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Entries in steel (2)

Thursday
May122011

Futuristic Products, After the War (1945)

American companies during World War II often stressed sacrifice in their print advertising. If we can all just be patient, they promised, we'll have more televisions and personal helicopters and push-button kitchens than you can shake a rocket car at. 

 

After the war, the sun will power our homes.

After the war, we'll have plastic skyscrapers and frozen dinners.

After the war, life will be streamlined.

 

The June 24, 1945 San Antonio Express ran an article by Associated Press science writer Frank Carey that looked at the futuristic post-war products Americans were being promised. Dissecting a Labor Department report, Carey describes what it would take, with the end of the war, for these products to see the light of day.

I'm most intrigued by the article's optimistic outlook on plastics, "...and years after the war, we may even see automobile bodies made entirely of plastics." However, the report acknowledges that plastic's high price doesn't make it quite yet competitive with steel. Magnesium, plywood, aluminum.. it's fascinating to look at what people of the 1940s thought the future would be built upon.

Carey's entire article is below, but I'll leave you with one word about the future: plastics.

 

Dresses made of aluminum mesh...

Bathtubs made of plywood...

Transparent refrigerators made of plastics...

Automobiles with magnesium engine and body parts...

Such visionary products of the post-war world are either in the design or experimental stage, or they're being talked about as possibilities.

But the extent to which they might come into use depends upon various factors. Not the least is the dollar sign.

Discussion of the post-war outlook for such war-developed materials as polastics, aluminum, magnesium, plywood and synthetic rubber, is contained in a report made by the Department of Labor's bureau of statistics to the Senate subommittee on war mobilization.

The latter group, a brand of the Senate military affairs committee, described the report as "the first comprehensive statement of wartime developments."

The extent to which these new materials will be generally adopted is difficult to foretell," says the report.

"It is apparent that many of them will find larger markets than in the pre-war era period, but it is also virtually certain that not all of the facilities built during the war for the production of these materials will be needed. Comparisons of costs of various materials, which have not been of the greatest signifcance during the war, will again become important when peace returns."

And the report adds:

"The costs of production for these newer materials will be influenced not only by purely economic factors but by many political considerations.

"Of primary importance will be the policies followed in the disposition of government-owned facilities. For some materials, notably synthetic rubber, much will depend on the policies adopted with respect to foreign trade.

"Many of the new materials will compete with each other as well as the older materials for particular uses -- for example, plastics, aluminum, magnesium, and plywood."

The Labor Department's glance into the future was part of a comprehensive study of some 1400 technological developments made in various fields during wartime.

Of plastic, this picture was given:

Special qualities of plastics, such as transparency and resistance to chemical action, will fit them for varied uses in industry, the laboratory and the home. Continued use of plastics for structural parts and other articles in aircraft and automobiles is expected.

And years after the war, we may even see automobile bodies made entirely of plastics.

On the other hand --

"The future of the plastics industry will be governed largely by economic factors," says the report. "The price per pound of most plastics remains higher than that of many materials with which plastics compete.

"Despite the fact that articles of plastics are usually lighter than those of metal and that economies may be affected in fabrication, the price differential between plastics and, for example, steel is so great as to discourage large-scale substitution.

"There nevertheless remains a multitude of applications in which plastics are highly economical, because of special properties not elsewhere attainable or because of great savings in fabrication time and costs.

The report points out that the production of aluminum and magnesium expanded tremendously during wartime and says both materials may come into greater use in the future.

While the annual production of magnesium before 1939 was 4,000,000 pounds, production in 1943 was 368,000,000 pounds and the nation has production capacity for much more.

Indicated uses for aluminum, the report says, are for buses, automobiles, passenger ships and for the manufacture of household appliances, furniture, bicycles and burial caskets. But most uses, it adds, "are contingent upon a suitable adjustment of the price of aluminum relative to that of stainless steel, plastics, magnesium or other competing materials."

Desings have been prepared for automobiles with much aluminum in engine and body, "but the large-scale application of these designs will probably have to await further development of inexpensive mass-production methods of working with the metal."

The outlook for plywood in the post-war world "is promising" says the report, but it, too, will have to cope with competition."

Among possible uses are private airplanes, lightweight box-cars, prefabricated chicken houses and automobile bodies.

 

Tuesday
Jan182011

Edison's Predictions for the Year 2011 (1911)

On June 20, 1911 the Miami Metropolis published predictions about the year 2011 from the one and only Tommy "Dumbo Killah" Edison.

Edison makes some amazing predictions about a future of golden automobiles, the discontinuation of gold as currency, the rise of steel and the death of the steam engine.

I'm especially interested in his prediction about books of the year 2011. Edison claimed that books would be printed on leaves of nickel, "so light to hold that the reader can enjoy a small library in a single volume." 

He goes on to explain that, "a book two inches thick will contain forty thousand pages, the equivalent of a hundred volumes; six inches in aggregate thickness, it would suffice for all the contents of the Encyclopedia Britannica. And each volume would weigh less than a pound." Sure, but can you play Angry Birds on it?

The entire article appears below.

 

What will the world be a hundred years hence?

None but a wizard dare raise the curtain and disclose the secrets of the future; and what wizard can do it with so sure a hand as Mr. Thomas Alva Edison, who has wrested so many secrets from jealous Nature? He alone of all men who live has the necessary courage and gift of foresight, and he has not shrunk from the venture.

Already, Mr. Edison tells us, the steam engine is emitting its last gasps. A century hence it will be as remote as antiquity as the lumbering coach of Tudor days, which took a week to travel from Yorkshire to London. In the year 2011 such railway trains as survive will be driven at incredible speed by electricity (which will also be the motive force of all the world's machinery), generated by "hydraulic" wheels.

But the traveler of the future, says a writer in Answers, will largely scorn such earth crawling. He will fly through the air, swifter than any swallow, at a speed of two hundred miles an hour, in colossal machines, which will enable him to breakfast in London, transact business in Paris and eat his luncheon in Cheapside.

The house of the next century will be furnished from basement to attic with steel, at a sixth of the present cost -- of steel so light that it will be as easy to move a sideboard as it is today to lift a drawing room chair. The baby of the twenty-first century will be rocked in a steel cradle; his father will sit in a steel chair at a steel dining table, and his mother's boudoir will be sumptuously equipped with steel furnishings, converted by cunning varnishes to the semblance of rosewood, or mahogany, or any other wood her ladyship fancies.

Books of the coming century will all be printed leaves of nickel, so light to hold that the reader can enjoy a small library in a single volume. A book two inches thick will contain forty thousand pages, the equivalent of a hundred volumes; six inches in aggregate thickness, it would suffice for all the contents of the Encyclopedia Britannica. And each volume would weigh less than a pound.

Already Mr. Edison can produce a pound weight of these nickel leaves, more flexible than paper and ten times as durable, at a cost of five shillings. In a hundred years' time the cost will probably be reduced to a tenth.

More amazing still, this American wizard sounds the death knell of gold as a precious metal. "Gold," he says, "has even now but a few years to live. The day is near when bars of it will be as common and as cheap as bars of iron or blocks of steel.

"We are already on the verge of discovering the secret of transmuting metals, which are all substantially the same in matter, though combined in different proportions."

Before long it will be an easy matter to convert a truck load of iron bars into as many bars of virgin gold.

In the magical days to come there is no reason why our great liners should not be of solid gold from stem to stern; why we should not ride in golden taxicabs, or substituted gold for steel in our drawing room suites. Only steel will be the more durable, and thus the cheaper in the long run.

 

Photograph of Edison circa 1911 is from the Library of Congress.

UPDATE October 3, 2012: I just noticed that I cited the June 23, 1911 issue of the Miami Metropolis when it was actually the June 20, 1911 Miami Metropolis. My apologies. It's been corrected above.

Previously on Paleo-Future: