January 13, 2012
The February, 1946 issue of Amazing Stories magazine included an illustration by James B. Settles which depicts a somewhat peculiar leisure vehicle of the future. After World War II, the American public was told that the harnessing of atomic energy in peacetime would eventually lead to unprecedented amounts of leisure time. Judging by Settles’ back cover illustration and the accompanying text, that leisure time might very well be spent in a gigantic “pleasure ball” traversing the country.
Now that atomic energy is coming, we have asked artist James B. Settles to picture for us one of the developments in amusement to which it might be put. He surprised us with this huge rolling cross-country pleasure ball.
With atomic energy, it has been postulated that man will have many leisure hours that he never had before. He will have most of the day to pursue as he pleases, either for pleasure, or in pursuit of a hobby, or in art, or in just plain being lazy.
Television at this time was very new. So new, in fact, that most people didn’t have one. In 1946 there were only about 6,000 television sets in the entire United States. Thus, the wording that someone might see an advertisement for this spherical cruise of the future “in” his television set, rather than “on” might strike modern readers as amusing. However, the mention of television advertising at all was positioning this “pleasure ball” within a brave new futuristic America.
Now, envisioning this future leisure-rich man casting about for a way to pass the day pleasantly, he might see an advertisement in his television set which might go something like the title of this article and of Settles’ cover — “Trade Your Trouble for a Bubble”– and decide to go sightseeing across the country in this giant rolling ball of transparent plastic, balanced by interior gyro stabilizers controlling a suspended core which ever remains erect as it travels around its giant “track-ring.”
This ring is magnetic, and powered by the atom, revolves along the roadway. The same power that makes the ball move forward (or backward) acts for stopping the ball. There are no huge motors, no complicated apparatus, just the simplest of gadgets, and a complex and very interesting interior which is the last word in pleasure palaces. Games, terraces, ramps, restful lounging places, dance floors, swimming pools and just plain sightseeing would make this huge ball a pleasant place to while away a day.
Sign up for our free email newsletter and receive the best stories from Smithsonian.com each week.