April 17, 2012
The introduction of broadcast radio caused some in the newspaper industry to fear that newspapers would soon become a thing of the past. After all, who would read the news when you could just turn on the radio for real-time updates?
Newspapers had even more to fear in 1938 when radio thought it might compete with them in the deadtree business as well.
The May, 1938 issue of Hugo Gernsback‘s Short Wave and Television magazine included an article titled “Radio to Print News Right In Your Home.” The article described a method of delivering newspapers that was being tested and (provided it didn’t interfere with regular radio broadcasts) would soon be used as a futuristic news-delivery method.
The magazine proudly included a previous prediction from a different Gernsback publication four years earlier, before the FCC had granted trials:
Hugo Gernsback, in the April 1934 issue of Radio-Craft forecast the advent of the “radio newspaper.” Here’s the front cover illustration of that magazine. Compare it with the pictures on the opposite page!
The article opens by explaining that this futuristic device is already in use:
As you read this article, radio facsimile signals are probably circulating all around you. At least 23 broadcast stations, some of them high power ones, and a number of short-wave stations are now transmitting experimental facsimile signals under a special license granted by the Federal Communications Commission.
This invention of a wireless fax, as it were, was credited to W.G. H. Finch and used radio spectrum that was otherwise unused during the late-night hours when most Americans were sleeping. The FCC granted a special license for these transmissions to occur between midnight and 6am, though it would seem that a noisy printing device in your house cranking away in the middle of the night might have been the fatal flaw in their system. It wasn’t exactly a fast delivery either, as the article notes that it takes “a few hours” for the machine to produce your wireless fax newspaper.
The article explained exactly how the process worked:
The photo or other piece of copy, such as news bulletins, is placed in the scanner at the transmitter. At the rate of 100 lines per inch picture to be transmitted is scanned, and the transmitter sends out periodic impulses which vary in strength with the degree of light or shade on the picture. When these signals are received, by wire or radio, they are passed into a recording stylus. This stylus moves back and forth over a piece of chemically dry processed paper (the Finch system) in a line, wide or narrow as the case may be, is traced on the paper. A facsimile such as that shown in one of the accompanying pictures is obtained, and it thus becomes an easy matter to reproduce printed matter, drawings and photos, etc.
The article mentions two parties that are experimenting with the technology (Mr. Finch and RCA) but goes on to explain that nothing about the system had been standardized yet.
Many different systems of transmitting and recording devices by facsimile have been tried. The one used by the Finch system employs a special chemically treated paper. When a current passes through the moving stylus needle, the reaction causes a black spot to appear on the paper, the size of the spot at a given point depending upon the strength of the received impulse. At the transmitter the light beam is focused on the picture to be sent and the reflected light falls on a photo-electric cell.
Whether Finch and RCA knew it or not, battles between formats would continue right on into the 21st century as the fight over newspaper paywalls, cord-cutters, and ebooks continues to dramatically shift our media landscape.
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.”
December 7, 2011
Next year Arizona will celebrate 100 years of statehood. Born in 1909, Senator Barry Goldwater was just three years old when Arizona became the 48th state in the Union on February 14, 1912. In 1962 — two years before he would get the Republican nomination for president (and ultimately lose to Lyndon B. Johnson in a landslide), Goldwater wrote an article for the February 14, 1962, edition of the Tucson Daily Citizen titled “Arizona’s Next Fifty Years.”
Imagining the world of 2012, Goldwater’s article looked at everything from where Arizona might get the water to support its rapidly growing population (the ocean seemed the most logical solution), to Arizona’s relationship with Mexico (he envisioned an open border). The article reads as a love letter to the state he grew up in and adored, while acknowledging that there may be some hurdles ahead.
I asked Jon Christensen his opinion of Senator Goldwater’s 1962 article. Jon is the executive director of the Bill Lane Center for the American West at Stanford University and he points out that, “Goldwater wrote in an era when the ‘new frontier’ was still something America believed in and yearned toward, before Kennedy was gunned down the next year in Dallas. Growth was the rocket fuel of that dream — population growth, economic growth, wall to wall houses filling the desert with nuclear families.”
Senator Goldwater opens the article by writing about his own family:
Fifty years from now, if things go well, I will be concerned only with heavenly surroundings, so any shortcoming or overstatements of this forecast will be of no concern for me. But my children, then ranging from 68 to 75 years of age, and my grandchildren and great-grandchildren of all ages, will be living in this heaven on earth — Arizona. So I looked into my crystal ball, determined to project the image of my native state 50 years hence with the accuracy of experience and the hope of love, trusting in the ability of man to restrain his bad side so that the good things I predict will be allowed to come true, and conversely to stimulate his good side so that man will make them come true.
Having come to that decision, I loosened my legs from the restraining ceiling of my desk and departed for another long walk across the floor of the desert which has been a part of my life.
Goldwater expresses concern about what the picturesque landscape of Arizona might look like after a growing population spreads into the more rugged and untouched areas of the state:
A desert rain, just passed, accentuated the pungency of the greasewood and I stopped my walk with the dreadful first decision that the man of 2012 would not be able to walk from his doorstep into this pastel paradise with its saguaro, the mesquite, the leap of a jackrabbit, the cholla or the smell of freshly wet greasewood, because people will have transgressed on the desert for homesite to accomodate a population of slightly over 10 million people. The forests will be protected, as well as our parks and monuments. But even they will have as neighbors the people who today enjoy hardships to visit them.
Goldwater predicted that the city of Phoenix would be either the fourth or sixth largest city in the United States. The 2010 census places Phoenix as the sixth largest city in the country (with just under 1.5 million people) behind New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, and Philadelphia. Though Arizona experienced steady population growth since 1962, that growth has slowed considerably in the last five years, which is most likely attributed to the recession and a bad job market.
But it will be the deserts that will support the majority of the new homes. Phoenix will have a population of about three million and Tucson will grow to about one and one-half million. Phoenix and Tucson will remain the two largest cities in the state, with Phoenix being either the fourth or six largest city in the United States.
However, spectacular increases in population will occur in Yuma, Flagstaff, Casa Grande, Sierra Vista and some yet unborn cities in the Harqua Hala Valley, near Cave Creek and east of Tucson. The growth of Glendale, Peoria and Avondale will parallel that of Phoenix proper, so that 50 years from now all of these cities will be contiguous with each other and with Phoenix, and will form a city complex not unlike the present city of Los Angeles.
When the book Inside U.S.A. by John Gunther was published in 1947, Arizona was still the youngest state in the Union. The book notes that “Only 329 square miles of its 113,909 are water, which means that water is by far its greatest problem.” Gunther writes that irrigation has made Phoenix lush: “Pass over in an airplane; the burgeoning green of the irrigated valley overlays the the desert as if painted there with shiny lacquer. This development derives from [the] Roosevelt Dam, which was one of the earliest federal reclamation projects.”
Goldwater explains in his article that he hopes water will be piped in from the ocean to alleviate the growing need for water in Arizona:
Long before this period of 50 years passes by, the large coastal cities will be getting their drinking [water] leasing the inland streams for inland consumption. But to augment our major sources of water we will also, long before 2012, be using water piped from the ocean for domestic purposes.
As farmland gives way to homesite in the central valley, farming will be done in an extensive way in the already developed areas around Yuma and in, as yet, undeveloped areas in the Centennial and Harqua Hala Valley lands with a much greater diversification of crops that we now have. Cotton, our main crop today, will dwindle in importance by the time 50 more years pass because more new man-made fibers will replace to a marked degree the need for cotton that we know today.
Goldwater understood that America’s move west would be even more pronounced in the latter half of the 20th century, and saw technology as a major factor in that growth. Christensen finds fault with Goldwater’s prediction about industry in Arizona: “What’s curious about Goldwater’s vision is that he thought the Arizona economy would be based on manufacturing. Instead Arizona made an economy fueled by service jobs, taken up by people who moved from the Rust Belt to the Sun Belt, to serve retirees following the same route, and by construction, to build those pastel Sun Cities where they would live.”
As the population center of the United States continues to move rapidly to the west, so will industry as to be near this new concentration of consumers. Arizona’s principal economic growth will be in the industrial field, with emphasis being on items of a technological nature. It will not be many years before industry will become an important part of the economies of most Arizona cities, whereas today it is more or less confined to a few.
Goldwater goes on to talk about Arizona government and interestingly believes that Indian reservations will radically transform, with the population of Native Americans growing rather than decreasing.
This industrial growth will, of course, depend upon the maintenance of a good governmental climate; but I expect the people of this state in the next 50 years will be able to maintain the same kind of good government in the state, county and local levels that the people of the first 50 years have to an almost complete degree.
Indian reservations as we know them today will no longer exist because the government will have deeded the lands to the Indians who now live on them. Indians will be with us in increasing instead of decreasing number, and as they become more and more educated, they will play a more and more important part in the life of Arizona.
Christensen is “intrigued by Goldwater’s view that Indian reservations would cease to exist, and Indians themselves would become just like other Arizonans; happy individual property owners. That was an old-fashioned view rather than a futurist vision by 1962.” Indeed, as an article in the Arizona Capitol Times noted earlier this month: “Anglos moving into the Arizona Territory during the late 1800s believed that the Native Americans already there should be acclimated into Anglo culture. During that time, Indian boarding schools were built and native children were removed from their homes and placed into these schools.”
Goldwater’s predictions of a wide open U.S.-Mexico border by 2012 may be the most surprising to contemporary readers, given the tenor of the current Republican presidential nomination debates, where candidates to various degrees have proposed tougher border controls to limit illegal immigration and narcotrafficking.
Our ties with Mexico will be much more firmly established in 2012 because sometime within the next 50 years the Mexican border will become as the Canadian border, a free one, with the formalities and red tape of ingress and egress cut to a minimum so that the residents of both countries can travel back and forth across the line as if it were not there.
Basking in the “frontier spirit” that Arizona has historically embraced, Goldwater calls on the rugged individualism that he sees as imperative to America’s progress:
Fifty years from now, even though Arizona’s population density will reach about 100 per square mile, there will still be lots of open space in which man can enjoy himself. Our watershed will improve, our forests will continue to grow, and even the Grand Canyon will be about three inches deeper.
Arizona will continue to be the haven for people who seek an outlet for initiative and a reward for work. The frontier challenges will exist then as they do today, for man’s progress never stops unless man stops it. Fortunately for our state, our men have always and will always want to go forward, not backward.
Goldwater finishes his article by writing about the generations to come that he’s sure will enjoy their lives in Arizona while he’s looking down from the heavens:
My children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren will be as happy living here as I have been during the first 50 years of statehood, because the people will remain warm and kind and thoughtful. And even though much of what we now know as desert will have disappeared, there will remain a sufficient amount of natural beauty to satisfy all of the desires of the 10 million people who will live here.
In fact, even though I hope to be on Cloud Nine or Ten or whatever they allot me, I am sure that 50 years from now I will look down on this delightful spot on earth and be envious of the people who call Arizona their home in the year 2012.
October 21, 2011
The first decade of the 20th century was, for many people, a period characterized by incredible optimism for the future. The November 22, 1908 Sunday New York Times ran an article titled, “Inventions Which the World Yet Needs.”
The dreams of yesterday are the realizations of today. We live in an age of mechanical, electrical, chemical, and psychical wonder. On every hand the human mind is reaching out to solve the problems of nature. In those solutions are hidden the mysteries and revelations of all things. While the dreamer may dream, it is the practical man of affairs, with a touch of the imaginative in his nature, who materializes and commercializes new forces and new conceptions. Step by step these men lead in the vanguard of progress. What is their conception of the needs of the world? Toward what is their imagination reaching? What in their viewpoint, is the world waiting for—what are the immediate needs of the world in practical, scientific conception and invention?
The article then looks at the predictions of inventor and businessman Thomas Edison; Edward Bruce Moore, who was head of the U.S. Patent Office; Frank Hedley, who would eventually become president of the Interborough Rapid Transit Company; Lewis Nixon, a naval architect; Cortlandt E. Palmer, a mining expert; and Peter Cooper Hewitt, an electrical engineer and inventor.
Edison had nine predictions for the 20th century, touching upon everything from electricity and movie technology to flying machines and the extinction of the locomotive. His first prediction concerned the future of concrete architecture—a topic that, for him, was not purely academic. The inventor had founded the Edison Portland Cement Company in 1899 in order to use excess sand, which was a waste byproduct of his iron ore milling process. Edison had hoped to revolutionize the building of homes by using relatively inexpensive concrete. As Neil Baldwin notes in his book Edison: Inventing the Century, “Always with an eye for spin-offs, Edison went on to produce cement cabinets for the phonograph, and seriously considered building a concrete piano.”
While Edison’s concrete was used in the construction of New York’s Yankee Stadium in 1922, his company and efforts to build homes made entirely of concrete was considered a failure. Edison’s modular homes, measuring 25 by 30 by 40 feet high, failed largely because of the difficulty in creating the reusable, metal molds that were needed to fabricate and mass-produce houses made of concrete. Perhaps, deep down, Edison was skeptical of the venture from the beginning. His predictions in the Miami Metropolis—just three years after his New York Times interview—would quickly swing in favor of steel as the building material of the future.
An excerpt from the New York Times piece appears below.
NINE NEW INVENTIONS CERTAIN
They Will Come Soon — and Pave the Way for Hundreds More
Interview with Thomas A. Edison
The next era will mark the most wonderful advance in science and invention that the world has ever known or hoped for. So vast will that advance be that we can now have scarcely any conception of its scope, but already a great many of the inventions of the future are assured. It is only of those which I regarded as practical certainties that I speak here.
First — Within the next twenty or thirty years — and it will start with the next two or three — concrete architecture will take enormous strides forward; the art of molding concrete will be reduced to a science of perfection and, what is equally important, of cheapness; there will rise up a large number of gifted architects, and through their efforts cities and towns will spring up in this country beside which Turner’s picture of ancient Rome and Carthage will pale into nothingness and the buildings of the Columbia Exhibition will appear common. But great expense will not attend this; it will be done so that the poor will be able to enjoy houses more beautiful than the rich now aspire to, and the man earning $1.50 a day, with a family to support, will be better housed than the man of to-day who is earning $10.
Second — Moving-picture machines will be so perfected that the characters will not only move, but will speak, and all the accessories and effects of the stage will be faithfully reproduced on the living picture stage. This, of course, will not be done as well as on the regular stage, but its standard will approach very near to that, and the fact that such entertainment will be furnished for 5 cents will draw vast numbers of the working classes. The result will be that the masses will have the advantage of the moral of good drama, they will find an inexpensive and improving way of spending the evening, and death knell of the saloon will be sounded.
Third — In perhaps fifteen or twenty years — depending on the financial condition of the country — the locomotive will pass almost altogether out of use, and all our main trunk railways will be operated by electricity.
Fourth — A new fertilizer will spring into existence, containing a large percentage of nitrogen. This will be drawn from the air by electricity, and will be used to increase the arability of the land.
Fifth — All our water power will be utilized by electricity to an extent now almost unthought of, and will be used with great advantage, both industrially and for railroads.
Sixth — A successful serial navigation will be established — perhaps for mails — and will achieve a sound practical working basis.
Seventh — We shall be able to protect ourselves against environment by the use of serums and things of that sort so that the general state of health will improve and the average span of life will increase by a large percentage. The grand fight which is being made against tuberculosis and cancer will reach a successful culmination, and those diseases will be entirely mastered.
Eighth — A new force in nature, of some sort or other, will be discovered by which many things not now understood will be explained. We unfortunately have only five senses; if we had eight we’d know more.
Ninth — We will realize the possibilities of our coal supplies better, and will learn how to utilize them so that 90 percent of the efficiency will not be thrown away, as it is today.
Finally, let it be said, hardly any piece of machinery now manufactured is more than 10 percent perfect. As the years go on this will be improved upon tremendously; more automatic machinery will be devised, and articles of comfort and luxury will be produced in enormous numbers at such small cost that all classes will be able to enjoy the benefits of them.
These are some of the inventions which the world is awaiting which it is sure of seeing realized. Just how they will be realized is what the inventors are working now to determine.
October 12, 2011
The incredible rate of production for the war effort during the 1940s meant that Americans had to make certain sacrifices. The government instituted a rationing program for products like gasoline, meat, butter and rubber, and citizens were encouraged to plant “victory gardens” to grow their own food. It was common for advertisers of the early 1940s to use language that invoked a sense of shared struggle and promised that if we could just be patient, great things — usually in the form of exotic consumer goods – were waiting for Americans after the war.
This advertisement from the November 1944 issue of Pencil Points magazine is a bit unique in that its audience isn’t consumers, but architects who would be building stores after the war. (Pencil Points would later change its name to Progressive Architecture.) This particular ad was touting Westinghouse air conditioning units, which were “hermetically-sealed for dependability.” The ad begins by saying, “Every method to attract and retain more customers will be employed in the postwar stores which owners are commissioning their architects to plan today.”
Ironically, the downtown department store—even with the bubble cars and hermetically-sealed climate control portrayed in this ad—would increasingly become an anachronism in the aftermath of the war. Consumer habits changed due to migration to the suburbs and increasing traffic congestion (and less parking) in the cities. By 1949, the January issue of the Journal of Marketing was reporting on a new trend, the suburban “shopping center”:
“Even though [this] trend might be transitory in nature, the justification of the controlled-integrated shopping center is such that the probability of its future acceptance by the consumer, the retailer, and the manufacturer seems assured.”