December 20, 2012
Some people are up in arms over a recent update to Santa Claus that excised his smoking habit. However you feel about Santa losing his pipe, let me assure you that this won’t be the last time that Santa gets a makeover. It’s easy for some people to forget that every generation has “updated” Santa to fit with the times — or in some cases to fit with the future.
As the 1800s gave way to the 1900s, many Americans felt like perhaps Santa Claus needed a new way of getting from house to house. Since the early 19th century, old Saint Nick had been using a sleigh and reindeer to deliver his presents. But by the 1890s some Americans thought an automobile would be a more modern form of transportation for the jolly old man. However, some illustrators didn’t think that the automobile was quite modern enough and wanted to blast Santa into the future with his very own flying machine.
The postcard above (sent in 1908) shows Santa smoking his pipe in his flying machine and dropping a doll down some lucky kid’s chimney.
The December 1922 issue of Science and Invention magazine included a list of the best radio parts to buy your little “radio bug.” The list included an illustration of a young boy dreaming about Santa Claus soaring through the sky in his flying machine. That large aerial sitting behind Santa lets us know that he’s definitely hip to the latest technology of the Roaring Twenties.
The December 22, 1900 issue of the Duluth Evening Herald in Duluth, Minnesota ran a page claiming that Santa’s reindeer would be put out of work soon as he skims over the tops of houses in his flying machine.
The December 21, 1900, edition of the Carbondale Press in Carbondale, Illinois included the illustration above — “The Twentieth Century Santa Claus.” Just as there were debates at the turn of the 21st century over whether to celebrate the year 2000 or 2001 as the beginning of the century, so too were they fighting over the start of the 20th. Unlike the 21st century however — where 2000 pretty much won out for those impatient yet Y2K-compliant souls — it was generally accepted that the year 1901 would be the proper time to celebrate the beginning of the 20th century.
This illustration of Santa “up to date” comes from the December 24, 1901 Cedar Rapids Evening Gazette in Cedar Rapids Iowa. This may be the most modern of them all because if you look carefully you’ll see that Santa Claus patented his flying invention. I guess he didn’t want the Easter Bunny biting his style.
The December 19, 1897, issue of the Galveston Daily News in Galveston, Texas ran a poem by Earle Hooker Eaton titled “The Song of Santa Claus.” The poem speaks of Kris Kringle’s new flying machine and how neglected the poor reindeer are. Here’s hoping their “pitiful fate” was simply being put out to pasture rather than meeting some grisly demise at the hands (or hooves) of modernity.
With a whirr of my wings I’m away on the wind,
Heigh-ho! Heigh-ho! Like a bird in the sky,
And my home at the Pole soon is left far behind,
Heigh-ho! Heigh-ho! But it’s cold up so high!
I’ve a packet of trinkets and candy and toys,
To slip in the stockings of misses and boys,
Till heart after heart is a storehouse of joys,
Heigh-ho! Heigh-ho! How delightful to fly!
Every whir of my wings speeds me swift on my way
Heigh-ho! Heigh-ho! What a wonderful gait!
For the horse and the reindeer have both had their day,
Heigh-ho! Heigh-ho! What a pitiful fate!
Poor Dasher and Dancer no longer are seen,
And Donder and Blitzen with envy are green,
Kris Kringle now travels by flying machine,
Heigh-ho! Heigh-ho! But I’m right up to date!
Do you have a favorite vision of futuristic Santa Claus? How do you suppose Santa will get around in the year 2100?
December 18, 2012
This is the thirteenth in a 24-part series looking at every episode of “The Jetsons” TV show from the original 1962-63 season.
The 13th episode of “The Jetsons” originally aired on December 16, 1962, and was titled “Elroy’s Pal.” The episode looks at Elroy’s obsession with the fictional TV show “Nimbus the Greatest,” about a heroic fighter of space pirates. The show is sponsored by Moonies breakfast cereal and Elroy enters a contest for the chance to meet Nimbus in person. As it turns out, Elroy wins the contest but the actor who plays Nimbus is ill and can’t visit Elroy at home. When George finds out that Nimbus won’t be coming he devises a plan to dress as Nimbus himself but the original Nimbus comes anyway and Elroy learns that even though he can be strict, his father loves him.
The 1950s was a time of rapid growth for the medium of television. American households with TVs went from just 9 percent in 1950 to about 87 percent by the end of the decade. Unlike the largely ad-agnostic programming that the networks produce today, many TV shows of the 1950s had a single sponsor. As production costs rose this single sponsor model became unsustainable and multiple sponsors in the form of 30- and 60-second commercials became the norm by the mid-1960s. As the Journal of Advertising noted in their Fall 1998 issue, “During the 1950s most children’s programs, and many adult shows, were controlled by the sponsor and its advertising agency, which often packaged the program, commercials and all.” This integration meant that you saw breakfast cereals that could sponsor contests fully integrated with the show. Cereal made up as much as 23 percent of ads on children’s TV in the 1950s and the emergence of the Space Age in the late 1950s meant that this was a perfect combination for “The Jetsons” to depict.
Lawrence R. Samuel notes in his essay ”The Sky Is The Limit: Advertising and Consumer Culture in Rocketman Television Series of the 1950s” that the lines between entertainment and advertising were often blurred in those days, leaving kids to digest the sales pitch as simply an integral part of the show. “Show-related merchandise was an essential element of sponsorships,” he writes, “used to raise brand awareness and, more importantly, as a sales incentive. A package box top or wrapper plus ten or twenty-five cents could reap any number of space-themed premiums, an almost sure way to keep young viewers tuned in and to make sure mom bought the right product at the grocery store.”
Elroy’s Nimbus costume and action figure show that he’s committed to the show, just as kids of the 1950s were buying all kinds of products to show their commitment to Captain Video, Tom Corbett, Space Cadet, Captain Midnight, Space Patrol and Commando Cody. But the tail end of the Space Age would find spacemen less popular on American television, as Boomers grew up and kids like Elroy became less enamored with astronauts and the ray gun culture of their youth.
December 14, 2012
“Who hasn’t heard about the Internet? It’s mentioned on television, in the magazines, and on the radio. Everyone’s talking about it, and everyone wants to get connected to it.” So began the 1995 book, simply titled The Internet by Kerry Cochrane.
Do you remember your first time on the Internet? Mine was pretty typical for a kid in suburban America. It was 1995 and my parents had signed up for a free America Online trial using one of the millions of CD-ROMs that seemed to arrive at our house daily. My dad bought an external 14.4k modem for our Mac Performa and I remember tying up the phone line while talking in random chatrooms and looking up cheat codes for Dark Forces. The Internet was a precious commodity to me then — a metered experience that I had to track diligently so as not to waste a single minute. That is, until AOL offered flat-rate unlimited monthly billing in 1996.
Today the Internet has become a normal and essential part of our lives that we all seem to take for granted. Since high school I’ve probably used the internet every single day with very few exceptions. Today I get irrationally angry when a website doesn’t load within seconds. For a generation that has vague memories of life before the Internet, we now poke fun at just how oddly futuristic our behavior would’ve seemed just a couple of decades earlier.
But this future of online shopping and instant access to much of the world’s knowledge was not a given in 1995. As Kerry Cochrane explained in the introduction to her short book, everyone was talking about it. But there were plenty of skeptics. Clifford Stoll wrote an article for Newsweek in the February 27, 1995, issue expressing skepticism about this new-fangled contraption:
We’re promised instant catalog shopping — just point and click for great deals. We’ll order airline tickets over the network, make restaurant reservations and negotiate sales contracts. Stores will become obselete. So how come my local mall does more business in an afternoon than the entire Internet handles in a month? Even if there were a trustworthy way to send money over the Internet — which there isn’t — the network is missing a most essential ingredient of capitalism: salespeople.
But despite the skepticism — which was completely warranted when you think about what the Internet looked like in 1995 — there were people like Cochrane who were explaining to kids like myself what kind of worlds the internet had to offer.
The first three chapters of Cochrane’s book The Internet is devoted to explaining the basics of things like email and how to find your way around the internet using Archie, Gopher, Veronica and the World Wide Web. But the last chapter is where things really get interesting. Titled, “Fun Places on the Internet,” the fourth and final chapter is like a bizarre time capsule of the Internet’s baby pictures. Because even though the Internet’s “birth” can be traced to the first host-to-host connection at UCLA in 1969, the mid-1990s was really when the Internet went mainstream.
Some of the “Fun Places” shown in the book were expected, like an early e-card site and the Smithsonian home page, while others were a bit strange, like a random elementary school in Cottage Grove, Minnesota. Do you remember your first time online? I’d love to hear about it in the comments. And yes, I realize many of you have been online long before I was even born so consider this a golden opportunity to be snarky about that fact.
And be sure to check out K. Annabelle Smith’s “Evolution of the Homepage” from this past June.
December 13, 2012
In the January, 1950, issue of Redbook author Philip Wylie laid out his predictions for the year 2000. Wylie’s predictions focused on the world of leisure and, depending on your point of view, it’s either a delightfully hedonistic vision of utopian living finally realized — or a darkly hedonistic vision of sloth and sin.
This version of the 21st century includes new drugs that will replace the old-fashioned booze and painkillers of mid-century; an interactive television which includes a special suit that allows you to engage all five senses; and vacations to Mars whenever you please.
Reading for pleasure will be rare and spectator sports will be enjoyed, though college football athletes will no longer be required to study anything. Wylie doesn’t say it explicitly, but we can assume that he means college athletes of the year 2000 would be paid — a contentious issue here in the 21st century. Hunting will be a thing of the past, but not because of any moral objections to killing animals: the forests will have simply vanished and wild animals completely exterminated. Even the bathing suit will be a thing of the past, as society becomes more comfortable with nudity and discards puritanical notions of modesty. Again, depending on your personal preferences these are either wonderful advancements in society or depraved practices in a world gone mad.
At the end of Wylie’s article he encourages readers to cut out his article so that their grandchildren might read it and gauge its accuracy. Well, how did he do?
From the January 1950 issue of Redbook:
The principal pastime of our grandchildren will surely be Telesense. With the telephone first, then the cinema, next the radio, and now television, we have shown that we are determined to carry vicarious sensory experience in the home to its utmost lengths. In fifty years, then, the average American will spend some five hours a day in his “Telesense room” or “cabinet.” Here, dressed in a Telesense suit—a layer of flexible metal outside, a layer of ventilated plastic inside, and a fluid between—the citizen of A.D. 2000 will take a position in an elaborate electromagnetic field, before a three-dimensional image-projector of life size. To television’s color, hearing and sight, Telesense will electromagnetically and chemically add touch and smell.
Telesense will provide massage hours—light for relaxation and heavy for reducing. And, of course, the “heavenly hunks of men” and the “delicious blonde eyefuls” of A.D. 2000 will not merely flirt with their vast audiences, croon to them, roll distant eyes, and woo them abstractly, as now. They will be able actually to make their audiences feel them hanging around their necks, or sitting in their laps.
“Spectator sports” will be conducted in plastic-domed stadia. Football and baseball will still be played—though Telesense will keep ninety per cent of the audience at home. College athletes will no longer be required to study anything. The private automobile will have been replaced by the Buzzcopter—a 300- m.p.h., single-control air machine, powered by electronic storage batteries with a 10,000-mile capacity. “Buzzcopter polo” played in fast machines at low altitudes will supply the disaster-hungry audience with an average of two smashups per game. Deaths throughout the U.S.A. in the crashes of private Buzzcopters—incidentally—will average five hundred daily; and injuries, over four million a year. The inability of people to stop the trend of car accidents will gradually, have made Americans decide that the thing to do about the cost of the Machine Age to life and limb is to be sporting about it.
In this whizzing, stimulated, sensory world, a real thrill will be as hard to come by relatively as it is now, compared with Grandpa’s day. Grandpa, as a youth, got a kick out of a husking bee—Grandma out of a quilting bee. We require a jam session, at least. And that trend explains why gambling, in fifty more years, will be everyman’s (and woman’s and child’s) passion. Half the tax revenue will derive from continuous lotteries, in which scores of millions will regularly participate.
Naturally, the citizens of such a society will be too overstimulated to rest in the “old-fashioned” manner of merely lying down, relaxing, and going to sleep. Not only sleep, but also rest, and intoxication, too, will be managed by various pills—far less harmful and far more diverse in their effects than the thousands of tons of alcohol pain-killers and sleeping pills we currently consume every day. The drinking of alcohol will largely have been abandoned (owing to the hangovers it produces) in favor of a hundred different sorts of pills which will make people relax, have pretty dreams, grow talkative, become peacefully quiet, slumber, cat- nap, and so on.
Hunting will be a memory—the forests will have vanished and the remaining game will have been exterminated. Travelers will make the round trip to Mars via space ships, carrying small hydroponic gardens to insure a steady supply of oxygen and to deodorize the air. Several parties of sportsmen-scientists will have been lost on expeditions to Venus.
That old criterion of culture, the bathing suit, for instance, will be worn only for warmth, or to cover scars, or to disguise a bad figure. In fifty more years, nudity will have been reached—and passed! Passed, in favor of such trivial decoration as appeals to the taste and fancy of each individual.
Eating will still be regarded as a pleasure, though the basis of sixty-five per cent of the food consumed will be marine algae, vat-raised yeast protein and starches built up by industrial photosynthesis—all of these flavored with substances derived from the waning petroleum supplies.
Few Americans will have carried the study of reading beyond the length needed for understanding technical instruction. Thus, though music will be abundant and interesting, architecture, painting and sculpture widely admired, and ballet a national fad, reading for pleasure (or to get abstract information) will be exceptional. Cut these articles out, however, (on the chance that your grandchild will still be able to read in A.D. 2000) so he may check their accuracy.
All in all, Wylie’s predictions are perfectly representative of postwar hopes and concerns for the future. Sure, we’ll enjoy our flying cars (or “Buzzcopters”) but at what cost? How many people will be killed and injured as a result of this new technology and will Americans simply accept the human cost as we eventually did with the rise of the automobile? Sure, we’ll have the ability to experience virtual worlds but what kind of side effects will the overstimulation present? Will we even be able to fall asleep at night with such an elevated heart rate?
Last month we looked at Aldous Huxley’s predictions in the same issue of Redbook. Huxley imagined that increased worker productivity would likely mean an increase in wages and more leisure time. Neither of these predictions came true, but one wonders if they had whether any of Wylie’s more radical predictions for the hedonistic society of the future may have come with them.
December 12, 2012
If you’re looking for the perfect gift for that paleofuturist in your life, might I suggest a few of the books and DVDs currently sitting on my shelf? Well, not these books exactly. But different copies of these books that you can buy from a reputable retailer. You get the picture.
Yesterday’s Tomorrows: Past Visions of the American Future by Joseph J. Corn and Brian Horrigan ($31.95)
I’ve often called Yesterday’s Tomorrows the retro-futurist’s bible. It’s not an exaggeration to say that it quite literally changed my life by allowing me to see this silly topic I loved so much (meal pills, flying cars and jetpacks) as something that was worthy of serious consideration; a way to study history through a very specific lens while discovering what those visions of the future meant to people at that time. The book was published in 1984 in conjunction with the Smithsonian exhibit of the same name and includes gorgeous photos and illustrations of futurism from the 19th and 20th century. Also, I’ve met both of the authors and they’re super swell guys.
Future: A Recent History by Lawrence R. Samuel ($45 print, $14.75 Kindle edition)
This 2009 book is the kind you’d likely see as required reading for any university course on 20th century retro-futurism. Samuel’s history of the future begins in 1920 and spends a little more time with pure science fiction than I do here on the blog, but it’s a fantastic look at 20th century futurism. Unlike Yesterday’s Tomorrows, this one doesn’t have any glossy pictures but it’s still a great look at the futures that never were.
Out of Time: Designs for the Twentieth-Century Future by Norman Brosterman ($7.97)
Brosterman’s 2000 book looks at everything from the early 20th century picture postcards which whimsically depicted various cities of the future to the streamlined spaceships of the Space Age. Aside from having hundreds of gorgeous color illustrations, the book is well-researched and is a nice companion to Yesterday’s Tomorrows.
The Wonderful Future That Never Was by Gregory Benford and the editors of Popular Mechanics ($15.64)
Nebula award-winning science fiction author Gregory Benford‘s 2010 book The Wonderful Future That Never Was takes retro-futurists into the Popular Mechanics archive. Benford highlights the fascinating early and mid-20th century predictions that Americans were assured could be just around the corner. If you’re looking for pure tech-optimist pop, this is the book for you. The dust jacket even folds out into a poster. Neato!
Much of what people often think of as retro-futurism tends to deal in the techno-utopian: flying cars, rockets to the moon, meal pills. But there’s a dark side to retro-futurism. Max Page explores the dystopian and catastrophic by looking at the various ways that New York City has been fictionally destroyed over the past 200 years. Through the movies, comics, video games, magazines and books that have imagined New York’s destruction Page examines why we like to see such dark visions of the future, and why those mushroom clouds are so often looming over Manhattan.
Tomorrowland: Disney in Space and Beyond DVD set ($26.93)
I know this is supposed to be a recommended reading list, but this DVD set is just too fun to leave out. Throughout the 2000s Disney would release 3 or 4 different DVD sets per year under their Walt Disney Treasures line. The collection included releases like On The Front Lines which collected the short propaganda films that the studio produced during WWII, and Disney Rarities which contains rarely-seen short films from the 1920 to the 1960s. But my favorite release was in 2004 when they put out “Tomorrowland,” a collection of Disney’s coolest Space Age films and TV episodes. The DVD set includes classic “Disneyland” TV episodes like 1957′s Mars and Beyond along with never-before released film detailing the original plan for EPCOT in 1966. The original marketing gimmick of the Treasures collection was that every DVD set was limited edition and each was individually numbered (I have number 081,710 of 105,000) but seeing as how you can still buy new copies on Amazon I don’t think this particular release did very well.
Read more articles about the holidays with our Smithsonian Holiday Guide here