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Sunday
Jun262011

Leisure in 2006 A.D. (1906)

What's the biggest problem people thought we'd be facing in the 21st century? Mid-air jetpack collisions? Disobedient robot servants? No, the greatest problem of our futuristic world was supposed to be too much leisure time.

It was believed that a push-button future of automation would bring about a world of unprecedented convenience and leisure. The question was only how to pass the time.

Many imagined a leisure-centric society driven by wholesome degeneracy, jet-setting golfers and sixteen hour work weeks. The mundane nature of such a simple push-button future would even drive people to suicide!

In reality, the amount of time spent on purely enjoyable activities hasn't really changed much in the last hundred years. But to steal a line from one W. Elias Disney, if we can dream it, we can do it! Feel free to leave your comments below about how to push ourselves into such a wondrous dystopia of automated despair.

The March 26, 1906 New Zealand Star told the story of leisure one hundred years into the future, through the lens of a more efficient and time-saving bath. Onward into our freshly scrubbed dystopia!

Probably the speediest dresser of our own day does not consume less than a quarter of an hour over his morning tub and the operation of drying himself. A hundred years hence people will be so avid of every moment of life, life will be so full of busy delight, that time-saving inventions will be at a huge premium. It is not because we shall be hurried in nerve-shattering anxiety, but because we shall value at its true worth the refining and restful influence of leisure, that we shall be impatient of the minor tasks of every day. The bath of the next century will lave the body speedily with oxgenated water, delivered with a force that will render rubbing unnecessary, and beside it will stand the drying cupboard, lined with some quickly moving arrangement of soft brushes, and fed with highly dessiccated air, from which, almost in a moment, the bather will emerge, dried, and with a skin gently stimulated and perhaps electrified, to clothe himself quickly and pass down the lift to his breakfast, which he will eat to the accompaniment of the morning's news, read out for the benefit of the family, or whispered into his ears by a talking machine.

 

Friday
Jun172011

Jetpack Mailmen (1958)

I had to buy stamps recently. It was the worst.

Nothing pushes me into full curmudgeon hack mode quite like standing in line at the post office. We're talking Andy Rooney/ Dave Barry lovechild super-curmudgeon. And don't even get me started on FedEx. Standing in line is so 20th century.

That being said, there's something charming about our antiquated postal service. People literally take letters and packages from one physical place and deliver them to another place. It's pretty darn cute.

In 1960 the future of electronic mail was still envisioned as an analog experiment. Arthur Radebaugh's Closer Than We Think ran a panel on December 25, 1960 in which physical letters would be opened, scanned, beamed to space, returned to earth and reproduced where they would then be delivered to their final destination in the form of a small capsule. It was difficult for people to imagine a world without the postal service delivering some form of physical media, dead tree or otherwise.

The October 4, 1958 edition of Radebaugh's syndicated strip imagined jetpack mailmen of the future leaping from door to door in Suburbatopia, U.S.A. The strip explains that because of its super-secret government technology they can't go into detail on how such a rocket pack might work, but rest assured, it'll make every mail carrier in town a regular Buck Rogers.

Uncle Sam's mailmen can look forward to going faster, getting farther, and doing so with less effort than ever before. All it will take will be a device like the recently prefected "rocket assists" which were originally developed to help infantrymen leap like grasshoppers.

Just how such equipment works is still a military secret. The designer, Reaction Motors, Inc., is not permitted to say how large the device is, or how long it fires, or what kind of fuel it uses. But best guess is that the rocket fires intermittently, so that the wearer can bound from spot to spot as he wishes, with no more energy then it takes to walk. Also the mechanism is believed to be of small size, simply constructed and low-priced. What a boon for mailmen and others whose work takes them from door to door!

 Many thanks to Tom Z. for the color version of this amazing panel from Closer Than We Think!

Thursday
Jun162011

Nuclear Winter: Poetry for the Apocalypse (1986)

This past September I was wandering the shelves of a Half Price Books in Austin, TX when I stumbled upon the most peculiar little book. Titled Nuclear Winter, this book from 1986 was aesthetically unimpressive, with its cover design rivaling the very worst masturbatory self-published volumes on Lulu. I instantly thought that the washed out black of the cover was likely a product of poor printing from a small indie publisher rather than the 25 years it had been sitting dormant.

Written by Stephen Daniel Mings, the book is a collection of 43 poems, each written from the perspective of a different person who has surivived a global nuclear war. Needless to say, it's a bit of a downer. This book of poetry is not recommended for getting your main squeeze in the mood, as Emily Dickinson's darkest lines would likely be more successful in that endeavor.

Nuclear Winter presents the viewpoints of individual nuclear holocaust victims, some adult, some children, in different locations and circumstances, who have survived the first shock of a major nuclear war. The poems are arranged in the order I wrote them between October and December 1985. They reveal a world in the grip of nuclear winter where snow and ice, changed weather patterns and grey clouded skies are made worse by the radioactive refuse of a planetary nuclear battleground.

My purpose is to alert the reader to the danger of a major nuclear war. I do not believe such a war is likely today, but it is more likely than it was ten or twenty years ago and if something is not done to prevent it, such a war will grow increasingly possible. Read the poems, see the consequences and avert the war. (February 1986)

 

Below is poem number eleven, titled Dear Santa.

 

Dear Santa, please hurry here.

Our daughter Marie is only four

but her logic is as clear

as midnight broken by the searing light

of the bomb blast.

She's afraid you aren't coming

because the shelter has no chimney,

only an air vent to filter out death.

She smiled a little when we told her

she'd join you in heaven.

But the morphine is almost gone and 

she won't be able to smile much longer.

 

--a woman

Puget Sound

North America

 

Wednesday
Jun152011

First Vision of Tomorrowland (1953)

This concept sketch of the entrance to Disneyland's Tomorrowland is one of the earliest designs for Tomorrowland known to exist. Made in either 1953 or 1954, it's not even known what Disney artist sketched this retrofuturistic gem. The image appears in the book The Art of Disneyland by Jeff Kurtti and Bruce Gordon with over 100 other rare Disneyland concept paintings and illustrations.

As the book hints, Tomorrowland was probably the weakest of Disneyland's themed lands when it opened in 1955, simply because construction didn't even begin until six months prior to the park's opening. For a peek at what Tomorrowland looked like on opening day (the world of 1986!) be sure to check out video of the live broadcast.

Tomorrowland, entrance, early concept sketch

Artist unknown, 1953-1954, Colored pencil and gouache on diazo print. 32" x 20"

Although many attempts at and iterations of a design for Tomorrowland were made between 1953 and 1955, construction on the area did not begin until a scant six months prior to the Park opening in July 1955. This is one of the earliest knoown designs of Tomorrowland, and most variations that followed maintained the same basic footprint of a central "mall" leading to an iconic interior.

 

Tuesday
Jun142011

Garco on Juke Box Jury (1954)

Garco the robot became Garco the music critic for the May 29, 1954 episode of Los Angeles TV's Juke Box Jury. Hosted by Peter Potter, the show appeared on KNXT (now KCBS) and featured a panel of celebrity judges who would critique the latest music releases. On this particular episode Garco appeared with Ann Robinson, Tab Hunter, Bea Benaderet, Gil Stratton, and Virginia Grey.

Asmiov only knows what Garco said during the episode, but the snippet that ran in the LA Times about Garco's appearance that night is below. 

I thought Peter Potter had flipped his lid when he called to say he had a robot on his Juke Box Jury panel tonight at 10:30, KNXT (2). But the more I think of it, the saner the idea sounds.

This robot is called "Mr. Garco." Actually, he's plugging a flicker which stars another robot. But Pete won't have to furnish him with too much orange juice, he probably won't be making passes at pretty Hostess Sue Alexander and he might come up with some out-of-this-world opinions of the records Pete will play.

Who knows, he might even bring a couple of flying discs for Pete to spin. He'll have help from such mortals as Ann Robinson, Tab Hunter, Bea Benadaret, Gil Stratton and Virginia Grey. They best be on their toes or Mr. Garco will.

 

Saturday
Jun112011

A Trip Through Space for Boys and Girls (1954)

While flipping through the 1954 book A Trip Through Space I was struck by one aspect of the interstellar story that I've never noticed in a pre-Apollo book... a girl in space!

Here at Paleofuture we've looked at quite a few books that told children of the 1950s and 60s about the wondrous world of space travel in store for them. But I can honestly say that I've never noticed one that included girls in this fantastic, space-faring future.

Exploring Space, First Men to the MoonBoytopia, The Complete Book of Space Travel; none of these depictions of future astronauts bothered to include women. A Trip Through Space was written by Catharine E. Barry, an associate curator at the Hayden Planetarium, but there isn't much information about her online. Any biographical information about Ms. Barry from readers is greatly appreciated.

Now, I know that pointing out gender inequalities of the 1950s isn't a particularly novel observation and I only own about half a dozen children's books from the 1950s and 60s that envision future space travel. So it's difficult for me to definitively say how common depictions of female astronauts were during this period without more extensive research. With that said, I suspect that the girl in A Trip Through Space is a rare depiction indeed. 

I'm fascinated by what kind of stories we tell our children and how that shapes our society. The stories we hear as kids no doubt greatly influence our perspective on what's possible for the future, both globally and personally. Sally Ride became the first American woman in space* in 1983 -- the year I was born, in fact. What stories did Sally Ride hear growing up that set her on a path pursuing science? Growing up, how did she see herself fitting into the space program? As a 27 year old man who didn't grow up during the Space Age it's sometimes hard for me to gain personal perspective on things like this. 

I emailed Virginia Postrel, author of The Future and Its Enemies, columnist at Bloomberg and editor of the website Deep Glamour so that I might better understand the gender politics of the time. When I moved to Los Angeles I had dinner with Virginia, her husband and Paul Boutin at Cafe 50s, where a copy of the 1959 kid's book You Will Go to the Moon hangs on the wall. Over dinner Virginia talked about how much she loved that book when she was a little girl. Virginia's email to me appears below. 

When I was in kindergarten (roughly 1965), we had a time every day where we could look at books. My favorite books were You Will Go to the Moon (1959) and a book on the planets. I did read You Will Go to the Moon nearly every day, and I never noticed that the character in the book is a boy or that the text says, "You will be a space man." I only noticed that decades later when the book turned up on the wall of Cafe 50s and I later acquired a used copy. As a child I never explicitly aspired to be an astronaut. It was more that I assumed that in the future people would go into space, perhaps on business trips or as tourists. I never got to the details. I don't know that more women being represented would have had much effect on me, because I've never had much of a problem identifying with male role models, but it might have made a difference for other girls. Later, in the early 1970s, when I was 12 or 13 I watched Star Trek, which, of course, had plenty of female characters. The recurring ones were a switchboard operator, a nurse, and a secretary, but there were nonrecurring scientists, diplomats, historians, etc.

 

And it goes without saying that your comments about this time period -- educated or otherwise -- are more than welcome.

*The first woman in space was Russian Valentina Tereshkova in 1963.

Sunday
Jun052011

The Roads Not Taken

Readers of the Wall Street Journal may have noticed a familiar byline in the May 23rd edition of the newspaper. For their special report on the future of transportation I looked at retrofuturistic visions of how we'd get from Point A to Point B. It was a fun spread to put together and I'm only now finding the time to blog about it -- appropriately enough, from 30,000 feet in the air.

For those of you who don't know, my day job is in non-traditional marketing. We've hit our busy season, so my apologies for the lack of new posts. I rarely write about my job on this blog, but I'm currently headed to Bonnaroo, where I'm developing and managing a tent for Ford. I only mention this because the theme is "1950's sci-fi drive-in theater" so if you happen to be a Paleofuture reader and heading to Bonnaroo I can pretty much guarantee you'll love it.