May 10, 2013
The Omni Future Almanac was published in 1982 — a year when America would see double-digit inflation and double-digit unemployment. Despite all this, the authors of the book were generally optimistic about the future of the nation. Technology, they explained, would solve many of the problems facing the country. In conjunction with this, the American people would surely worker smarter and simplify their lives, all while improving everyone’s standard of living.
From the book:
By 2000, most Americans will be experiencing a new prosperity. The problems of shrinking energy supplies and spiraling costs will be offset by developments in computers, genetic engineering, and service industries that will bring about lifestyle changes that will in turn boost the economy. Basically, Americans will be able to simplify their lives and spend less money supporting themselves. Indeed, energy conservation will force Americans to become more resourceful fiscally and to spend less on many items.
But what about prices of the future? That double-digit inflation stoked fears that prices for common food items in the future would skyrocket.
The average price of a pound of beef in the year 2010? The book predicted it would be $22.75. The actual cost? About $3.75.
The prices of a loaf of bread? They predicted it would hit $8. Actual cost? About $2.50.
But which single commodity did they predict would level out in the 21st century? Somewhat shockingly, gasoline.
That’s right, the book predicted that a gallon of gas (which cost about $1 in 1980) would peak at $4 in 1990 and then level off to $2 not only in the year 2000 but maintain that price into the year 2010 as well.
But those staggering prices for basic sustenance doesn’t look quite so scary when you consider what they thought the average American would be paid.
A secretary of the year 2010? $95,000. A factory worker? $95 an hour.
Of course, wages for secretaries, factory workers and public high school teachers haven’t even kept pace with inflation. But at least a subway ride isn’t yet $20.
January 29, 2013
Legendary news anchor Walter Cronkite’s regular half-hour CBS documentary program “The 21st Century” was a glorious peek into the future. Every Sunday night viewers of the late 1960s were shown all the exciting technological advancements they could expect to see just 30 or 40 years down the road. The March 12, 1967, episode gave people a look at the home of the 21st century, complete with 3D television, molded on-demand serving dishes, videophones, inflatable furniture, satellite newspaper delivery and robot servants.
Cronkite spends the first five minutes of the program deriding the evils of urban sprawl and insisting that everyone dreams of a house in seclusion on a few acres of land. Cronkite and his interviewee Philip Johnson insist that moving back into ever denser cities is the wave of the future. It’s interesting then that Cronkite must pivot before showing us the standalone home of tomorrow. This would be a second home, Cronkite tells us — far removed from the high density reality that everyone of the 21st century must face:
Let’s push our imaginations ahead and visit the home of the 21st century. This could be someone’s second home, hundreds of miles away from the nearest city. It consists of a cluster of pre-fabricated modules. This home is as self-sufficient as a space capsule. It recirculates its own water supply and draws all of its electricity from its own fuel cell.
Living Room of 2001
The living room of the future is a place of push-button luxury and a mid-century modern aesthetic. The sunken living room may feature inflatable furniture and disposable paper kids’ chairs, but Cronkite assures us that there’s no reason the family of the future couldn’t have a rocking chair — to remind us that “both the present and the future are merely extensions of the past.”
Once inside we might find ourselves in a glass enclosure where the lint and dirt we’ve accumulated during our trip is removed electrostatically. Now we step into the living room. What will the home of the 21st century look like inside? Well, I’m sitting in the living room of a mock-up of the home of the future, conceived by Philco-Ford and designed by Paul McCobb. This is where the family of the 21st century would entertain guests. This room has just about everything one would want: a big (some might say too big) full color 3D television screen, a stereo sound system that could fill the room with music, and comfortable furniture for relaxed conversation.
If that living room looks familiar it may be because it’s the same house from the Internet-famous short film “1999 A.D.” produced in 1967 (often mistakenly dated as 1969, which would make the moon landing stuff less impressive) and starring a young Wink Martindale.
Cronkite explains that a recent government report concludes that Americans of the year 2000 will have a 30-hour work week and month-long vacations “as the rule.” He goes on to tell viewers that this will mean much more leisure time for the average person:
A lot of this new free time will be spent at home. And this console controls a full array of equipment to inform, instruct and entertain the family of the future. The possibilities for the evening’s program are called up on this screen. We could watch a football game, or a movie shown in full color on our big 3D television screen. The sound would come from these globe-like speakers. Or with the push of a button we could momentarily escape from our 21st century lives and fill the room with stereophonic music from another age.
Home Office of 2001
Later, Cronkite takes us into the home office of the future. Here the newspaper is said to be delivered by satellite, and printed off on a gigantic broadsheet printer so that the reader of the future can have a deadtree copy.
This equipment here will allow [the businessman of the future] to carry on normal business activities without ever going to an office away from home.
This console provides a summary of news relayed by satellite from all over the world. Now to get a newspaper copy for permanent reference I just turn this button, and out it comes. When I’ve finished catching up on the news I might check the latest weather. This same screen can give me the latest report on the stocks I might own. The telephone is this instrument here — a mock-up of a possible future telephone, this would be the mouthpiece. Now if I want to see the people I’m talking with I just turn the button and there they are. Over here as I work on this screen I can keep in touch with other rooms of the house through a closed-circuit television system.
With equipment like this in the home of the future we may not have to go to work, the work would come to us. In the 21st century it may be that no home will be complete without a computerized communications console.
One of the more interesting gadgets in the office of the future that we can clearly see but Cronkite never addresses is the “electronic correspondence machine” of the future, otherwise known as the “home post office.” In the film “1999 A.D.” we see Wink Martindale’s character manipulating a pen on the machine, which allows for “instant written communication between individuals anywhere in the world.”
Kitchen of 2001
The kitchen of the future includes plastic plates which are molded on-demand, a technology that up until just a few years ago must have seemed rather absurd. With the slow yet steady rise of home 3D printers this idea isn’t completely ridiculous, though we still have quite a ways to go.
After dinner, the plates are melted down, along with any leftover food and re-formed for the next meal. It’s never explained why the molding and re-molding of plates would be any easier or more efficient than simply allowing the machine to just wash the dishes. But I suppose a simple dishwasher wouldn’t have seemed terribly futuristic to the people of 1967.
This might be the kitchen in the home of the future. Preparation of a meal in the 21st century could be almost fully automatic. Frozen or irradiated foods are stored in that area over there.
Meals in this kitchen of the future are programmed. The menu is given to the automatic chef via typewriter or punched computer cards. The proper prepackaged ingredients are conveyed from the storage area and moved into this microwave oven where they are cooked in seconds. When the meal is done the food comes out here. When the meal is ready, instead of reaching for a stack of plates I just punch a button and the right amount of cups and saucers are molded on the spot.
When I’ve finished eating, there will be no dishes to wash. The used plates will be melted down again, the leftovers destroyed in the process and the melted plastic will be ready to be molded into clean plates when I need them next.
Robot Servants of 2001
Later in the program Cronkite takes us to the research laboratory of London’s Queen Mary College where we see robots in development. Cronkite interviews Professor M. W. Thring about the future of household robotics.
Cronkite assures us that the robots are not coming to take over the world, but instead to simply make us breakfast:
Robots are coming. Not to rule the world, but to help around the house. In the home of 2001 machines like these may help cook your breakfast and serve it too. We may wake up each morning to the patter of little feet — robot feet.
During the interview, the professor addresses one of the most important questions of the futuristic household robot: will it look like a human?
CRONKITE: Professor Thring, what are these?
THRING: These are the first prototypes of small scale models of the domestic housemaid of the future.
CRONKITE: The domestic housemaid of the future?
THRING: Yes, the maid of all work. To do all the routine work of the house, all the uninteresting jobs that the housewife would prefer not to do. You also give it instructions about decisions — it mustn’t run over the baby and things like that. And then it remembers those instructions and whenever you tell it to do that particular program it does that program.
CRONKITE: What is the completed machine going to look like? Is it going to look like a human being?
THRING: No. There’s no reason at all why it should look like a human being. The only thing is it’s got to live in a human house and live in a human house. It’s got to go through doors and climb up stairs and so on. But there’s no other reason why it should look like a human being. For example, it can have three or four hands if it wants to, it can have eyes in its feet, it can be entirely different.
Thring explains that the robot would put itself away in the cupboard where it would also recharge itself whenever it needed to do so — not unlike a Roomba today, or the automatic push-button vacuum cleaners of “The Jetsons,” which first aired just five years earlier.
I first saw this program many years ago while visiting the Paley Center for Media in New York. I asked Skip over at AV Geeks if he had a copy and it just so happens he did. He digitized it and released it as a DVD that’s now available for purchase, called Future Is Not As Good As It Used To Be. Many thanks to Skip for digging out this retro-futuristic gem. And if anyone from CBS is reading this, please release “The 21st Century” online or with a DVD box set. Cronkite’s show is one of the greatest forward-looking artifacts of the 20th century.
January 10, 2013
The Consumer Electronics Show (CES), which concluded last week in Las Vegas, is where the (supposed) future of consumer technology gets displayed. But before this annual show debuted in 1967, where could you go to find the most futuristic gadgets and appliances? The answer was the American electrical shows of 100 years ago.
The first three decades of the 20th century was an incredible period of technological growth for the United States. With the rapid adoption of electricity in the American home, people could power an increasingly large number of strange and glorious gadgets which were being billed as the technological solution for making everyone’s lives easier and more enjoyable. Telephones, vacuum cleaners, electric stoves, motion pictures, radios, x-rays, washing machines, automobiles, airplanes and thousands of other technologies came of age during this time. And there was no better place to see what was coming down the pike than at one of the many electrical shows around the country.
The two consistently largest electrical shows in the U.S. were in Chicago and New York. Chicago’s annual show opened on January 15, 1906, when less than 8 percent of U.S. households had electricity. By 1929, about 85 percent of American homes (if you exclude farm dwellings) had electricity and the early adopters of the 1920s — emboldened by the rise of consumer credit — couldn’t get their hands on enough appliances.
The first Chicago Electrical Show began with a “wireless message” from President Teddy Roosevelt in the White House and another from Thomas Edison in New Jersey. Over 100,000 people roamed its 30,000 square feet of exhibit space during its two weeks at the Chicago Coliseum.
Just as it is today at CES, demonstration was the bread and butter of the early 20th century electrical shows. At the 1907 Chicago Electrical Show the American Vibrator Company gave out complimentary massages to attendees with its electrically driven massagers while the Diehl Manufacturing Company showed off the latest in sewing machine motors for both the home and the factory.
Decorative light was consistently important at all the early electrical shows, as you can see by the many electric lights dangling in the 1908 postcard at the top of this post. The 1909 New York Electrical Show at Madison Square Garden was advertised as being illuminated by 75,000 incandescent lamps and each year the number of light bulbs would grow greater for what the October 5, 1919, Sandusky Register described as “America’s most glittering industry” — electricity.
The highlights of the 1909 New York show included “air ships” controlled by wireless, food cooked by electricity, the wireless telephone (technology that today we call radio), washing and ironing by electricity and even hatching chicken eggs by electricity. They also included a demonstration of 2,000,000 volts of electricity sent harmlessly through a man’s body.
The hot new gadget of the 1910 Chicago show was the “time-a-phone.” This invention looked like a small telephone receiver and allowed a person to tell time in the dark by the number of chimes and gongs they heard. Musical chimes denoted the hour while a set of double gongs gave the quarter hours and a high pitched bell signified the minutes. The January 5, 1910, Iowa City Daily Pressexplained that such an invention could be used in hotels, “where each room will be provided with one of the instruments connected to a master clock in the basement. The time-a-phone is placed under the pillow and any guest wishing to know the hour has to press a button.”
Though the Chicago and New York shows attracted exhibitors from all over the country, they drew largely regional attendees in the 1900s and 1910s. New York’s show of course had visitors from cities in the northeast but it also drew visitors from as far away as Japan who were interested in importing the latest American electrical appliances. Chicago’s show drew from neighboring states like Iowa and Indiana and the show took out ads in the major newspapers in Des Moines and Indianapolis. An ad in the January 10, 1910, Indianapolis Star billed that year’s show in Chicago as the most elaborate exposition ever held — “Chicago’s Billion Dollar Electrical Show.” The ad proclaimed that “everything that’s now in light, heat and power for the home, office, store, factory and farm” would be on display including “all manner of heavy and light machinery in full working operation.”
Chicago’s 1910 Electrical Show was advertised as a “Veritable Fairyland of Electrical Wonders” with $40,000 spent on decorations (about $950,000 adjusted for inflation). On display was the The Wright airplane exhibited by the U.S. Government, wireless telegraphy and telephony.
During World War I the nation and most of it’s high-tech (including all radio equipment, which was confiscated from all private citizens by the U.S. government) went to war. Before the war the New York Electrical Show had moved from Madison Square Garden to the Grand Central Palace but during WWI the Palace served as a hospital. New York’s Electrical Show went on hiatus, but in 1919 it returned with much excitement about the promise of things to come.
The October 5, 1919, Sandusky Registerin Sandusky, Ohio described the featured exhibits everyone was buzzing about in New York, such as: “a model apartment, an electrical dairy, electrical bakery, therapeutic display, motion picture theater, the dental college tube X ray unit, the magnifying radioscope, a domestic ice making refrigerating unit, a carpet washer which not only cleans but restores colors and kills germs.”
Model homes and apartments were both popular staples of the early 20th century electrical shows. Naturally, the Chicago show regularly featured a house of the future, while the New York show typically called their model home an apartment. Either way, both were extravagantly futuristic places where nearly everything seemed to be aided by electricity.
The model apartment at the 1919 New York Electrical Show included a small electric grand piano with decorative electric candles. A tea table with an electric hot water kettle, a lunch table with chafing dishes and and electric percolator. The apartment of tomorrow even came with a fully equipped kitchen with an electric range and an electric refrigerator. Daily demonstrations showed off how electricity could help in the baking of cakes and pastry, preparing dinner, as well as in canning and preserving. The hottest gadgets of the 1919 NY show included the latest improvements in radio, dishwashing machines and a ridiculous number of vacuum cleaners. The December 1919 issue of Electrical Experimenter magazine described the editors as “flabbergasted” trying to count the total number of vacuum cleaners being demonstrated.
After WWI the electrical shows really kicked into high gear, and not just in New York and Chicago. Cleveland advertised its electrical show in 1920 as the biggest ever staged in America. Held in the Bolivar-Ninth building the show was decidedly more farm-centric, with the latest in electrical cleaners for cows getting top billing in Ohio newspapers. The Cleveland show included everything from cream separators that operate while the farmer is out doing other chores to milking machines to industrial sized refrigerators for keeping perishable farm products fresh.
The 1921 New York Electrical Show featured over ninety booths with over 450 different appliances on display. Americans of the early 1920s were promised that in the future the human body would be cared for by electricity from head to toe. The electric toothbrush was one of the most talked about displays. The American of the future would be bathing in electrically-heated water, and afterward put on clothes that had been electrically sewn, electrically cleaned and electrically pressed. The electrical shows of the early 20th century promised that the American of the future would only be eating meals that were prepared electrically. What was described by some as the most interesting exhibit of the 1921 New York Electrical Show, the light that stays on for a full minute after you turn it off. This, it was explained, gave you time to reach your bed or wherever you’re heading without “hitting your toes against the rocking chair” and waking up the rest of your family.
The Great Depression would stall that era’s American electrical shows. In 1930 the New York Electrical Show didn’t happen and Earl Whitehorne, president of the Electrical Association of New York, made the announcement. The Radio Manufacturers Association really took up the mantle, holding events in Chicago, New York and Atlantic City where previous exhibitors at the Electrical Shows were encouraged to demonstrate their wares. But it wasn’t quite the same. The sale of mechanical refrigerators, radios and even automobiles would continue in the 1930s, but the easy credit and sky’s-the-limit dreaming of the electrically minded would be relegated to certain corners of larger American fairs (like the World’s Fairs of 1933 in Chicago and 1939 in New York) where techno-utopian dreams were largely the domain of gigantic corporations like RCA and Westinghouse.
November 13, 2012
This is the eighth in a 24-part series looking at every episode of “The Jetsons” TV show from the original 1962-63 season.
The personal humanoid robotic assistant (or robot maid; robot butler; whatever you’d like to call it) easily makes the short list of retro-futuristic dreams still unfulfilled — up there with the flying car, the jetpack and the meal-in-a-pill. Sure, some people have the Roomba — that Cheetos-hungry robo-pet that crawls around your living room floor — but the dream of the humanoid robot, the robot that can interact with the family naturally, the robot that can speak and understand commands; this is the robot we know and love from media like The Jetsons. And it’s the robot we’re still so desperately longing for.
The eighth episode of The Jetsons originally aired on American television on November 11, 1962 and was titled “Rosey’s Boyfriend.” This episode devotes a fair amount of time to Rosey, an iconic character from the series who actually doesn’t enjoy much screen time in the original 1962-63 season. We first met Rosey in the premiere episode when Jane hopes to get a state-of-the-art robot maid and is stuck with an older model without the latest bells and whistles. Rosey is a devoted household servant who, despite being an older unwanted model, has many redeeming qualities. By the end of the first episode Rosey, of course, becomes a valued member of the family.
In this episode, Rosey falls in love with Mack, a helper robot built by the apartment building superintendent Henry. Mack appears to be made out of a filing cabinet and the kind of rolling stand you might find on the bottom of an office chair. This romance parallels Judy Jetson’s own love story, wherein she’s “boy crazy” and her latest crush is all consuming. Though Rosey supposedly isn’t programmed for love, that doesn’t stop her from being an incredibly sensitive robot and falling for Mack; and for Mack to fall in love with Rosey. Sadly for Rosey, Mack gets deactivated when he begins to malfunction. Elroy re-activates Mack and lets Rosey talk to him via the visaphone in Henry’s workshop. Rosey’s robo-depression is cured — provided she gets five minutes of visaphone time with Mack each day.
We often turn to the Sunday comic “Closer Than We Think” (1958-63) by Arthur Radebaugh to understand the futuristic thinking of the early space age. Many of the techno-utopian ideas of that strip made their way into The Jetsons. The September 13, 1959 edition of the strip showed a robot floating on a cushion of air. It also had cameras mounted on its head — in 360-degree vision. The strip explained that industrial designers at Sundberg, Ferar Inc. were developing this “mechanical maid” of the future, a kind of self-propelled serving cart which would “move linen, glasses, china and silver to the table.” After dinner, as the strip showed, the dirty dishes would be whisked away by the robot to be cleaned and stored.
Coincidentally, this strip ran on the same day that the Chicago Tribune ran a column by Evelyn Zemke about the domestic work of the housewife of the year 2000. You may recall from our look at the first episode that the technologically advanced world of the future is not without its faults: the electronic brain serves the wrong breakfast and the robot vacuum cleaner goes a bit haywire. Rosey’s love interest Mack, seems to suffer from a similar case of crossed wires. These technological mishaps no doubt exist to allow the people of 1962 to identify with malfunctioning consumer appliances of the postwar era.
Rosey would inspire countless robots in later decades. Some “robots” like Miss Honeywell (a magician’s human assistant used to sell appliances and computers) would in the late 1960s bare a striking resemblance to Rosey, right down to her color scheme. The 1970s and ’80s would see an explosion in expectations around the household robot, including many a fraudulent company. Every new technology seems to invite hucksters–and robots of the 20th century were no different. Among the most noteworthy scam artists was New Jersey’s Quasar Industries, which made many promises in the 1970s that the household domestic robot had arrived. Klatu, the household android (sometimes known as just Quasar) wasn’t capable of even half the tasks that Quasar advertised — vacuuming, cleaning the dishes, mowing lawns and even walking the dog! But that didn’t stop the company from insisting that the future was now. In the 1978 illustrated book Exploring the World of Robots, kids learned about Quasar and Miss Honeywell (more generically known as “The Maid Without Tears):
There may be walking robots to do the dusting, and to lay and clear the table. The robots in the picture are real. One is called Quasar. Quasar can vacuum carpets, mow lawns, carry trays of food, and even take the dog for a walk! At the door is another robot, called the Maid Without Tears.
One day people may not go out to work at all. They will work from home, using television and robots. The robot brain will suggest meals for the day. It will order our shopping, finding out from other robots in the local shops where the best buys are. The goods will be packed and delivered to our home by robots.
We’re still waiting for the arrival of the Rosey and other robot butlers, but for today we may have to be content with simply feeding our Roombas.
September 24, 2012
This is the first in a 24-part series looking at every episode of “The Jetsons” TV show from the original 1962-63 season.
Episode 01: “Rosey the Robot,” originally aired: September 23, 1962
If you flipped through the Cedar Rapids Gazette on September 23, 1962 the news looked fairly typical for the early 1960s.
There was a short item about a Gandhi memorial being planned in London. There was an article about overcrowded schools and the need for new junior high schools, since the baby boom had inundated the schools and enrollment in the Cedar Rapids public school system was increasing by about 1,000 students each year.
The Gazette also had an editorial about “lame-brain bigots” in Georgia who were burning down black churches, and a column about the fact that one out of every 38 children born in Linn County in 1961 was born out of wedlock. The paper had recipes for poached eggs and peas with lemon butter sauce, as well as ads for the Smulekoff’s furniture store imploring you to buy a brand new color TV—with prices starting as low as $495 (about $3,500 adjusted for inflation).
But tucked away within the TV listings for that week was the mention of a show that would radically shape the way Americans would talk about the future for decades to come. The newspaper had an article about the arrival of color on ABC’s Cedar Rapids affiliate, KCRG channel 9. NBC had been “carrying the color ball almost singlehandedly” for years in Cedar Rapids but starting that evening, ABC would join the color fray with a new show called “The Jetsons.” At 6:30 pm that night “The Jetsons” would debut against “Dennis the Menace” on channel 2, “Car 54 Where Are You?” on channel 6, and the season premiere of NBC’s immensely popular “Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color” on channels 7 and 13.
Of course, it wasn’t just the people of Cedar Rapids who were tuning in on Sunday to watch a middle class family stumble through modern life in the year 2062. People all over the United States got their first taste of the Jetsons’ vision for tomorrow on that autumn evening.
There’s perhaps nothing more Jetsonian than the push-button. Jane Jetson pushes buttons to make dinner, to clean the home, and even to wake up her husband George. The running gag throughout the entire series is that the only thing George does all day at work (all three hours of it) is push a button.
From the very first scene of the first episode we learn precisely how difficult the people of the future have it. Jane Jetson is standing in front of a flat panel “3D” TV and conducting a strenuous workout — of her fingers. Of course, we’re meant to laugh at the fact that people of the year 2062 are living in the lap of luxury needing only push a button to accomplish what used to take hours, but it was also a subtle jab to those viewers at home who may complain about how difficult life is when all the modern conveniences of 1962 were at their disposal.
It’s important to recall that some scholars have argued that modern appliances didn’t actually save nearly as much time as originally envisioned. That’s because these gadgets impose higher standards of household efficiency and cleanliness—we take it for granted that our closets will always be filled with clean clothes; that our yards should boast perfectly maintained lawns and gardens; that our shiny kitchen appliances will make it possible to enjoy diverse and tasty meals. Many people today question this same line of thinking about technological progress, arguing that computers and smartphones have made us more productive, but that the standards for how much one person needs to accomplish have simply risen with it. Not to mention the “always available” culture that our devices have cultivated.
While we often associate leisurely push-button living with the Jetsons, longtime readers of Paleofuture will know that this futuristic cartoon family didn’t invent the concept. In December 1950 an Associated Press article ran in newspapers across the country that gave readers a peek at the year 2000. Experts across all kinds of fields were consulted and the article took it as a given that the American home of the future would be much more automated than it was mid-century:
People will live in houses so automatic that push-buttons will be replaced by fingertip and even voice controls. Some people today can push a button to close a window – another to start coffee in the kitchen. Tomorrow such chores will be done by the warmth of your fingertip, as elevators are summoned now in some of the newest office buildings – or by a mere whisper in the intercom phone.
But, as is often the case in the Jetsons’ world, the gadgets of tomorrow in the premiere episode don’t always work as they were intended. Gadget malfunction is rampant and a source of financial stress in the Jetson home, recalling an article in the Chicago Tribune Sunday Magazine just a few years earlier.
Writing in the September 13, 1959 Chicago Tribune, Evelyn Zemke projects herself into the futuristic world of the year 2000. The “pizza for breakfast?” bit is nearly identical to what we see play out in the Jetson household during the premiere episode.
“Call a service man,” my husband always says when one of our appliances refuses to function.
Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? Well, it is. At the very worst, probably only the washer, dryer, dishwasher, and TV would give up one day. But what about the housewife of the future – say of the year 2000, when the electronic era will be at its peak?
I can just picture myself in her place - ready to start another care-free day sitting around reading a science fiction thriller while the gadgets do all the work. Already the electronic brain in my kitchen is busy preparing and serving breakfast.
My husband, arriving at the table exclaims, “Pizza? For breakfast?”
“I pushed the button labeled BACON AND EGGS, but-”
“There’s a wire crossed somewhere. Call a service man.”
After doing so, I dispose of the garbage in the electronic disposal unit and pile the dishes in the ultra-sonic dishwasher. Then, after pushing the button which starts the electronic vacuum cleaner, I go out to the garage to set the timer for our radar controled lawnmower.
“Ki-yi-yi!” Sounds like Fifi, our pet poodle.
My daughter, standing in the doorway, calls, “Mom! The cleaner is vacuuming Fifi!”
The premiere episode also shows viewers an interaction with Jane and her daughter Judy that hints at what would later be called the generation gap. Many of the same fears parents have here in the 21st century about their kids “growing up too fast” were splashed across popular media of the 1960s. The August 10, 1962 issue of Life magazine ran the story “Boys and Girls Too Old Too Soon: America’s Subteens Rushing Toward Trouble.” The story included a provocative photo essay showing 12 and 13-year-olds going on dates and engaging in “heavy necking.”
In the 1950s and ’60s the teenager and “subteens” (what we today might call a tween) became a force to be reckoned with. There was suddenly a group of kids larger than any American generation that had come before it, and this had a dramatic ripple effect throughout our society. In Cedar Rapids, Iowa — like hundreds of other communities across the U.S. — that meant building more schools. And for the burgeoning medium of television, that meant delivering storylines which sometimes reflected the growing pains of what was held up as the model American family.
Slidewalks of Tomorrow
As we looked at this past January, the idea of abundant moving sidewalks in the city of tomorrow predates The Jetsons by over half a century. But some of the more interesting mid-century examples, which likely influenced The Jetsons, came from TV and Sunday comic strips. The Disneyland TV episode “Magic Highway, U.S.A.,” which aired on May 14, 1958 looks like it may have inspired the Jetsons’ slidewalks of the future. The show also likely drew inspiration from print media, like the Sunday comic strip “Closer Than We Think,” which you can see below.
The June 7, 1959 edition of Arthur Radebaugh’s Sunday comic strip “Closer Than We Think”:
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.
An interesting detail that’s established in the first episode, but isn’t necessarily carried throughout the series, is that the robot maid of the year 2062 is considered a luxury item. One of the reasons that Jane buys Rosey instead of the more “distinguished” robots (shown as distinguished by simply having British and French accents) is that the Jetsons simply can’t afford anything more expensive.
Rosey the robot maid is perhaps the most iconic futuristic character to ever grace the small screen. Rosey is high-tech, but she’s also fallible. The mere fact that I use “she” rather than “it” speaks to what she represented — the humanoid robot helpers of our future, imperfect as they may be. And strangely, she doesn’t play a very prominent role in the first season of “The Jetsons.” The premiere episode establishes that Rosey is a valued member of the Jetson family, but as you’ll see over the course of this blog series, she doesn’t get a lot of screen time. Perhaps because she was so beloved by kids who saw her on reruns during the 1960s, ’70s and early ’80s she receives a much more prominent role in the 1985 reboot.
If you own the first season DVDs or watch it online you may notice that the first season has title cards which include Orbitty, a character that wasn’t introduced until the 1980s reboot. Knowing that the episode title slates on my DVD copy of “The Jetsons” were from the 1980s, I went down to the Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills a few months back to see if I could find any clues about the true spelling of “Rosey.” As I mentioned last week, there has been some confusion about the proper way to spell the name. The Paley Center has an enormous collection of old TV and radio programs and sure enough, they have a copy of the first episode of “The Jetsons.” I was a little surprised to learn that the first season wasn’t aired with individual title slates, but I found some vindication in my spelling of “Rosey” in a 1962 board game that was on display.
Reviews of The Jetsons were generally positive on the day following its premiere, with Rick Du Brow from the UPI calling the show a “genial time killer.” But as we looked at last week, the show suffered from a tough time slot (in most markets it was up against the established powerhouse that was “Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color”) and a relative blandness when viewed in black and white, as most Americans did in 1962.
The Cedar Rapids Gazette‘s article about the new influx of color TV programming in Cedar Rapids proclaimed that “this year should be a coming-up-roses year for those who believe that television minus color is like the sky without blue.” Writer Nadine Subtonik acknowledged that it was still expensive but that if kids hound their parents enough “making Mom and Dad’s life miserable” then widespread color TV adoption was a certainty in the near future. But how many color sets were in the Cedar Rapids area at the time? “A quick survey the other morning convinced me of only one thing: Nobody has the faintest idea!”
There are a number of different technologies and subtleties within the Jetsons world that I didn’t touch on in this post, but just know that this was by design. While writing this post I came to realize that if I try to reference every gadget or social anachronism I’ll wind up with 24 novel-length posts and nobody wants to read that. We have 23 more of these to go, so please be patient if I missed your favorite doodad or whatsit. We’ll likely get to it in a future post. And thanks for reading!