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Monday
Aug152011

Disney's "Project X" in 1966

It's easy to forget -- even for a Disney nerd like myself -- that before Walt Disney died of lung cancer in December of 1966, EPCOT (the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow) was supposed to be a real city. The code name "Project X" was given to the undertaking that would eventually become Walt Disney World, which today includes the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney's Hollywood Studios and the Animal Kingdom parks.

The illustration above is an aerial view of Project X, while the image below shows the thirty story hotel that was to be the centerpiece of the city of EPCOT. Both are from the excellent book Designing Disney's Theme Parks: The Architecture of Reassurance, edited by Karal Ann Marling.

 

Wednesday
Aug102011

Crossing a telephone with a TV set in 1968

In this most gloriously futuristic year of 2011 we somehow find ourselves awash in videophones. In a way, they snuck up on us. And they most certainly didn't show up in the ways that people had been predicting them for decades. The videophone was to change the way we looked at home schoolingjob interviewsmedical diagnostics, and even dating.

One of my favorite examples of videophone predictions is from the 1993 AT&T concept video, Connections. After getting off a plane and meeting her family, a young woman wants to call her fiancee. But rather than reaching for her mobile phone the second the plane lands, she ventures to find the airport's video-payphones. Video-payphones, indeed!

With Skype, iChat, Google Hangouts, Facebook Video Chat, and Facetime, videophone technology is all around us. But most people rarely see the need. That is to say, it's not important to always see the person you're communicating with. I'll video chat with the odd friend or co-worker on occasion, and it's great to see family back in the Midwest on holidays, but more often than not it simply feels unnecessary, even though the technology is so easy and inexpensive.

The 1968 ad below depends on expensive infrastructure that hindered the widespread, pre-internet adoption of videophone technology. Produced for Western Electric, the ad can be found in the book The Golden Age of Advertising: The 60s.

 

Western Electric is crossing a telephone with a TV set.

What you'll use is called, simply enough, a Picturephone set. Someday it will let you see who you are talking to, and let them see you.

The Picturephone set is just one of the communications of the future Western Electric is working on with Bell Telephone Laboratories. Western Electric builds regular phones and equipment for your Bell telephone company. But we also build for the future.

 

 

Tuesday
Aug092011

Walter Cronkite Explores the Home of 2001

While visiting New York a few years ago I stopped in at the Paley Center for Media (formerly the Museum of Television and Radio). They have quite an extensive collection of TV programs that anyone can view, two at a time, for an admission fee. One of the shows I watched was an episode of the CBS show, The 21st Century hosted by Walter Cronkite. Titled "At Home, 2001" the episode aired on March 12, 1967 and is a wonderfully retrofuturistic artifact that shows off the technological advancements of a house in the future. The house featured in this episode will look familiar to those who've watched the 1967 Philco-Ford promotional film, 1999 A.D. 

According to Cronkite, the home of the year 2001 will feature inflatable furniture, push-button kitchens, computers for educating Junior at home, and enormous TV screens. The episode talks to a handful of experts, including Philip Johnson who -- as we know from this radio documentary from 1966 -- wasn't terribly optimisitc for the future of innovation. Cronkite himself lived to see the first decade of the 21st century. I wish I'd been able to interview him about some of the changes he'd seen.

An excerpt from the March 12, 1967 edition of the Pasadena Independent Star-News appears below.

The home of tomorrow is the subject of "At Home, 2001" on The 21st Century, in color Sunday at 6:00 PM on CBS.

CBS News Correspondent Walter Cronkite is the reporter.

The broadcast will explore the promise of modern technology, architecture and city planning, as well as new ways of doing things in the home. Robots may help with housework. The kitchen might resemble a laboratory where cooking might be done in seconds by high-energy sound waves. The man of the house could conduct much of his business at home by electronic devices. The children of the 21st Century might be educated at home by a computer.

Whether tomorrow's home will be a thing of beauty, a tasteless suburban tract or a high-rise beehive also will be examined. Whatever it is, it is estimated that some 60 million homes will be built before the year 2001.

Longtime readers of Paleofuture might recall that we looked at another episode of The 21st Century a few years ago. titled the "Mystery of Life" that asked some hard questions about science's role in reproduction. In the episode, James Bonner argues that eugenics is the only way to breed out the undesirable traits in humanity, while Harrison Brown asks how things like "undesirable" might be defined.

Saturday
Aug062011

"Sense and the City" at the London Transport Museum

A new exhibit recently opened at the London Transport Museum which will likely be of interest to readers of this humble blog. Called "Sense and the City," the exhibition looks at the cultural and technological evolution of transportation in London, with a special emphasis on past visions of the future. Unfortunately, I have no plans to visit London in the near future, but if anyone has seen this exhibit in person please let us know how it is.

The exhibition opens with a striking futurist vision by artist Syd Mead (Bladerunner, Aliens, Tron) and a memorable selection of images showing past-future visions including those by architects Le Corbusier and Archigram as well as the failed and the frivolous such as a spiral escalator, winged buses and taxi airships. The centre of the space features two real vehicles – the controversial Sinclair C5 and the Ryno - a self-balancing, one wheel, electric scooter.

The displays look at the development of technology and its integration into the - social, economic and political fabric of the city. The gradual convergence of devices which has led to smart phones, tablets and laptops and wireless networked devices is illustrated on a wall of retro technology including 1980s brick-sized mobile phones, Commodore computers and the earliest wireless devices.

 

You can read more about the exhibit on the London Transport Museum website or at Londonist. The image below is featured in the exhibit and was illustrated by Frank Tinsley around 1950.

Wednesday
Aug032011

Doughboys become "iron boys" to fight wars of the future (1926)

Between 1918 end of World War I and the 1939 start of World War II, American newspapers sometimes ran stories about how robots would battle in wars of the future. Still shaken from the incredible death toll of World War I, people hoped for a time when robots would fight in the place of humans. Sometimes this was imagined as something to ensure that only your side wouldn't see casualties, but other articles predicted a time when wars would simply be decided by whatever nation's robots could conquer that of another nation's robots, leaving no human casulaties.

The December 25, 1926 San Antonio Light ran this illustration of the robot soldier of the future. The illustration is based on an unnamed mechanical man with RUR emblazoned on its chest. R.U.R., of course being the name of the play by Karel Capek that introduced the word "robot" to the English speaking world in 1921. The caption explains that doughboys of the future (a term for American soldiers fighting in WWI) might be called iron boys if they're one day replaced by robots.

Possibly in some grim war of the future the doughboy will have become the "iron boy." The army has enlisted its first mechanical man "Private Robot," and put him to work at Aberdeen proving grounds.

 

Tuesday
Aug022011

Lust in Space: Sex and the Future in Penthouse Magazine (1978)

Readers of Penthouse magazine were treated to a special "Science and the Future" issue in October of 1978, which acted as a sort of coming out party for OMNI magazine. OMNI, "a magazine of science, science fiction and the future," was launched in October, 1978 by Kathy Keeton, the future wife of Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione.

The issue included an article on robot rights, fiction by Anthony Burgess about the decline of the British Empire in 1985, hilarious 70's fashion photography of the future, a look at six different car designs of the year 2001, and a nine page preview of what makes OMNI the "first magazine of the 21st century."

As a gentleman of the post-print pornography generation, I can't say that I'm terribly familiar with Penthouse. But this issue looks like pretty standard fare with a sci-fi twist; naked women [dressed as aliens] in provocative poses, hokey cartoons, and those infamous Penthouse letters. I never thought anything futuristic like this would ever happen to me but...

 

SPACE: the final, full-frontal frontier... the last hurrah... to go where no man has ever gone before, the forbidden and yet insidiously alluring planet of NYMPHON in the second quadrant of PHI DELTA PUBIS, hard by the tumescent moons of GLUTEON MAXIMUS. It was here that I said good-bye to an intrepid friend, a great lady, whose heaving decks and smoldering afterburners had served me well -- the Yenta Prize, peripatetic mistress of the cosmic seas. I beamed down... down into the swirling, choking vapors that envelop NYMPHON, down to the very floor of this curious planet where, unused to the dense, jellylike atmosphere, I passed out.

The Star Wars cartoon below certainly reminds me of this article from 1928 about robot lovers of the future

Sunday
Jul172011

The refrigerator of the future, today! (1959)

We've looked at the multitude of ways that advertisers have used "the future" as a way to position their products as cutting edge or fantastical. Today we have an advertisement from the June 11, 1959 Galveston Daily News in Galveston, Texas.

At first glance, the ad appears to be for refrigerators; showing a child peeking into a fridge while wearing futuristic space clothes. Upon closer inspection we see that while the ad is promoting the benefits of combination refrigerator-freezers, it's actually paid for by the Houston Lighting and Power Company. I really wish I better understood the politics of utility companies from this era, as it would probably help me understand this ad from 1957 as well. (Is that not the most boring sentence you've read today? I'm single, ladies!)