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Entries in closer than we think (45)

Wednesday
Aug242011

The Push-Button School of Tomorrow (1958)

The May 5, 1958 edition of Arthur Radebaugh's Sunday comic, Closer Than We Think, showed off the high-tech school of tomorrow. With hordes of baby boomers flooding into public schools in the 1950s, it makes sense that this strip would focus on different solutions for overcrowding with that technological optimism we identify as being uniquely post-war American.

The student desk of the future includes a small camera, presumably so that the teacher being projected on a large screen in the front of the class can keep tabs on the little rascals. One thing that fascinates me about computer consoles of the retrofuture is that the QWERTY keyboard is not yet an assumed input device. Each computing device seems tailored to meet the needs of the intended user, as with this learning machine of the futuristic year 1999 and this auto-tutor from the 1964 New York World's Fair. That being said, the Google of 1964 was quaintly analog with its typewriter attachment.

One of my favorite details from this panel is the kid in the white shirt who's waving to someone in a gryocopter just outside the window. Better pay attention, lil' Johnny! TEACHER IS WATCHING!

Tomorrow's schools will be more crowded; teachers will be correspondingly fewer. Plans for a push-button school have already been proposed by Dr. Simon Ramo, science faculty member at California Institute of Technology. Teaching would be by means of sound movies and mechanical tabulating machines. Pupils would record attendance and answer questions by pushing buttons. Special machiens would be "geared" for each individual student so he could advance as rapidly as his abilities warranted. Progress records, also kept by machine, would be periodically reviewed by skilled teachers, and personal help would be available when necessary.

Many thanks, as always, to Tom Z. for the color scan of this strip.

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!

Tuesday
Feb222011

Flying Carpet Car (1958)

Andrew A. Kucher [right] with Anastas I. Mikoyan [left] (Life Magazine, 1959)

In 1958 you'd find no greater advocate for the hovercar than Ford vice president Andrew A. Kucher. Kucher was on a media blitz in the late 50s and early 60s, being quoted in the New York Times, Wall Street JournalMechanix IllustratedChicago Daily Tribune, Popular Mechanics, Automotive Fleet and below in Arthur Radebaugh's syndicated Sunday comic, Closer Than We Think.

Kucher is credited with having conceived the idea of the hovertrain in the 1930s, a precursor to today's Maglev trains which use magnets rather than compressed air to achieve a similar effect. Newspapers from April, 1958 describe a three foot long hovercar model that was shown to reporters in Detroit. Riding on a cushion of air, Kucher described how this "Glideair" car could one day achieve 200-500 miles per hour since it didn't have tires which burn up and lose traction or control. An Associated Press piece even quotes Kucher as saying that such technology would be in use in the "foreseeable future."

For the love of Hugo! If God had intended that we fly he would've attached propellors to our feet! Amirite? Amirite?!!?!?!

Look, pa, no wheels! Use of a thin layer of compressed air may allow autos to hover and move just above ground level.

A pipe dream? Not at all. The concept (already proved) comes from scientist Andrew Kucher, vice-president of engineering at one of our major motor companies. His people are studying how to maintain stability. Special highway engineering is one way. Another is skillful design, evidenced already in experimental ideas from the staff of motor stylist George W. Walker.

Today's earthbound cars won't turn into low flying carpets right away. But it may happen sooner than we think!

 

As always, thanks to Tom Z. for the color scan of this panel from April 6, 1958.

 

Previously on Paleofuture:

 

Wednesday
Dec152010

The Sno-Melter (1960)

Having recently moved to Los Angeles from Minneapolis, my experience with snow this year has been limited to pixel-drenched dispatches that family and friends have beamed out from the unforgiving tundra. With historic blizzards, closed schools and caved in stadiums it sounds like the snowy season has been off to a punishing start in my homeland. It's times like these when I gaze at my "What Would Arthur Radebaugh Do?" bracelet. Burn the snow, of course! Kill it with fire!

Snow piles and drifts on highways and turnpikes may soon be a thing of the past. Esso Research and Engineering Company has already devised a system for clearing urban roadways that is reported to be cheaper than under-pavement steam or electric coils. A trough is built alongside the road and kept half-filled with water which is heated by oil and air fed units at the bottom. Snow channeled into the trough melts instantly.

Variations of this system can be evolved for cross-country roads. Flame-belching snow-melting highway equipment is even now on the drawing boards.

Next week: Circle Runways

Many thanks to Tom Z. for the color version of this Closer Than We Think panel from January 3, 1960.

 

Previously on Paleo-Future:

 

Tuesday
Jul132010

Electronic Home Library (1959)

Remember 1959? You were just 9 years old, with not a care in the world (except maybe nuclear winter). You spread the Sunday paper out across the living room floor of your suburban Chicago home, and excitedly flipped to the funny pages. Closer Than We Think! Your favorite!

What fantastical promise from the future did Mr. Radebaugh have for you this week? Cars that run on sunshine? Tomatoes as big as Verne Gagne's head? Underseas highways to the land of godless commies? No, something even more ridiculous! A home library of electronic media! What a weird futuristic world that would be! Gosh golly, what will they think of next!

Some unusual inventions for home entertainment and education will be yours in the future, such as the "television recorder" that RCA's David Sarnoff described recently.

With this device, when a worthwhile program comes over the air while you are away from home, or even while you're watching it, you'll be able to preserve both the picture and sound on tape for replaying at any time. Westinghouse's Gwilym Price expects such tapes to reproduce shows in three dimensions and color on screens as shallow as a picture.

Another pushbutton development will be projection of microfilm books on the ceiling or wall in large type. To increase their impact on students, an electronic voice may accompany the visual passages.

Eternal thanks to my Closer Than We Think pusher Tom Z., without whom I would be living in a cold, dark world of black and white comic strips.

 

Previously on Paleo-Future:

 

Wednesday
Apr212010

Follow-The-Sun House (1959)

Today we have yet another panel from Arthur Radebaugh's excellent Closer Than We Think series of comic strips. Though the strip often ran on Sunday, the more eagle-eyed amongst you (read: nerdy) may notice that this particular strip was published in the Toronto Star Weekly on Saturday, May 2, 1959. 

Before alternative energy policy became a political wedge issue, techno-utopians like Radebaugh promoted renewable energy as sleek and sexy. Solar energy was supposed to power our cars, drive our space colonies and make deserts bloom. As we enter into a new era of optimism --driven by the New Optimists, if you will-- it seems that "the future" just might become less politicized and more dependent upon the scientific, the dynamic and the rational.

But then again, maybe I'm just an optimist.

Don't be surprised if many of tomorrow's homes are built on turntables. They would slowly pivot all day long to receive maximum benefit from health-giving sun ray and insure heat in winter.

This warm and colorful year-round design is adapted from an aluminum firm's summer house which has been studied and admired by architects. It would be built, together with a patio, over a service and garage area.

Ground and living levels would connect through a glass-enclosed staircase. Two-way glass could bring the outside view to those on the inside, while protecting the latter from inquisitive passersby.

Next week: Space Farmers

 

A special thanks to Tom Z. for a color scan of this strip.

Previously on Paleo-Future:

 

Monday
Mar012010

Disaster Response Vehicle (1960)

The September 11, 1960 edition of Arthur Radebaugh's Closer Than We Think envisioned a type of disaster response vehicle that could seemingly accomplish many of the things people still complain about whenever governments respond to crises. With a decimated infrastructure those "terra tires" (crushing cars, mind you) would certainly come in handy. It's interesting that the illustration gives no clue as to what horror these people must be running from; an uncharacteristically chilling image from pop-utopian Radebaugh.

Tomorrow's methods of coping with catastrophes will make our present-day equipment as obsolete as the horse-drawn drays that handled the San Francisco fire havoc in 1906.

New king-size disaster wagons will face up to any kind of upheaval -- atomic, atmospheric or volcanic. Their low-pressure "terra tire" doughnut wheels will permit movement across any kind of terrain, traffic or wreckage. Supplies will include hospital equipment, pharmaceuticals, blood, dehydrated food and the like.

Such wagons are now in the planning stage for military purposes. Compare also the enormous vehicles already in use as missile carriers, also those used in the mining and logging industries.

Next week: Sub Squelcher

 

Previously on Paleo-Future: