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Saturday
Sep192009

Gernsback Imagines Life 50 Years Hence (1925)

Hugo Gernsback wrote a syndicated piece in 1925 that imagined the world of 1975. It appeared in the February 8th edition of the San Antonio Light (San Antonio, TX) and has an interesting mix of hits and misses. Highlights from the article are excerpted below. You can read the piece in its entirety here.

Gernsback recognized that the future had the potential to be even more fantastic than we could imagine:

The chances are that if someone runs across this fifty years from now, he will severely condemn the writer of this for his great lack of imagination, for, no matter how wild the predictions may seem now, they will look very tame fifty years hence. If someone had tried to explain radio to you fifty years ago, or the X-ray, or radium, he would have been put down as ripe for the insane asylum, and you may rest assured that we are no different today.

 

On television:

Movies by radio! Why not? You will be able to have a moving picture produced in some central plant and projected in your home, on your yacht, or on your camping trip, the picture being sent by radio, and received and projected upon your screen. All this is perfectly possible.

On teleportation:

By [1975], we shall be able to send all sorts of materials by radio. If you think that it is impossible to transmit a carload of coal thousands of miles, you need only go back less than fifty years, when it would have been thought equally impossible to have the street cars of Syracuse, N.Y., run by the power generated by Niagara Falls. Today no one thinks anything of this.

On personal transportation:

Each pedestrian will roll on electric skates, such as have been constructed even today. An insulated wire running from the skate to the head or shoulder of the skater will be sufficient to take the power from the radio power line, and we shall then all be propelled electrically at a pace at least four or five times as fast as we walk today.

On buildings of the future:

All of our buildings and houses are due for a great revolution. In the Wintertime all of our buildings will be warm, and in the Summertime they will be cool. The future buildings and house will be fashioned along the principle of a thermos bottle. Each wall will be double, and the space between the walls will be filled with cork or some other poor heat conductor.

On airplanes:

The tops of our tallest buildings will be flat and glass-covered. They will have airplane landing platforms on which all kinds of airplanes, or even the trans-Atlantic planes of the future will land.

On hanging gardens:

Our large office buildings, or, for that matter, private houses, will have real gardens with large trees on top of the roofs, as has already been tried experimentally with smaller plants in some of our large cities.

On electrified crops:

Not only that, but plant life will also be greatly stimulated as recent high frequency experiments on plants have shown. Our crops and plants will grow practically two to ten times as quickly and the crops will be more productive under this electrification. Under such stimulation it will be quite possible to raise crops at least twice or perhaps more often during the year; and the most interesting part about this is that it will cost the farmer absolutely nothing except for fertilizer. And this he requires anyway.

On moving sidewalks:

Below the elevated railway we have continuous moving platforms. There will be three such moving platforms alongside of each other. The first platform will move only a few miles per hour, the second at eight or ten miles per hour, and the third at twelve or fifteen miles per hour.

You step upon the slowest moving one from terra firma and move to the faster ones and take your seat. Then arriving at your station, you can either take the lift to the top platform or else you can get off upon the "elevated level" and take the fast train there. which stops only every thirty or forty blocks. Or, if you do not wish this, you can descent by the same elevator down to the local subway.

 

Previously on Paleo-Future:

 

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Reader Comments (12)

Forget the electric car, I want my bumper-car-skates now!

This is great, it's such a mix of spot-on predictions and wild conjecture. It's humbling to think that not only air conditioning, but INSULATION was considered a futuristic idea not too long ago.

I also find it funny that the moving sidewalk is one of those ideas perpetually on the horizon - I can't count the number of times I've read the moving sidewalk idea in internet discussions, always presented with the utmost freshness and enthusiasm.

September 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSeth

Whoops, I meant to say FLYING CAR, not electric car :^P.

September 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSeth

Gernsback articulated nearly the right idea of sending material things by "radio," if you interpret that to mean that you can formulate mathematical descriptions of material objects, send the information vast distances via electronic communications, and then use machines on the receiving end to reconstruct copies of the originals. We can do that now with music CD's, DVD's, photographs and documents including entire books. Digitally controlled scanners and fab labs can give you the ability to do the same thing with other material objects like machine parts.

September 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMark Plus

I would like to see how the electric skates and the moving sidewalks work together...

September 20, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTyro

I calculate by their own figures that using our electric skates on the fast lane of the moving sidewalk we would be hitting speeds of up to 30mph.

Hey notice in the first image she is looking at a flatscreen TV. Perhaps because TVs weren't invented yet the author hasn't been preprogrammed into associating them with bulky boxes and has actually drawn one unrestricted. In which case ironically predicting that aspect of the future was easier in the 1930s than the 1960s..

September 20, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterbob

Development of television was well underway when this article was written, so it was no great stretch to predict its ubiquity in fifty years. In fact, electronic television was available commercially within a decade of this article.

September 20, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAaron T.

Hi,
Excellent read!! Some good comments to keep up the good work!

September 22, 2009 | Unregistered Commentercable

Gernsback wasn't too far off the mark - though some of his predictions came true in a far different way than he imagined. Satellite TV, electric scooters, rooftop helipads, rooftop gardens, and (vicariously) electronic transfer of goods have all come to pass in some way or another, but what he really got spot-on was the weatherization and insulation of homes.

Conveyor-belt sidewalks and electrified crops have proven to be a fair bit less practical, however.

Excellent article.

September 24, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLucario

Electricity will cure all ills, if only our bodies could produce it's own electricity! And what's wrong with our digestion? Old stuff keeps saying this a lot, were they constipated a lot back then?

September 25, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterNoah

For more information on Hugo Gernsback check out a new biography available on Amazon.

The document was found by me when we closed down Gernsback Publications in 2003. It was an old ms that I edited and produced as a book.

Follow the link and you can go to the book and thanks to Amazon’s “look inside” feature, you can even get an idea of what it covers.

http://www.amazon.com/Hugo-Gernsback-Well-Ahead-Time/dp/1419658573/ref=ed_oe_p

Hope you find it interesting.

For more information feel free to contact me, Larry Steckler, at PoptronixInc@aol.com

September 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLarry Steckler

There's a lot that's pretty close, here, but the article was still a few years off. It was predicting the conditions for 1975, and most of the major similarities to things he's suggesting really only came about in the 90's-2000's.

Still, not bad guesswork at all. Except those moving sidewalks. Why is that such a popular idea? We have moving sidewalks-- they're at airports. And they're slow and inefficient. Why would you want those across a city instead of a reliable subway/train line?

October 21, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJabberwocky

Looks like this guy wasnt too far off what he thought the future would look like in the 1950's. we still dont have "radio-electric skates" but some of out buildings are able to land helicopters, a technology that wasnt invented till at least the 1940's.

May 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterZack

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