October 9, 2012
This is the third in a 24-part series looking at every episode of “The Jetsons” TV show from the original 1962-63 season.
Each and every year at least one company goes knocking on the doors of the major news outlets and announces to the world that the futuristic vision of a flying car will be a practical reality within a few short years. Some of these companies appear to be making these promises in earnest, fully recognizing that their flying cars — should they ever hit the market — will be wildly expensive and essentially just road-legal airplanes. Other flying car companies are far more sketchy and have gotten into hot water with the FEC over their questionable fundraising practices.
But any way you look at it, a flying car in every garage is still a long way from becoming a part of the average American’s reality.
The Jetsons didn’t invent the flying car, but it sure did a lot to cement the idea of the airborne automobile into the American imagination. The third episode of “The Jetsons” is the show’s first in-depth look at the cars of the future. Titled “The Space Car,” the episode originally aired on Sunday October 7, 1962.
The episode opens with a seemingly sentient computer doing its best to wake George from his slumber. The family all meets for breakfast in the dining room and George does his best to cook a meal by push-button. In true early-TV sitcom fashion George fails miserably at this task. Jane talks to her friend by videophone and then we’re introduced to two shady-looking characters who will serve to create confusion with their cops and robbers hijinks. George and Jane set out to buy a new car and arrive at Molecular Motors where they and the viewers at home are treated to a car salesman’s pitch from the year 2062.
Longtime readers of Paleofuture will, of course, be familiar with dozens of flying cars that predate the 1962 arrival of The Jetsons on the small screen. From the fully functional (if impractical) Aerocar of the early 1950s to Hugo Gernsback’s 1923 vision of a two-wheeled flying car, we’ve seen hundreds of predictions for the flying car of the future throughout the 20th century. Plenty of flying cars would follow the Jetsons as well, like when two men in California died in 1973 after they tried strapping airplane wings on a Pinto.
The car shopping montage in this episode appears to have been inspired by the tone and style of Tex Avery‘s late-1940 and early-’50s “Of Tomorrow” cartoons. Avery’s cartoons looked at the TV, house, farm and car of tomorrow with an irreverent flare. Many of the sight gags from “The Space Car” pay homage to this style of dissecting the various goofy caricatures of futuristic thinking, adhering to the comedic (and often sexist) stylings of the time.
In fact, the “mother-in-law” joke we see in The Jetsons is identical to that of Tex Avery’s “Car of Tomorrow” cartoon short, right down to the color of the car.
The car companies themselves, as much as anyone, were promoting the idea of a radical shift in automobiles in the coming decades. The April 25, 1959 issue of the Chicago Daily Tribune relayed the beliefs of Ford VPs, who touted the flying car as one of the many innovations still to come:
Can you imagine an autoist driving up to a “gas” station 50 years from now and receiving replacement energy capsules for his car instead of getting a tank full of liquid fuel?
Also, can you imagine flying automobiles directed by automatic guidance systems?
These were possibilities discussed last week by Dr. Andrew A. Kucher, Ford Motor company vice president in charge of engineering and research, in an address at Northwestern University.
Arthur Radebaugh‘s syndicated Sunday comic “Closer Than We Think” was also a likely inspiration for The Jetsons’ vision of flying cars. The April 6, 1958 edition of the strip imagined cars that would ride on a cushion of air, according to Kucher, who was eager to tout this idea in the press during that time.
Look, pa, no wheels! Use of a thin layer of compressed air may allow autos to hover and move just above ground level.
A pipe dream? Not at all. The concept (already proved) comes from scientist Andrew Kucher, vice-president of engineering at one of our major motor companies. His people are studying how to maintain stability. Special highway engineering is one way. Another is skillful design, evidenced already in experimental ideas from the staff of motor stylist George W. Walker.
Today’s earthbound cars won’t turn into low flying carpets right away. But it may happen sooner than we think!
The episode essentially boils down to the “men can’t cook, women can’t drive, mother-in-laws are terrible” sitcom trope, but the episode serves to further the vision of a technologically advanced society. Unfortunately for The Jetsons, it was on October 7, 1962 that they started to get their bad press. As I mentioned in my first post about the historical significance of The Jetsons, the show struggled as it was up against the tremendously popular “Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color.” Filling in for Jay Fredericks of the Gazette Mail in Charleston, West Virgina, writer L.T. Anderson wrote of his love for what Disney had been doing the past few Sundays on NBC, and his distaste for The Jetsons on ABC in that same time slot: “The Jetsons, a cartoon series about a family of the future, was so bad that my eight-year-old son turned off and said a dirty word.”
October 1, 2012
The second episode of “The Jetsons” aired September 30, 1962 and was titled “A Date With Jet Screamer.” Arguably the most famous of all the Jetsons episodes, it’s also certainly the most hedonistic; with sex (well, dating), drugs (cigarettes and booze), rock and roll (lotsa rock and roll) and easy living (just lousy with push buttons) dominating the story arc. This postwar version of wholesome hedonism would come to be the aspirational cliche of Americans decades later — work hard, play hard. But in Jetsonian push-button fashion, this episode aspires to drop the “work hard” part.
Fitter, Happier, More Productive
The problem of too much leisure time was something that some people of the 1950s and ’60s were convinced was just over the horizon. Increased efficiency in postwar factories, along with the rising dominance of unions caused many to assume that we’d be working fewer and fewer hours by the 21st century. The continued maturity of the labor movement was seen as a certainty for the latter half of the 20th century and in an article from the Associated Press in 1950, they make some predictions about labor for the next half century:
There is every reason to believe that the steady growth of organized labor in the first half of 1950 will continue along the same trend in the second half of the century.
Labor developed to where it is today from practically nothing at the beginning of the 20th century. It’s still in the process of growth. The various elements and cliques making up the American economy – labor is just one of them – are learning more and more that the national security and well-being requires them to remain strong and work together.
The article also notes that things like the minimum wage, strict child labor laws and unemployment compensation — unheard of at the turn of the 20th century — would progress much in the same trajectory as they had in first half of the 20th century. The AP article predicts that the American worker may even see a 20-hour work week by the year 2000:
It’s a good bet, too, that by the end of the century many government plans now avoided as forms of socialism will be accepted as commonplace. Who in 1900 thought that by mid-century there would be government-regulated pensions and a work week limited to 40 hours? A minimum wage, child labor curbs and unemployment compensation?
So tell your children not to be surprised if the year 2000 finds 35 or even a 20-hour work week fixed by law.
This thinking carried on into the late 1960s, like in this Associated Press article from November 26, 1967. But the idea of “forced free time” didn’t sit too well with the political scientist they spoke with.
Those who hunger for time off from work may take heart from the forecast of political scientist Sebastian de Grazia that the average work week, by the year 2000, will average 31 hours, and perhaps as few as 21. Twenty years later, on-the-job hours may have dwindled to 26, or even 16.
But what will people do with all that free time? The outlook may not be cheery.
As De Grazia sees it: “There is reason to fear, as some do, that free time, forced free time, will bring on the restless tick of boredom, idleness, immorality, and increased personal violence. If the cause is identified as automation and the preference for higher intelligence, nonautomated jobs may increase, but they will carry the stigma of stupidity. Men will prefer not to work rather than to accept them. Those who do accept will increasingly come to be a politically inferior class.”
One possible solution: a separation of income from work; perhaps a guaranteed annual wage to provide “the wherewithal for a life of leisure for all those who think they have the temperament.”
A scene from “Jet Screamer” that may be slightly jarring to those of us here in the year 2012 is one in which George lights up a cigarette and sips a martini. Today, there are campaigns by youth smoking prevention groups who have lobbied the MPAA in attempts to weigh smoking as a consideration for a movie’s rating (they’d like movies with smoking to get an automatic R). And some media companies have erased smoking completely from old cartoons. But when this episode aired, smoking in the U.S. was at an all-time high.
The adult smoking rate in the U.S. peaked in 1965 at 42.4 percent. Today the adult smoking rate in the U.S. is just 19 percent.
This episode, even more so than the first, seeks to project the late-1950s/early ’60s vision of the American teenager into the future. Judy’s accidental success in winning a contest (despite her father’s attempts at sabotage) mean that the cool young rock star Jet Screamer takes her for a date in his flying car — to a fly-in burger joint. The burgers, cars and teens image of mid-century suburban living mirror a vision of American adolescence that some were already nostalgic for just a decade later in films like American Graffiti, a film that shows 1973′s nostalgia for 1962.
The 1954 book, 1999: Our Hopeful Future by Victor Cohn projected a similar vision of teenage burger and car culture onto the reading public. But in this case it’s a slightly more unrecognizable burger for Americans in the 1950s:
“Where’s Susan?” said John. “Oh, here she comes.”
“Hi,” said the teen-ager. “Gosh, I’m not very hungry tonight. The gang stopped at Joe’s Fly-in for plankton-burgers.”
In the years leading up to the Jetsons premiere in September 1962, the United States had seen an explosion in investment in the amusement park industry. Disneyland opened in Anaheim in 1955, attracting 3.5 million visitors in its first year. Pacific Ocean Park opened in Venice, CA in 1958 with 1.2 million visitors in its first year. Pleasure Island opened in Massachusetts in 1959 to large crowds. Freedomland U.S.A. opened in the Bronx in 1960 attracting 1.4 million visitors in its first year. Six Flags Over Texas opened in 1961 with 1.2 million visitors in its first year.
Theme parks were of course not new in the mid-20th century, but postwar they flourished becoming ever more sophisticated with their use of electronics and higher standards of cleanliness and safety. Many of these parks served as family destinations for their respective surrounding states, but of course some like Disneyland had a national draw – which also had a national TV show that competed with “The Jetsons”!
This postwar version of wholesome hedonism was set free in Southern California where high-end amusement parks were sprouting like gangbusters. After the success of Disneyland in 1955, other parks in the Southern California area (where the Hanna-Barbera studios and its employees were located) were built. The photo below is from the Pacific Ocean Park, opened in 1958 by CBS in Venice, California. Like many of the other parks that sprang up mid-century it didn’t have the benefit of national exposure yet worked through high operating costs. Pacific Ocean Park was shuttered after less than a decade in 1967.
Eep Opp Ork Ah Ah
The early 1960s Billboard charts were filled with the teenage idols and crooners that clearly inspired the character of Jet Screamer. But Jet Screamer himself became a bit of a hit. The song “Eep Opp Ork Ah Ah” is undeniably catchy and is one of those that rattles around in your brain (whether you want it to or not) for days after you hear it. And because of its association with the Jetson family and all the space age optimism burned into the minds of so many kids, you see the song pop up in a number of unexpected places. If you’ve ever visited the History Center of Minnesota you’ll notice that the song is played in an exhibit about space travel. Many years later the song would be covered by the Violent Femmes on an album of Saturday morning cartoon songs covered by popular bands.
The second episode of the show has fewer gadgets than the first, but its promise of easy living and constant entertainment is as emblematic of the Jetsons future as any episode in the series: the world of tomorrow will be much like today, only better.
September 19, 2012
It was 50 years ago this coming Sunday that the Jetson family first jetpacked their way into American homes. The show lasted just one season (24 episodes) after its debut on Sunday September 23, 1962, but today “The Jetsons” stands as the single most important piece of 20th century futurism. More episodes were later produced in the mid-1980s, but it’s that 24-episode first season that helped define the future for so many Americans today.
It’s easy for some people to dismiss “The Jetsons” as just a TV show, and a lowly cartoon at that. But this little show—for better and for worse—has had a profound impact on the way that Americans think and talk about the future. And it’s for this reason that, starting this Friday, I’ll begin to explore the world of “The Jetsons” one episode at a time. Each week I’ll look at a new episode from the original 1962-63 series, beginning with the premiere episode, “Rosey the Robot.”
Five decades after its debut, not a day goes by that someone isn’t using “The Jetsons” as a way to talk about the fantastic technological advancements we’re seeing today. Or conversely, evidence of so many futuristic promises that remain unfulfilled. Just look at a handful of news stories from the past few days:
- In fashion. (“Who better than the Jetsons to be inspired by for an out of space theme?”)
- Johnny Depp talks about the West Memphis Three emerging from prison after nearly two decades. ( ”By the time you came out, it’s ‘The Jetsons.’ It’s a whole ‘nother world.”)
- James Cameron talks about the future of interactive movies. (“There might be a certain amount of interactivity, so when you look around, it creates that image wherever you look,” Cameron says. He concedes it is far off: “You’re talking ‘Jetsons’ here.”)
- The future of cars, as depicted at the Los Angeles Auto Show. (“Considering that 2025 is only 13 years away, you would think that nobody’s going to go ‘Jetsons’ with their presentation, but the LAASDC doesn’t roll like that.”)
- The sound of kitschy futurism in modern music. (“Silencio allows Sadier’s various musical influences to breathe and linger, without being upstaged by the motorik propulsion, and ‘Jetsons’ kitsch, of the Stereolab formula.”)
Thanks to my Google Alerts for words and phrases like Jetsons, Minority Report, utopia, dystopia, Blade Runner, Star Trek, apocalypse and a host of others, I’ve been monitoring the way that we talk about the future for years. And no point of reference has been more popular and varied as a symbol of tomorrowism than “The Jetsons.”
Golden Age of Futurism
“The Jetsons” was the distillation of every Space Age promise Americans could muster. People point to “The Jetsons” as the golden age of American futurism because (technologically, at least) it had everything our hearts could desire: jetpacks, flying cars, robot maids, moving sidewalks. But the creators of “The Jetsons” weren’t the first to dream up these futuristic inventions. Virtually nothing presented in the show was a new idea in 1962, but what “The Jetsons” did do successfully was condense and package those inventions into entertaining 25-minute blocks for impressionable, media-hungry kids to consume.
And though it was “just a cartoon” with all the sight gags and parody you’d expect, it was based on very real expectations for the future. As author Danny Graydon notes in The Jetsons: The Official Cartoon Guide, the artists drew inspiration from futurist books of the time, including the 1962 book 1975: And the Changes to Come, by Arnold B. Barach (who envisioned such breakthroughs as ultrasonic dishwashers and instant language translators). The designers also drew heavily from the Googie aesthetic of southern California (where the Hanna-Barbera studios were located)—a style that perhaps best represented postwar consumer culture promises of freedom and modernity.
The years leading up to “The Jetsons” premiere in September 1962 were a mix of techo-utopianism and Cold War fears. The launch of Sputnik by the Soviets in 1957 created great anxiety in an American public that already had been whipped up into a frenzy about the Communist threat. In February 1962 John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth, but less than a year earlier the Bay of Pigs fiasco raised tensions between the superpowers to a dangerous level. Americans seemed equally optimistic and terrified for the future.
I spoke over the phone with Danny Graydon, the London-based author of the official guide to “The Jetsons.” Graydon explained why he believed the show resonated with so many Americans in 1962: “It coincided with this period of American history when there was a renewed hope — the beginning of the ’60s, sort of pre-Vietnam [protests], when Kennedy was in power. So there was something very attractive about the nuclear family with good honest values thriving well into the future. I think that chimed with the zeitgeist of the American culture of the time.”
Where’s My Jetpack?
As Graydon points out, “The Jetsons” was a projection of the model American family into the future. The world of ”The Jetsons” showed people with very few concerns about disrupting the status quo politically or socially, but instead showed a technologically advanced culture where the largest concern of the middle class was getting “push-button finger.”
It’s important to remember that today’s political, social and business leaders were pretty much watching ”The Jetsons” on repeat during their most impressionable years. People are often shocked to learn that “The Jetsons” lasted just one season during its original run in 1962-63 and wasn’t revived until 1985. Essentially every kid in America (and many internationally) saw the series on constant repeat during Saturday morning cartoons throughout the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s. Everyone (including my own mom) seems to ask me, “How could it have been around for only 24 episodes? Did I really just watch those same episodes over and over again?” Yes, yes you did.
But it’s just a cartoon, right? So what if today’s political and social elite saw ”The Jetsons” a lot? Thanks in large part to the Jetsons, there’s a sense of betrayal that is pervasive in American culture today about the future that never arrived. We’re all familiar with the rallying cries of the angry retrofuturist: Where’s my jetpack!?! Where’s my flying car!?! Where’s my robot maid?!? “The Jetsons” and everything they represented were seen by so many not as a possible future, but a promise of one.
This nostalgia for the futurism of yesteryear has very real consequences for the way that we talk about ourselves as a nation. So many people today talk about how divided we are as a country and that we no longer dream “like we used to.” But when we look at things like public approval of the Apollo space program in the 1960s, those myths of national unity begin to dissolve. Public approval of funding for the Apollo program peaked at 53 percent (around the first moon landing) but pretty much hovered between 35-45 percent for most of the 1960s. Why is there a misconception today about Americans being more supportive of the space program? Because an enormous generation called Baby Boomers were kids in the 1960s; kids playing astronaut and watching shows like “The Jetsons”; kids who were bombarded with images of a bright, shiny future and for whom the world was much simpler because they saw everything through the eyes of a child.
Why Only One Season?
If ”The Jetsons” is so important and resonated with so many viewers, then why was the show canceled after just one season (though it was revived in the 1980s)? I’ve spoken to a number of different people about this, but I haven’t heard anyone mention what I believe to be the most likely reason that “The Jetsons” wasn’t renewed for a second season: color. Or, more accurately, a lack of color. ”The Jetsons” was produced and broadcast in color, but in 1962 less than 3 percent of American households had a color television set. In fact, it wasn’t until 1972 that 50 percent of American households had a color TV.
The Jetsons’ future is bright; it’s shiny; and it’s in color. But most people watching on Sunday nights obviously didn’t see it like that. The immersive world of “The Jetsons” looks far more flat and unengaging in black and white. And unlike the other network shows it was up against on Sunday nights (which was in most markets “Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color” on NBC and “Car 54 Where Are You?” on CBS) “The Jetsons” suffered disproportionately more from being viewed in black and white.
NBC also had an incumbent advantage. If you’d made “Walt Disney’s Wonderful of Color” appointment viewing for the past year (Disney jumped ship from ABC to NBC in 1961 where they not only began broadcasting in color, but added “color” to the name) it’s unlikely you’d switch your family over to an unknown cartoon entity. “The Jetsons” was the first show ever broadcast in color on ABC, but it was still up to individual affiliates as to whether the show would be broadcast in color. According to the September 23, 1962 New York Times only people with access to ABC’s owned-and-operated stations in New York, Chicago, Detroit, San Francisco and Los Angeles were guaranteed to see the show broadcast in color—provided you owned a color set.
I’ve takens some screenshots from the DVD release of the first season to show just how dramatic a difference color can make with a show like this.
There’s also this promo from 1962, which gives us a taste of what “The Jetsons” looked like devoid of color. It’s bizarre for those of us who grew up on “The Jetsons” to see their fantastical world reduced to black and white:
There are a lot of “what-ifs” in “The Jetsons” universe that may have had substantial bearing on politicians, policymakers and the average American today. If we accept that media has an influence on the way that we view culture, and our own place in the future—as “The Jetsons” seems to ask us to do—we have to ask ourselves how our expectations might have changed with subtle tweaks to the Jetson story. What if George took a flying bus or monorail instead of a flying car? What if Jane Jetson worked outside of the home? What if the show had a single African-American character? These questions are impossible to answer, of course, but they’re important to recall as we examine this show that so dramatically shaped our understanding of tomorrow.
1985 and Beyond
Obviously the 1985-87 reboot of “The Jetsons” TV show played an important role in carrying the futuristic toon torch, but it’s in many ways an entirely different animal. The animation simply has a different feel and the storylines are arguably weaker, though I certainly remember watching them along with the original reruns when I was a kid in the 1980s. There were also movies produced—1990′s The Jetsons was released theatrically and the made-for-TV movie crossover The Jetsons Meet the Flintstones first aired in 1987. But for our purposes, we’ll just be exploring the first season and its immediate influence during the American Space Age. With talk of a live-action Jetsons movie in the works, it will be interesting to see how a revamped Jetsons might play today.
A few style notes that I’ll get out of the way:
- I spell Rosey the way it appeared in merchandise of the 1960s. Yes, you’ll sometimes see it spelled “Rosie” in video games and comics of the 1980s, but since our focus is the first season I’m sticking with Rosey.
- The show never mentions “within world” what year the Jetson family is living, but for our purposes we’ll assume it to be 2062. Press materials and newspapers of 1962 mention this year, even though the characters only ever say “21st century” during the first season of the show.
- Orbitty is from the 1980s reboot of The Jetsons. Orbitty, a pet alien, is essentially the Jar-Jar Binks of the Jetsons’ world and you probably won’t see me mention him again.
Meet George Jetson
The Jetsons, of course, represents a nostalgia for the future; but perhaps more oddly, it still represents the future to so many people who grew up with it. I’m excited to get started on this project and welcome your comments throughout this process, especially if you have vivid memories of the show from when you were a kid. I know I certainly do — I turned it into my career!
Update: The first paragraph of this post was revised to clarify that more episodes of “The Jetsons” were produced in the 1980s.
August 15, 2012
Twenty-eight years ago this month an exhibit called Yesterday’s Tomorrows opened to the public at the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. I wasn’t even a year old yet, but this 1984 exhibit would have a profound effect on my life many years later after I discovered the exhibit book by Smithsonian curators Joseph Corn and Brian Horrigan.
Back in 2007, the Paleofuture blog was still just a hobby for me, but once I discovered Yesterday’s Tomorrows I felt a sense of validation that this weird and wonderful topic of retro-futurism was indeed worthy of serious study. Maybe my blog more than an excuse to write about how cool flying cars and jetpacks might be; maybe we could learn something deeper about the American experience from all these hopes, dreams and fears for the future. After all, I may have been a lowly blogger, but here were two brilliant Smithsonian historians who had tackled the subject of historical futures so thoroughly nearly a quarter of a century earlier.
The book that I discovered and would prove so influential to my life is divided into five main chapters. The first chapter looks at the rise of futurism in America and its role in American life at the dawn of the 20th century through books, magazines, advertising and toys. The second chapter is devoted to the community of tomorrow and what future American cities and towns were supposed to look like. The third chapter involves Brian’s specialty and delves into the houses of tomorrow, while chapter four was Joe’s area of expertise: the transportation of the future. The last chapter explores the weapons and warfare of yestertomorrow, highlighting the various ways people imagined humanity (and of course, robots) might fight in the future.
Yesterday’s Tomorrows was undoubtedly the retro-futurism bible and so, back in 2007, I did some quick Googling in an attempt to track down Joe or Brian. I learned that Brian was working at the Minnesota Historical Society. I emailed him in the fall of 2007 and we had lunch at Cossetta’s down the street from the History Center in St. Paul. I had recently moved back to St. Paul after going to school in Milwaukee for a few years. During lunch I learned that not only did Brian live in St. Paul, but that we lived on the same street! Needless to say, Brian and I really hit it off and became fast friends. I have fond memories of sitting out on his porch on Sunday afternoons drinking martinis while we talked about history and politics and futurism.
In 2008, Brian introduced me to the great Joe Corn when he was visiting Minnesota to see some old friends. I immediately liked Joe and was honored to have some time to ask him questions about historical futures and America’s rate of technological progress. I’ll never forget his challenge to me — that I never accept preconceived notions about people and their attitudes toward the future. Generations are made up of people, and though it may be tempting to try to lump those people together to fit our needs, don’t assume you know what an individual was thinking based upon what generation they might belong to.
I really wish I had had the opportunity to see Yesterday’s Tomorrows in the flesh, as it were. The exhibit opened on August 9, 1984 and was on display at the National Museum of American History until September 30, when it then went on a tour of the United States. Though I was but a drooling rugrat in 1984, I have some wonderful artifacts from the exhibit that were generously given to me by Brian. One of those artifacts is the pamphlet from the exhibit shown above.
Brian also gave me some newspaper clippings that described the exhibit in great detail. A writer in the August 10, 1984 Washington Post was especially impressed by the 18 minute film at Yesterday’s Tomorrows, which was produced and directed by Karen Loveland and Ann Carroll:
The show ranges from utopian and dystopian views of mankind’s future to children’s playthings. All those toys we wish our parents had kept for us, some people have — and in mint condition. The display covers the play-time continuum in the final frontier: a 1937 Buck Rogers ray gun, a 1952 Space Patrol diplomatic pouch and a 1966 Star Trek phaser.
The highlight of the show is an 18-minute continuously playing movie, tracing science fiction in film clips from the Jules Verne-inspired “Un voyage dans la lune” in 1902 to “Blade Runner,” inspired by Philip K. Dick, in 1982. As the announcer intones, “All of us have wondered what the world would be like 10, or 100 or 1,000 years from today…”
The exhibit included over 300 models, toys, illustrations, photographs and other artifacts that gave people a glimpse into the future that never was. Brian gave me a handful of photos which show the exhibit as it stood, working jetpack and all.
The August 9, 1984 Washington Post declared that the most impressive of the artifacts at Yesterday’s Tomorrows had to be a scale model construction of a Dymaxion House from 1927:
The show’s greatest artifact, hands down, is a model constructed by Jay Johnson from the original plans of Fuller’s wonderful 1927 Dymaxion House. Metal cables from an aluminum mast suspend the glass walls and inflated rubber floor. The living quarters are raised for view and air.
That Dymaxion model is on the left in the picture below.
This next picture includes the nuclear powered car of the 1950s and if we look closely we can see some artwork from Wernher von Braun’s Collier’s space series and a 1943 rendering of a helicopter from Alex S. Tremulis in the background.
I’m forever indebted to both Brian and Joe, without whom I very likely wouldn’t have the profession I enjoy today. In 2010, I had the honor of giving a talk hosted by the Minnesota Historical Society with Brian at the Turf Club in St. Paul. Thank you Joe and thank you especially to Brian — your work and guidance have meant the world to me, an accidental historian doing his best to fill the shoes of the two great men who preceded him in this exploration of yesterday’s tomorrows.
Yesterday’s Tomorrows started at the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. but went on to many other cities around the U.S. The exhibit was also revived in the early 2000s and went on a limited tour of the U.S. at that time. If you visited the exhibit in the 2000s or in any of these cities from its original tour in 1984-85, I’d love to hear your impressions of the experience in the comments: the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry, the Willamette Science and Technology Center in Eugene Oregon, the California Museum of Science and Industry in Los Angeles, the Oakland Museum in California, the Museum of Science in Boston and the Whitney Museum of American Art in Stamford Connecticut.
July 9, 2012
Ever dreamed of owning your own flying car… from the 1950s? If you happen to have $1.25 million lying around, you can make that happen!
It seems every year we see companies like Terrafugia and Moller promise that the flying car will soon be an everyday reality. But people often forget flying cars have been around for over half a century. Greg Herrick, an aircraft collector in Minneapolis, is selling his 1954 Taylor Aerocar N-101D with an asking price of $1.25 million. His flying car of the retro-future sports a yellow and black body and as you can see from the photo above, still works!
Herrick has over 40 aircraft in his private collection and the Aerocar was one of the first he ever purchased. He bought the flying car in the early 1990s from a man in Idaho and says he was drawn to the Aerocar just as many people in the latter half of the 20th century were. ”I was just at the tail end of that generation that kind of grew up with that dream of… well, I guess every generation has had that dream since the [invention of the] automobile — of a flying car,” Herrick told me.
The Aerocar was designed by Moulton Taylor in 1949 and only five were ever produced. In order to take flight the Aerocar must be converted into an aircraft with wings that fold forward. Though it looks cumbersome, the vehicle was marketed in the early 1950s as being so effortless that a woman could do it “without soiling her gloves.” The video below is a newsreel about the Aerocar from November 5, 1951.
Herrick’s Aerocar was first listed for sale in December 2011. His most recent listing includes some of the specs:
The AEROCAR features side-by-side seating for two. Advanced for its time, most of the fuselage skin is of composite material and the car is front wheel drive. In flight the wings are high and unobtrusive. Powered by a Lycoming O-320 Engine the propeller is mounted at the end of a long tail cone, the latter angled up for propeller clearance. Cruise speed is about 100 mph. Takeoff speed in 55 mph and the airplane is controlled by the same steering wheel as is used for driving.
But why sell it? ”I like rarity. I like unusual things,” Herrick tells me. “I like things that represent progress or tell a story. But as time passes your tastes start to become more refined. And no matter what it is you’re doing you can’t collect everything and you can’t be an expert in every area. So my interests began to migrate toward the golden age of aviation between the wars — in particular the aircraft that were almost lost to history. So this airplane is kind of superfulous to my needs.”
But if you’re thinking about buying this blast from the past don’t forget that you’ll need two kinds of insurance! “When I bought the thing, I was looking at the insurance and I had to have two different insurance policies: an aviation policy and then I had to get an auto policy,” Herrick said. Making sure you have two kinds of insurance is certainly one of those realities that The Jetsons never warned us about.