February 29, 2012
The February 8, 1952 Delta Democrat-Times (Greenville, MS) ran a piece from Henry C. Nicholas titled “Cheer Up! World Will Be Wonderful Fifty Years From Now!” Nicholas reports on the International Congress of Astronautics in London and the convention of the American Chemical Society in New York, saying that the predictions described in the article are not those of imaginative writers of science fiction, but rather the “sober conclusions of our greatest scientists, including many of our most famous Nobel laureates.”
This style of laying out fantastical advances of the future and proclaiming that they represent the conservative opinion of incredibly smart people is one of the most popular formulas of non-fiction futurism writing, dating back at least to John Elfreth Watkins, Jr. and his article for the December, 1900 issue of Ladies’ Home Journal, “What May Happen in the Next Hundred Years.” And this 1952 article is a terrific example of the techno-utopian thinking that so many people today consider the Golden Age of Futurism.
There will not be another world war during this century. The next 50 years will witness an amazing increase in wealth and prosperity, with a continuous rise in the world standard of living. The threat of world overpopulation will disappear with ample space for everyone, thus removing one of the long existing causes for wars and revolutions.
By the year 2000 cures for most of the diseases of man will have been discovered. The average age will be about 100 years. Journeys through space in rocket ships will be an established form of transportation, with regularly scheduled trips to the various planets. A number of man-made moons will be circling around the earth.
The article quotes Dr. James Bryant Conant, the president of Harvard University, about the future of atomic war. Interestingly, the article claims that atomic energy will have proved a failure, making way for solar energy as an “inexhaustible source of new power.” This hope for the future of solar power actually wasn’t a new idea, as similar predictions were made during WWII about the prevalence of solar power after the war (should the world continue to exist at all).
An atomic world war was averted in the 1950s, though by the “narrowest of margins,” according to Dr. James Bryant Conant, world famous chemist and president of Harvard.
The Communist world and its opponents, which then controlled most of the world, became somewhat mellowed by “time and local conditions” and the startling new revelations of the mysteries of the universe.
Atomic energy had been a disappointment, both as a destructive weapon of war and its constructive peacetime development. In the 1970s atomic energy was replaced by solar energy as an inexhaustible source of new power.
With this development, which was fully established by 1985, the world at last realized its age-old dream of lifting most of its labor from the backs of man.
Dr. Adolph Butenandt of Germany and other Nobel laureates from Sweden, Finland, England, France and America, were in agreement with Dr. Conant that solar energy would revolutionize the world through supplying man with an inexhaustible and previously largely untapped source of cheap power.
The amount of such cheap power available to the world in the year 2000 will be beyond comprehension. The amount of sunshine energy, which yearly falls on only a few acres of land, when converted into man-made power was sufficient to supply enough electricity for a city of a million inhabitants.
The article also quotes Artturi Virtanen, a 1945 Nobel Prize recipient in chemistry. According to the piece, in the year 2000 the sea will be explored and exploited for its untapped resources, and the world’s food supply will increase 50 times over.
Fifty years from now the world will be able to increase its food supply 50 times over. This increased production will come largely from enhancing the efficiency with which plants use sunlight to make sugar from water and carbon dioxide.
Fishing will not be the only crop obtained from the sea. There is more wealth in any square mile of the sea than there is in any square mile of land.
With the abundant and almost costless power of solar energy it will be possible to mine the minerals and harvest the green growth that teems in the ocean. Fresh water will be obtained from the ocean and great deserts that are near the sea, like the Sahara in Africa, will become garden spots.
Birth control is seen as the answer to the world’s population crisis, as the article predicts that religious leaders will become more comfortable with the idea of birth control.
There will be no danger of world overpopulation. The size of families and nations will be regulated at will. The world population will controlled through improved birth control methods, with cheap, harmless and temporarily effective anti-fertility compounds added as one saw fit to the diet. This will remove one of the greatest dangers to world peace since the dawn of civilization.
The attitude of religious leaders regarding birth control, say these scientists, will slowly change “without any diminution of religious feeling.”
There was general agreement among the scientist gazing into their crystal balls that space travel will be an established means of transportation well before the year 2000.
Dr. Wernher von Braun, who was the chief developer of the V-2 rocket for Hitler and who is now working on guided missiles for the United States, said that most of the problems of space navigation will have been solved during the 1950s.
The first step toward true space navigation were earth moons — man-made satellites high in the earth’s atmosphere. Persons stationed on these earth moons continuously circulating around the world, will be able to observe and report any unusual activity that threatens peace on earth.
Supported against the earth’s gravitational pull by the centrifugal force of its rapid motion, only moderate power will be needed to launch space ships from these satellites which possess no atmosphere.
While the world will be changed beyond recognition in the year 2000, say these scientists, man will remain much the strange and unpredictable creature he is today. There will still be many bemoaning the passing of the “good old days.”
(The 1955 illustration above by Frank R. Paul was found in the wonderful book Driving Through Futures Past by the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, CA.)
February 23, 2012
American futurism of the 1970s is a fascinating mix of sleek Jetsonian utopianism and dreary mushroom cloud hellscapes. Nowhere is this dichotomy of tomorrowism more evident than in children’s drawings of the future.
I’ve always found that some of the most interesting predictions come from children, who tend to express ideas that reflect both the best and worst of any decade’s futurism. The 1970s was a rather contentious time in the United States. The country saw a tremendous loss of manufacturing jobs and a sharp spike in crime, but the moon landing of 1969 was still fresh in the public’s mind — even if the last person to set foot on the moon was in 1973. Kids were watching re-runs of The Jetsons (which only lasted one season in 1962-63) but the Vietnam War was still being hotly debated until the withdrawal of American forces in 1975. There was little faith in government, with President Nixon’s resignation in 1974, and the state of the environment was of growing concern.
The year 1976 marked America’s Bicentennial. As festivities were planned across the country, it became a time of reflection for rattled Americans who wanted to be hopeful about the future of the country.
The American oil company ARCO (Atlantic Richfield Company) celebrated the Bicentennial in a curious way, by soliciting and publishing the ideas of average Americans about what the United States would look like in the year 2076 — it’s Tricentennial. I found The Tricentennial Report, which was published in 1977, tucked away in the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s library. The book explains in its introduction:
The people had been asked by Atlantic Richfield Company in newspapers, magazines and television advertisements, to discuss their country’s future. Some 60,000 Americans responded and this report is a distillation of their ideas and feelings.
The drawings by children are, of course, a highlight of the book.
The Tricentennial Program received hundreds of letters and drawings from schoolchildren throughout the United States. Here are a few examples, taken mainly from Dr. Harriet Eisenberg’s classes at John F. Kennedy High School in New York.
This drawing, by high schooler Eduardo del Villas, features soaring rockets and a jetpack pilot shouting the taunt, “I’m going to get you now you dumb bird!”
This drawing by Joanne Connaire seems to show children of the world joining hands in 2076, with their faces obscured, quite possibly wearing masks to protect themselves from whatever brown mass (air pollution?) is behind them.
High schooler Robert Berman took a stab at politics in the year 2076, with a robot campaigning to be president of the United States.
Tina Kambitsis created two drawings: one of the entire world being destroyed in a red mushroom cloud, the other a brand new Garden of Eden in the year 2076, with a bird remarking, “Uh-oh, here we go again.”
This vision of the far future, drawn by an unnamed fourth grader in Mary Ellen Caesar’s class at Sacred Heart School in Massachusetts, may be the most telling of the illustrations. The child imagines a return to the land in a way that seems to be more harmonious, a romanticization of the people in 1776 who were depicted as trading with the Indians and living a simpler life. The food crisis was on everyone’s mind in the 1970s, so the child imagined that this would encourage people of the future to have their own farms and gardens.
1776 — These people were colonists. They traded with the Indians. They lived in wooden houses.
2076 — In 2076 because of the food shortages many people have small farms and gardens.
And John F. Kennedy High School student Michael Urena drew what appears to be a commercial spaceliner, called The Friendly Bug, traveling to the moon.
February 21, 2012
It’s quite easy for people to talk cynically of the various ways in which technology is supposedly undermining culture and society. (And those complaints are obviously nothing new.) In particular, people have — rightly or wrongly — been afraid of “information overload” for ages.
But I’m an Internet apologist. The ability of average people to obtain information instantaneously is just phenomenal. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
When I was a kid, growing up in the late 1980s and early 90s, I had no idea what the Internet was. But the futurism books I’d check out at the library would hint at the massive information infrastructure that was to come. One such book, World of Tomorrow: School, Work and Play by Neil Ardley had a two-page spread about the electronic library of the future. This 1981 book explained everything from what homework might be done in the future to how computer criminals might make off with all your data.
The picture above shows medical experts inputting data into a large centralized electronic library. The idea that an electronic library would be so organized in one physical space might be the most jarring aspect to these types of futures, which were imagined before our modern web. The 1993 AT&T concept video “Connections” talked about electronic education in a similar way, with students linking to an “education center” in Washington, D.C.
Text from the World of Tomorrow book appears below. It may seem so quaint to modern readers, but it’s fantastic to read about how “this service at your fingertips is like having a huge brand-new encyclopedia in your home at all times.”
Imagine you are living in the future, and are doing a project on Halley’s comet. It’s quite some time since it last appeared in 1986, and you want to find out when it will again be seen from Earth. You also want to know the results of a space mission to the comet, and find out what the comet is made of.
In the days when the comet last appeared, you would have to look up Halley’s comet in an encyclopedia or a book on astronomy. If you didn’t possess these books, you would have gone to the library to get the information. And to find out about the space mission, you might have had to get in touch with NASA. Now, finding out anything is much easier — thanks to the computer.
People still collect books as valuable antiques or for a hobby, but you get virtually all the information you need from the viewscreen of your home computer system. The computer is linked to a library — not a library of books but an electronic library where information on every subject is stored in computer memory banks. You might simply ask the computer to display you the range of information on Halley’s comet. It contacts the library, and up comes a list of articles to read and video programs. You select those you want at a level you understand — and sit back.
Having this service at your fingertips is like having a huge brand-new encyclopedia in your homes at all times. The computer can tell you anything you want to know, and the information is always the very latest available. There need be only one central library to which computers in homes, offices, schools and colleges are connected. At the library experts are constantly busy, feeding in the very latest information as they receive it. In theory one huge electronic library could serve the whole world!
February 17, 2012
As New York City’s buildings sprouted toward the heavens in the late 19th and early 20th century, there was a concern that people on the ground would be deprived of sunlight. The buildings were blocking out the sun for those on the ground and it looked like a problem that was only going to get worse.
The April, 1934 issue of Popular Science Monthly ran this illustration by B. G. Seielstad, which shows the city of the future as it was imagined by British writer R. H. Wilenski. It looks like this kind of design would depend much more on spacing such buildings out, but there’s no doubt there would still be some major shadows.
With modern elevators and living quarters perched high above the ground, Seielstad and Wilenski’s vision of the city of the future appears positively Jetsonian to modern eyes.
Shaped like trees with slender trunks, homes and office buildings of the future may rise into pure air on pedestals of steel. Our artist presents here his conception of this startling proposal, made recently by R. H. Wilenski, noted British architect. The scheme leaves the ground level virtually unobstructed. Each building is supported upon a single, stalk-like shaft of steel or strong, light alloys, resting in turn upon a massive subterranean foundation. Modern advances in the design of high-speed elevators simplify the problems of transporting passengers between the buildings and the earth. Access from one building to another is provided by a system of suspension bridges, and stores and places of recreation contained in the building make it possible to dwell aloft for an indefinite time without needing to descend. Gigantic, luminous globes are placed at strategic points to light the aerial city by night, while by day the inhabitants enjoy the unfiltered sunshine and fresh air of their lofty nests.
February 15, 2012
Where were newlyweds supposed to honeymoon in the future? The moon, of course.
Honeymoons on the moon show up in popular culture throughout the 1950s and 60s, in everything from songs to comic strips. The June 1, 1958 edition of the Sunday comic strip “Closer Than We Think” by Arthur Radebaugh claimed that it would be the new default destination for lovebirds, replacing the cliched honeymoon spot, Niagara Falls:
Scenic spots on the moon, in years ahead, may become honeymoon havens, like Niagara Falls today. Newly wedded couples will be able to fly to a low-cost lunar holiday in a space craft propelled by thermo-nuclear energy. Space expert Wernher von Braun foresees pressurized, air-conditioned excursion hotels and small cottages on the moon. Couples could dance gaily there, whirling high in the air due to reduced gravity pull, and look out on a strange, spectacular scenery — part of which would be a spaceman’s view of the familiar outlines of the continents of the earth.
Father Andrzejewski, a priest in a small Wisconsin town, spoke to a group of Girl Scouts in 1962 about the 50th anniversary of the Scouts organization and said, “What looked difficult 50 years ago, is now commonplace, and only these last few weeks do we realize that perhaps one of the Brownies here today might spend her honeymoon on the moon.”
Father Andrzejewski’s reference to “these last few weeks” was about John Glenn who, on February 20, 1962, became the first American to orbit the earth. With each new advance made in space, it seemed ever more inevitable that average citizens would soon be visiting the moon — even for their honeymoon.
The October 21, 1966 Sandusky Register in Ohio ran a short piece in the Opinion section about honeymoons on the moon, with an admittedly odd kicker:
Young ladies who expect the moon when they get married may one day have their wish. Astronomer Fred Whipple predicts that in the not too distant future trips to the moon will replace the traditional journey to Niagara Falls.
Just how soon is anybody’s guess. Dr. Eugene Konneci of the National Aeronautics and Space Council thinks spaceships might be book passengers around the year 2001. But he says ticket prices will probably be figured according to the traveler’s weight — at about $10 a pound.
If so, that old 20th century saying that nobody loves a fat girl will be even truer in the 21st. At least, those who do will think twice before proposing a honeymoon on the moon.
In 1964 the comic strip “Dick Tracy” had a young couple visit the moon for their honeymoon.
Though newlyweds aren’t rocketing off to the moon just yet, we continue to see private space tourism as a promise that awaits us just around the corner.