January 11, 2012
I recently heard someone assert that the 1962/63 TV cartoon show “The Jetsons” invented the concept of the moving sidewalk. While the Jetsons family certainly did a great deal to plant the idea of the moving walkway into the public consciousness, the concept is much older than 1962.
Today, moving sidewalks are largely relegated to airports and amusement parks, but there were big plans for the technology in the 19th and 20th centuries. In 1871 inventor Alfred Speer patented a system of moving sidewalks that he thought would revolutionize pedestrian travel in New York City. Sometimes called the “movable pavement,” his system would transport pedestrians along a series of three belts running parallel to each other, each successively faster than the next. When Mr. Speer explained his vision to Frank Leslie’s Weekly in 1874 it even included a few enclosed “parlor cars” every 100 feet or so — some cars with drawing rooms for ladies, and others for men to smoke in.
An 1890 issue of Scientific American explained Speer’s system:
These belts were to be made up of a series of small platform railway cars strung together. The first line of belts was to run at a slow velocity, say 3 miles per hour, and upon this slow belt of moving pavement, passengers were expected to step without difficulty. The next adjoining belt was intended to have a velocity of 6 miles per hour, but its speed, in reference to the first belt, would be only 3 miles per hour. Each separate line of belt was thus to have a different speed from the adjacent one; and thus the passenger might, by stepping from one platform to another, increase or diminish his rate of transit at will. Seats were to be placed at convenient points on the traveling platforms.
Though a very forward-thinking French engineer by the name of Eugene Henard submitted plans to include a moving platform system for the 1889 Paris Fair, those plans fell through and the first electric moving sidewalk was built for the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The moving sidewalk featured benches for passengers and cost a nickel, but was undependable and prone to breaking down. As the Western Electrician noted in the lead up to the Exposition, there was a contract for 4,500 feet of movable sidewalk designed primarily to carry those passengers arriving by steamboats. When it was operating, people could get off the boats and travel on the moving sidewalk 2,500 feet down the pier, delivered to the shore and the Exposition entrance.
The 1900 Paris Exposition had its own moving walkway, which was quite impressive. Thomas Edison sent one of his producers, James Henry White, to the Exposition and Mr. White shot at least 16 movies while at the Exposition. He had brought along a new panning-head tripod that gave his films a newfound sense of freedom and flow. Watching the film, you can see children jumping into frame and even a man doffing his cap to the camera, possibly aware that he was being captured by an exciting new technology while a fun novelty of the future chugs along under his feet.
The New York Observer reported on the 1900 Paris Exposition in a series of letters from a man who simply went by the name Augustus. The October 18, 1900 issue of the newspaper included this correspondence describing the new mode of travel:
From this part of the fair it is possible to proceed to a distant exhibition which is placed in what is called the Champs de-Mars, without going out of the gates, by means of a travelling sidewalk or a train of electric cars. Thousands avail themselves of these means of transportation. The former is a novelty. It consists of three elevated platforms, the first being stationary, the second moving at a moderate rate of speed, and the third at the rate of about six miles an hour. The moving sidewalks have upright posts with knobbed tops by which one can steady himself in passing to or from the platforms. There are occasional seats on these platforms, and the circuit of the Exposition can be made with rapidity and ease by this contrivance. It also affords a good deal of fun, for most of the visitors are unfamiliar with this mode of transit, and are awkward in its use. The platform runs constantly in one direction, and the electric cars in the opposite.
The hand-colored photographs below are from the Brooklyn Museum and show the moving sidewalk at the Paris Expo in 1900.
Likely inspired by the 1900 Paris Expo, this moving sidewalk of the year 2000 was one in a series of future-themed cards released in 1900 by the German chocolate company Hildebrands.
The moving sidewalk again came into vogue in the 1920s when the city of the future was imagined as something sleek and automated. The February 8, 1925 issue of the Texas newspaper, the San Antonio Light, featured predictions about the year 1975 from the great prognosticator Hugo Gernsback. The article included a prediction for the moving sidewalk of fifty years hence:
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 descend by the same elevator down to the local subway.
The 1930s and 40s largely saw the world much more pre-occupied with the Great Depression and World War II respectively, but postwar American companies really pushed the idea of moving sidewalks into high gear. Goodyear was at the front of that effort and in the early 1950s drew up different plans for the use of moving sidewalks in stadium parking lots and a radically re-imagined New York subway system.
The May, 1951 issue of Popular Science explained to readers that the moving sidewalk was like an “escalator running flat.” That article used the same Goodyear publicity illustrations that were later used in the 1956 book 1999: Our Hopeful Future by Victor Cohn. Cohn describes Goodyear’s vision of a pedestrian-friendly moving sidewalk system:
For example, why not conveyor belts, huge moving sidewalks, to zip pedestrians along from place to place? Such conveyor-belt “speedwalks,” not supersonic but steady moving (in contrast to busses or taxicabs) may be just the device to come to our rescue.
Today, Goodyear makes the moving sidewalks you can find at the Disney theme parks. These moving sidewalks will be familiar to anyone who has been on Space Mountain at the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World or a great number of dark rides at Disneyland, where they allow people to get on and off rides with ease. This practical use of a moving sidewalk in a theme park is not unlike the picture above of Goodyear’s New York subway system of the future.
Goodyear’s moving sidewalks were also featured in the June 7, 1959 edition of Arthur Radebaugh‘s Sunday comic Closer Than We Think. The comic explains that the moving sidewalk — which Goodyear imagined would be used to transport sports fans from a stadium to the parking lot — was indeed built at the Houston Coliseum:
The large malls planned for tomorrow’s metropolitan centers will not be tied up with vehicular traffic. Shoppers and sight-seers will be transported by mobile sidewalks that closely resemble giant conveyer belts. Parcels to be delivered will be carried by overhead rail to trucks on the area’s perimeter.
Passenger-carrying belts are already in use. Goodyear has built one connecting nearby rail terminals in Jersey City, N.J. Another has been set up by Goodrich and it runs from the entrance of the Houston Coliseum to the parking lot.
One of the longest such devices is the two-mile installation at the site of Trinity Dam in California. It was designed to facilitate the movement of material during construction of the dam.
Well, that about takes us to 1962 and as you can well see, the Jetsons had almost 100 years of futuristic moving sidewalks to draw from.
January 6, 2012
The first known case of aircraft being used in police work was in 1919, when famed Canadian aviator Wilfrid Reid May flew a detective in pursuit of a dangerous fugitive from Edmonton to Edson (landing in a town street). In the decades since, law enforcement aviation units have utilized planes, helicopters, blimps and, most recently, unmanned aerial drones.
Notably absent from that list are heavily-armed flying gondolas. But that’s precisely the idea presented in the February, 1936 issue of Everyday Science and Mechanics. An article by editor Hugo Gernsback–considered by many to be the father of modern science fiction– predicted that, as long as police officers were stuck on terra firma, the mobsters always would have the edge:
The automobile, as a quick get-away instrument in crime, has assumed vast proportions during the past decade. Notorious gangsters and their henchmen are always using high-powered automobiles and, unfortunately, they are often able to outwit local police and state troopers after the crime has been engineered. Very frequently, the license number and a good description of the car is obtained by the police but, as a rule, so much time is lost in distributing such information from Police Headquarters that the criminals can make a clean getaway. Usually, the crime car is abandoned a little later, after the gangsters have changed to another.
Gernsback, who was a pioneer in the field of radio and helped to popularize the word “television” in the United States (he’s sometimes mistakenly credited with coining the word), couldn’t help but mention the advances short-wave radio had made in assisting police of the era. However, Gernsback acknowledged that more than just better communication would be needed to stop the gangsters of the future. Our noble author is also sure to mention that the gondola is “streamlined,” a popular design choice for the 1930s, when even humans were determined to be outfitted for the fast and aerodynamic future.
It is true that short-wave radio, in connection with police cars, has been able to decrease crime somewhat; but this is true mostly in large cities. Once the fleeing gangsters take to the rural highways, it is usually impossible for the police to overtake them.
A means is here proposed to enable the police to move quickly about, and apprehend, criminals, via airplane. A number of municipalities now have airplanes, and most of them are being equipped with police radio. But it is one thing to notify an airplane that a car is heading in a certain direction on the highway, and another to stop the car by airplane. The reason for this is that the modern airplane cannot come too close to the ground and, even if it did, it could do so for only a very brief space of time, measured in seconds. Suppose we have instead a police plane equipped with a separate gondola, which is streamlined, and which can be lowered from the plane by a steel cable. By means of the plane’s engines, the gondola can be lowered or raised quite rapidly, while the plane can fly from 300 to 400 feet above the ground. The gondola, which swings free, except as it is supported by the steel cable, can assume a partially independent motion of its own, because it has a rudder and elevators to steer it, like a glider. It can, therefore, independent of the airplane, veer to the right or the left, and even turn about in the opposite direction, should this be necessary. The mobility of the gondola is, therefore, greater than that of the plane.
January 3, 2012
In the December 26, 1900 issue of the New York World, Alfred Harmsworth, the editor of the London Daily Mail, made some predictions for the newspaper of the 20th century. Harmsworth was pretty spot-on in many of his predictions, most presciently the idea of a national newspaper:
We are entering the century of combination and centralization. I feel certain that the newspaper of the twentieth century will be drawn into the vortex of combination and centralization. In fact, given the man, the capital, the organization and the occasion, there seems to be no reason why one or two newspapers may not presently dominate great sections of the United States, or almost the whole of Great Britain. In other words, where there are now a multitude of papers — good, bad and indifferent — there will be then one or two great journals.
Harmsworth’s predictions were based upon his own success. The Daily Mail was the world’s first national newspaper. Using railway distribution, his paper reached readers across Britain, and had a circulation of approximately one million. His newspaper reflected a populist sensibility of giving the readers what they wanted. Yet, across the Atlantic, there was skepticism that there could ever be a national newspaper for the United States. Harmsworth believed otherwise:
My idea of the newspaper of the twentieth century may be thus expressed in brief. Let us suppose one of the great American newspapers, under the control of a man of the journalistic ability of [John] Delane, the greatest of the former editor of the London Times, backed by an organization as perfect as that of the Standard Oil Company, and issued simultaneously each morning, in (say) New York, Boston, Chicago, Pittsburg [sic], St. Louis, Philadelphia, and other points in America; or at London, Liverpool, Manchester, Bristol, Edinburgh, Belfast and Newscastle, in Great Britain. Is it not obvious that the power of such a paper might become such as we have not yet seen in the history of the Press?
The thing is not so improbable as it sounds.
An ambitious newspaper man, Harmsworth had a history of buying up and turning around struggling newspapers. The next part of the article almost reads as his fantasy, wherein he and other newspaper owners form a gigantic, powerful newspaper with unlimited funds:
But how could such a multiple newspaper come into existence? Obviously, it would have to be initiated by some man, or group of men, holding practically unlimited capital and possessing intimate knowledge of everything appertaining to the journalism of their country. Such a group might easily be formed of the directors of three or four leading papers of New York or London, forced to escape competition. By combining their forces, they would be in a position to command the situation.
Without a doubt, he sees this kind of consolidation of the media as a great thing. He even sees it as contributing to causes and charitable organizations and to a more obvious extent, propaganda efforts in wartime. Harmsworth would later be acknowledged for doing just that when he was honored at the end of World War I for his service as the head of the British war mission in the United States:
Such a national newspaper would have unrivaled powers of organization in all directions. It is no uncommon thing already for a great journal to equip a scientific expedition to raise a war fund or to carry through some great charitable enterprise. The admirable work done in this way by many of the leading American newspapers is too familiar to need further description here. Similar work has been done from time to time in Great Britain.
Harmsworth imagines that it would be wonderful if the newspapers in the United States “spoke with the same voice”:
The simultaneous newspapers would possess powers of this kind which, we can hardly estimate, and, under the direction of men whose inclinations turned that way, would very possibly become the centre of a vast network of societies, organizations and institutions.
Mr. Pulitzer’s wonderful stroke of journalistic genius in connection with the bond issue, Mr. Hearst’s successful appeal to the people on the war issue between the United States and Spain, and the work of British newspapers in connection with the South African campaign, go to show what can be done in the direction of influencing public opinion even under existing circumstances. Imagine then, the influence which would be exerted if an overwhelming majority of the newspapers in the United States spoke with the same voice, supported the same principles and enunciated the same policy.
Harmsworth looked forward to the 20th century, no doubt because he believed that he would continue to wield great power as his newspaper empire expanded.
I am convinced that the press has its best days to come. Already it is in touch with the people to an extent never attained before. Already its influence has spread into the secret council chamber, as well as into the laborer’s cottage. Already it is casting off the domination of party and the serfdom of tradition, and has set its face steadfastly toward the light. And to this advance — a happy forecast of even better things to come — the enterprising and enlightened press of America has contributed in no mean measure.
After reading Harmsworth’s article, Joseph Pulitzer challenged him to edit one issue of his New York Daily News. Harmsworth accepted the challenge, producing a “tabloid” version of Pulitzer’s newspaper. Published on January 1, 1901, Harmsworth’s opening editorial promised “All the news in sixty seconds”: ”The World enters today upon the Twentieth or Time-Saving Century. I claim that by my system of condensed or tabloid journalism, hundreds of working hours can be saved each year.”