can actively contribute, both for ourselves and for our communities, toward that better "World of Tomorrow" to which we all look forward.

With this brief but cordial message we present you to your Fair.

See also:
Our Dread of Robots (1932)
Dawn of a New Day (1939)
Technology and Man's Future (1972)
Restaurant Robots (1931)
Donald Duck's "Modern Inventions" (1937)
All's Fair at the Fair (1938)
"I Can Whip Any Mechanical Robot" by Jack Dempsey (1930s)
Robots vs. Musicians (1931)
The Robot is a Terrible Creature (1922)
Gigantic Robots to Fight Our Battles (Fresno Bee, 1934)
Mammy vs Robot (Charleston Gazette, 1937)
Railroads on Parade (1939)
Memory of 'Tomorrow' (New York Times, 1941)

Monday, June 2, 2008

The Technotopia of 2000 (1962)

In 1962 the French weekly l'Express postulated about a technologically advanced utopia in the year 2000.
By the year 2000 all food will be completely synthetic. Agriculture and fisheries will have become superfluous. The world's population will by then have increased fourfold but will have stabilized. Sea water and ordinary rocks will yield all the necessary metals. Disease, as well as famine, will have been eliminated; and universal hygienic inspection and control will have been introduced. The problems of energy production will by then be completely resolved.

From the essay Food - the great challenge of this crucial century by Georg Borgstrom in the 1975 book Notes for the Future: An Alterative History of the Past Decade.

See also:
Our Friend the Atom (Book, 1956)
Closer Than We Think! Fat Plants and Meat Beets (1958)
Closer Than We Think! Hydrofungal Farming (1962)
Man's Future Beneath the Sea (1968)
That 60's Food of the Future
Solar Power of 1999 (1956)
Hubert H. Humphrey's Year 2000 (1967)