May 18, 2012
Chemical warfare is nothing new. As early as 428 BC the Spartans were burning wood soaked in resin and sulfur for use against their enemies. And the First World War is often remembered for its horrific deaths due to mustard gas. But the mid-20th century ushered in a new futuristic chemical weapon: LSD.
Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), mescaline (peyote), and psilocybin (psychedelic mushrooms) were all seen as possible contenders for non-lethal weapons of the future; sprayed on an unsuspecting army or civilian population and making them vulnerable to invasion.
An Associated Press story from the September 6, 1959 Cedar Rapids Gazette in Iowa warned that the nuclear stalemate with the Soviet Union might prompt the Russians to develop chemicals that could be used against the United States. Americans scientists were said to have developed their own weapons to counter-attack.
Working in deep secrecy, U.S. scientists almost overnight have developed an arsenal of fantastic new weapons, variously known as psycho-chemicals and “madness” gases, which could virtually paralyze an enemy nation without firing a shot.
Interestingly, the article doesn’t name the chemicals, instead calling them “madness gases” or surgical anesthetics:
By way of definition, chemical warfare embraces the use of such compounds as the psycho-chemicals to create hallucinations in the enemy’s mind or the deadly nerve gases and other toxic substances to kill.
Some of the new chemicals act much faster than ether, the anesthetic used to put surgical patients to sleep, and have an effect lasting 24 to 48 hours. One means of dispersal is a newly developed “smoke ginny” with which 2 men can lay a blanket of chemical fog over an area 5 miles long and 200 yards wide.
The February 28, 1960 edition of the Sunday comic strip “Closer Than We Think” by Arthur Radebaugh pulled this idea from the headlines and illustrated it in the picture above. The strip quotes Lt. Gen Arthur Trudeau from the U.S. Army as warning that the Soviets are developing weaponized versions of “psycho-chemicals” and that the U.S. should follow suit:
New nerve drugs may be used to immobilize whole cities or battle areas in tomorrow’s warfare. The Chemical Corps knows about a complete arsenal of “nerve gases” that can make fighting men and embattled citizenry as happy and peaceable as kids playing tag.
Lt. Gen. Arthur Trudeau, chief of Army research and development, is worried about possible attacks with these drugs. He fears the United States might become a victim. “The Soviet [Union] has 15% of its munitions in chemicals,” he said. “I think psycho-chemicals are the coming weapon — we are missing out if we don’t capitalize on them.”
The 1981 children’s book World of Tomorrow: War and Weapons by Neil Ardley also illustrated what a psycho-chemical attack might look like, with soldiers believing they’re being hunted by giant flying pterodactyl-like creatures:
This isn’t a scene from a science fiction story in which flying monsters take over the world. It is a view of a future battle as seen through the eyes of a defending soldier. He and his fellow troops reel back as invading aircraft fire shells containing chemicals. The chemicals are drugs that produce dream-like reactions or hallucinations in people. The soldiers see the aircraft turning into flying monsters and the buildings bend over, and they flee in terror. Invading forces protected from the effects of the drugs will soon arrive easily take over the city.
March 14, 2012
The 1920s was an incredible decade of advancement for communications technology. Radio was finally being realized as a broadcast medium, talkies were transforming the film industry, and inventors were tinkering with the earliest forms of television. People of the 1920s recognized that big changes were ahead, and no one relished in guessing what those changes might be more than Hugo Gernsback.
Gernsback was a pioneer in both radio and publishing, always pushing the boundaries of what the public might expect of their technological future. In 1905 (just a year after emigrating to the U.S. from Germany at the age of 20) Gernsback designed the first home radio set and started the first mail-order radio business in the world. The radio was called the Telimco Wireless and was advertised in magazines like Scientific American for $7.50 (about $180 today).
In 1908 Gernsback put out the world’s first radio magazine, Modern Electronics. Distributed by the American News Company, Modern Electronics was a huge hit and was said to be profitable from its first issue. In 1909 he opened the first radio storefront in New York, supplementing his mail-order radio sales by selling radio parts to amateur radio operators in the city.
In 1913 Gernsback started publishing a magazine called Electrical Experimenter, which in 1920 became known as Science and Invention. In the February, 1925 issue of Science and Invention Gernsback wrote an article that would combine his fascination with the future of radio communications and predict a device for the year 1975 that we still don’t see in any practical household form today.
Gernsback’s device was called the “teledactyl” and would allow doctors to not only see their patients through a viewscreen, but also touch them from miles away with spindly robot arms. He effectively predicted telemedicine, though with a weirder twist than we see implemented in 2012.
From the February, 1925 issue of Science and Invention:
The Teledactyl (Tele, far; Dactyl, finger — from the Greek) is a future instrument by which it will be possible for us to “feel at a distance.” This idea is not at all impossible, for the instrument can be built today with means available right now. It is simply the well known telautograph, translated into radio terms, with additional refinements. The doctor of the future, by means of this instrument, will be able to feel his patient, as it were, at a distance….The doctor manipulates his controls, which are then manipulated at the patient’s room in exactly the same manner. The doctor sees what is going on in the patient’s room by means of a television screen.
Quite impressively, the teledactyl was imagined as a sensory feedback device, which allowed the doctor to not only manipulate his instruments from afar, but feel resistance.
Here we see the doctor of the future at work, feeling the distant patient’s arm. Every move that the doctor makes with the controls is duplicated by radio at a distance. Whenever the patient’s teledactyl meets with resistance, the doctor’s distant controls meet with the same resistance. The distant controls are sensitive to sound and heat, all important to future diagnosis.
Gernsback positions his predictions about telemedicine within the rapidly changing communications landscape of the 1920s:
As our civilization progresses we find it more and more necessary to act at a distance. Instead of visiting our friends, we now telephone them. Instead of going to a concert, we listen to it by radio. Soon, by means of television, we can stay right at home and view a theatrical performance, hearing and seeing it. This, however is far from sufficient. As we progress, we find our duties are multiplied and we have less and less to transport our physical bodies in order to transact business, to amuse ourselves, and so on.
The busy doctor, fifty years hence, will not be able to visit his patients as he does now. It takes too much time, and he can only, at best, see a limited number today. Whereas the services of a really big doctor are so important that he should never have to leave his office; on the other hand, his patients cannot always come to him. This is where the teledactyl and diagnosis by radio comes in.
It wasn’t just the field of medicine that was going to be revolutionized by this new device. Other practical uses would involve seeing and signing important documents from a distance:
Here we see the man of the future signing a check or document at a distance. By moving the control, it goes through exactly the same motions as he would in signing he document. He sees what he is doing by means of the radio teleview in front of him. The bank or other official holds the document in front of a receiving teledactyl, to which is attached a pen or other writing instrument. The document is thus signed.
This diagram also explained how the teledactyl worked:
A year after this article was released Gernsback began publishing Amazing Stories, the first magazine that was devoted entirely to science fiction. Gernsback published a number of different magazines throughout his life, but I’d argue that none were filled with more rich, retro-future goodness than Science and Invention.
January 20, 2012
In December 1950, newspapers across the country ran a piece distributed by the Associated Press titled “How Experts Think We’ll Live in 2000 A.D.” That article was written by a number of different editors at the AP and covered everything from the future of movies to the state of the economy in the year 2000. It also contained predictions from editor Dorothy Roe about the typical woman of the year 2000. Roe describes her as having perfect proportions: six feet tall and competing with men in sports like football and wrestling. Roe’s meal-pill-popping woman of tomorrow also has prominent positions in the world of government and business, with a final sentence proclaiming that she may even be president.
The woman of the year 2000 will be an outsize Diana, anthropologists and beauty experts predict. She will be more than six feet tall, wear a size 11 shoe, have shoulders like a wrestler and muscles like a truck driver.
Chances are she will be doing a man’s job, and for this reason will dress to fit her role. Her hair will be cropped short, so as not to get in the way. She probably will wear the most functional clothes in the daytime, go frilly only after dark.
Slacks probably will be her usual workaday costume. These will be of synthetic fiber, treated to keep her warm in winter and cool in summer, admit the beneficial ultra-violet rays and keep out the burning ones. They will be light weight and equipped with pockets for food capsules, which she will eat instead of meat and potatoes.
Her proportions will be perfect, though Amazonian, because science will have perfected a balanced ration of vitamins, proteins and minerals that will produce the maximum bodily efficiency, the minimum of fat.
She will go in for all kinds of sports – probably will compete with men athletes in football, baseball, prizefighting and wrestling.
She’ll be in on all the high-level groups of finance, business and government.
She may even be president.
The illustration to the right appeared in the December 24, 1949 Daily Capital News (Jefferson City, Missouri) as part of an earlier syndicated Associated Press piece about the woman of the year 2000. This piece also mentions the expected physical growth and strength of women in the future, quoting Ann Delafield, a woman known for the “reducing plans” she advertised in women’s magazines of the early 1950s. Humorously, Ms. Delafield seems to believe that an abundance of sunshine is contributing to the growth of women during this era.
“Nature seems bent on producing a new race of Amazons. Within the next 50 years you’ll find the emancipated woman engaging actively in such sports as football, baseball and soccer. She’ll think nothing of chopping the wood and acting as family car mechanic.”
Miss Delafield has found that the shoulders of girls are 2 to 3 inches wider than their mothers’, their gloves are several sizes larger than Mom’s, and many a gal stoops down to kiss her teen age boy friend. Says Miss Delafield:
“Goodness knows what will happen if they continue to soak up vitamins and sunshine and just keep sprouting. Girls from the sunshine states, California, Texas and New Mexico can dwarf the girls from the Northeast.”
December 29, 2011
This month marks the 40th anniversary of the formal declaration of the War on Cancer. When President Richard Nixon signed the National Cancer Act on December 23, 1971 he described the legislation as a “national commitment for the conquest of cancer.” The Act expanded federal funding for cancer research and Nixon said that he hoped, “in the years ahead that we may look back on this day and this action as being the most significant action taken during this Administration.”
The term, “war on cancer” wasn’t coined in the 1970s but dates back at least to the early 1900s. Somewhat ironically, a series of promotional cards packaged with cigarettes in the 1930s included a card that explained how the latest cutting edge technology could help win the “War on Cancer.”
When scientists first begin to create synthetic radio-activity, to make substitutes for radium, by bombarding certain atoms with millions of electron-volts, someone suggested, “Why make radium to cure cancer? Use the bombarding atoms direct.” This suggestion was adopted by the use of very high voltage X-rays. Many successful experiments have been made.
The 1956 book 1999: Our Hopeful Future by Victor Cohn includes a chapter called “Medicine’s promise: long, lively life.” Cohn was a science and health reporter at the Minneapolis Tribune before moving to the Washington Post in 1968 and began writing a weekly health column called “The Patient’s Advocate.” In his book, Cohn doesn’t mince words when articulating the optimism people of the 1950s had for medical breakthroughs:
If any field is on the move today, it is medicine. If any offers hope and promise to average people, this is it. Medicine today outdates much of the medicine of ten years ago, or five years, or one. A number of diseases are being conquered, and new keys are opening biological doors. Average life expectancy, today at an all-time high, could in our generation increase ten more years.
Cohn goes on to explain how people thought a cancer cure might be found:
In cancer a possibility is surgical meddling with glands. Surgeons are already removing adrenal glands in experiments to treat prostate and breast cancer. Medicine feverishly seeks to identify the chemical environment that permits uncontrolled cell growth, and to understand how cells grow. Uncontrolled growth is the one element common to all cancers.
The 1973 book 1994: The World of Tomorrow published by U.S. News and World Report includes a chapter on what people can expect of medicine by the mid-1990s. While the book is optimistic, it doesn’t have the same faith that Cohn had in the 1950s. Dr. Michael B. Shimkin, whose population studies at the National Cancer Institute in the 1950s would help show a link between smoking and lung cancer, is quoted in the book:
Although truly useful drugs for the treatment of cancer are still in the future, there is no reason but to be optimistic that they eventually will be found… Cancer research is but a small segment of the total human endeavor in biomedical sciences. It can advance only as rapidly as progress is recorded in the various “disciplines,” where the boundaries are academic conveniences… Cancer research has no place for limited or fixed concepts, for vested interests, for orthodoxy. But we can stand firm on this: cancer is a solvable problem, solvable by a human thought and action process that we call scientific research, and within capabilities of human intelligence with which man was endowed by his Creator.
October 4, 2011
The December 24, 1900 Boston Globe included an article that imagined what Boston would look like in the year 2000. Written by Thomas F. Anderson, the article was titled “Boston at the End of the 20th Century.” Anderson envisioned a city with moving sidewalks, pneumatic tube delivery of everything from food to newspapers, and airships soaring high above the city. Overall, Anderson’s predictions are quite optimistic. He predicted that Boston at the turn of the 21st century would be so beautiful that the word “slum” wouldn’t even be found in the local dictionary.
With all the fantastically futuristic predictions made in the article, it’s somewhat interesting that the most quaint idea in the entire piece is the idea that Boston of the future will have both a morning and evening edition of the local newspaper. This newspaper of the future was, of course, to be delivered by fancy pneumatic tubes, but you’d be hard pressed to find a young person in the year 2000 who even knew such a thing as an evening edition of the newspaper ever existed. From radio to television to Internet, it’s fascinating to look at the rapid and revolutionary changes in the way Americans consumed news over the course of the 20th century.
This article is an artifact that, like most predictions from the past, gives us some wonderful insight into the hopes and fears of Bostonians at the turn of the 20th century. Some highlights from the article appear below.
Boston of the Year 2000
In that golden age for Boston, when the population of the United States will be somewhere between 350,000,000 and 500,000,000, when the tides in the harbor will be made for furnish[ing] heat light and power, when every person will own his own automobile, or whatever it may be called in that day; when people have learned how to live longer and suffer less from sickness; when sewage and garbage nuisances will no more exist; when [the] new Franklin Institute will long have entered upon its career of usefulness, and when the great world’s fair in Boston shall have become a pleasant memory of the past, it is not too much of a task on the imagination to believe that women will have taken a much more important position in the business and political life than they hold today.
The three problems that bear the most important relation to the city’s future growth are those which concern the increase in its population, the development of its commerce and the improvement of its transportation facilities.
There’s no mention of the Big Dig anywhere in the article, but Anderson envisioned a world where everyone in Boston had cars, airships sailed over the city and moving sidewalks made walking so much easier.
It might be easy to dismiss the transportation problem by saying that a century hence we will be moving over the housesteps of Boston, a la Santa Claus, in airships, but even airships would not solve the transit question in a city like Boston, however practicable they may have become at that date.
Anderson spoke with General Passenger Agent Dana J. Flanders of the Boston and Maine Railroad and quotes heavily from him about railways of the future:
“As far as Boston is concerned, there is certain to be a great change in transportation conditions. In the first place, it is conceivable that all the railroads of New England may be under one management 100 years from now, perhaps [under] control of the government, although I don’t believe that this will be a good thing.
“We shall probably have one great terminal for all the railroads entering the city, and what the railroads call the ‘suburban zone,’ at present extending about 12 miles out of the city, may then extend for 25 or 30 miles out, perhaps farther.”
Baseball May Be Played at Night
There seems to be no reason to believe that the Bostonian of the future will take any less interest in athletic sports and pastimes than his predecessor of the 19th century. Indeed, with the greater proportion of leisure he is likely to enjoy in that day, his interest in these matters should increase.
Most of the baseball cranks of today are confident that the national game will continue to hold its prestige through the coming century, and that it is likely to be played at night as well as by day, inasmuch as the illuminating methods of the future are reasonably certain to practically banish darkness from our cities.
Other forms of outdoor sports will doubtless be invented, but baseball, the “rooter” maintain, will never lose its hold upon the affections of the people.
Boston’s population in 1900 was just 560,892. Though Anderson’s article predicted a population of more than 5 million in Boston by the year 2000, the actual population of Boston proper in the year 2000 was 3.4 million 589,141. They predicted that Greater Boston (Boston and its surrounding suburbs) would have a population of 8 million by the year 2000, but the area had just 4.4 million people by the 2000 census.
In the first place, when the year 2000 dawns there will be no more unoccupied land in Boston, save that reserved for public parks and playground. The only “vacant lots” that will occur at that period will be those created by the tearing down of old buildings to make space for new ones.
Anderson spoke with Edwin P. Seaver, the superintendent of Boston schools, about the future of education in Boston:
“Altogether, there is every reason to believe that the principle of universal education, as opposed to what may be called artistocratic education, is to receive a more and more general application; and among other things, it is going to discover and bring forth from the lower ranks of our people not only talent, but genius.
Already there are encouraging indications of a much needed awakening of public sentiment in regard to the urgent need of rescuing our schools from their present unfortunate environment, and I cannot feel that the future is destined to bring us better things in school administration, along with the higher intellectual development of our whole community.”
During the Irish potato famine of the 1840s over a million Irish immigrants came through Deer Island. In the year 1900, Deer Island in Boston Harbor was used for processing immigrants and Anderson’s article predicted that a large receiving station would be built there by the year 2000.
The long talked of public docks on the unfilled East Boston water front will long have been in use, and other will stretch far beyond them to Deer Island, where probably will be established a great receiving station for both immigrants and merchandise.
The man or woman who views from the state house dome the great city of Boston in that day will see many fine public buildings that do not exist now, including a new city hall and public libraries, and scores of attractive schoolhouses in which the scholars will neither grow blind as a result of insufficient light nor contract disease as from the effects of bad drainage.
The article has some similarities to an article by John Elfreth Watkins, Jr. that appeared in the December, 1900 issue of Ladies’ Home Journal. Through the work of men like Lee De Forest and Guglielmo Marconi, wireless telegraphy was showing such promise at the turn of the 20th century that wireless telephone communication was seen as almost a certainty in the 20th century.
The telephone will have become a relic of the past, and by means of wireless telegraphy the citizen may communicate with any city or town in the land.
Though most Americans of the year 2011 only interact with pneumatic tubes at the bank drive-thru window, the year 1900 had high hopes for this wonder technology as a means of transporting goods. Edward Bellamy’s futuristic Boston in the 1888 book Looking Backward also featured a series of tubes that were used for deliveries.
The pneumatic tube service, by the way, will have reached its perfection long before the first half of the new century has flown. It will have become a most important factor in the domestic life of the people which also will have undergone great changes.
Through such tubes a householder will undoubtedly receive his letters, his readymade lunches, his laundry, his morning and evening paper, and even the things he may require from the department store, which will furnish at the touch of a button any essential solid or liquid that can be named.
By means of his electro-pneumatic switchboard, with which all well regulated houses will be equipped, he may sit in his comfortable arm chair and enjoy either the minister’s sermon or the latest opera in the new Symphony hall of the vintage of 1960.
Anderson also spoke with Postmaster George A. Hibbard about Boston’s postal service of the year 2000:
“The system of pneumatic transmission of mail already introduced is undoubtedly to have an extensive development, and I have little doubt that the time will come when mail will be sent from the central or branch post office through such tubes directly to the house or office of the citizen who cares to pay for the cost of such service.
“It may be only a matter of months before the central office in Boston is connected with the various branches by pneumatic tube service, as I have already asked the department at Washington for permission to connect the Back Bay and South end stations with such a service. There is little question that the efficiency of the postal service will be thereby materially increased.
I do not anticipate that the cheapening and extension of the telegraph or telephone service is going to adversely affect the number of letters written and mailed in the future. On the contrary, the cheapening and improvement of the postal service may operate as a factor against the growth of the other service.”
Central Air Conditioning
Not only will hot and cold water (the one furnished by a heating company and the other sterilized before being sent through the pipes) be constantly at his command, but hot and cold air and even liquid air will be possible to turn on an imitation east wind at any time the outside temperature reaches an uncomfortable height.
Smoke and Noise Will Have Disappeared
The article imagines a Boston complete devoid of smoke and steam rising from its buildings. “New methods of generating heat and power” will have rendered such primitive exhaust, the pungent breath of major cities in the year 1900, completely obsolete. The city is also imagined as incredibly quiet, the noise and confusion having gone the way of the horse and buggy.
Anderson spoke with Dr. Samuel H. Durgin, chairman of the Boston Board of Health, about the future of health care in Boston. Not surprisingly, Dr. Durgin believes that cleanliness will bring about much improved health for the citizens of the year 2000.
“From a health standpoint the needs of Boston are many, and in some cases urgent. We need, among other things, more hospital accommodations, especially for consumptive and contagious cases, and the building of these must be considered in the year future.
“The difference between clean and dirty streets constitutes an important element in the health of a city, and the presence or the absence of the smoke nuisance bears directly upon the comfort of the community. It is reasonable to believe that we shall get rid of both our smoky chimney and our dirty streets during the coming century.”
Boston May Have But One Bank
What is to be Boston’s status as a financial center at the close of the year 2000?
Mr. A. P. Weeks of the Merchants national bank, whose opinions on banking matters are always highly regarded by his associates, said in reply to this query: “Unquestionably great changes are to take place in banking methods in the coming century, and yet the underlying principle of the utilization of credit rather than of actual money will continue to be a fixed one in business matters.
“It is all a matter of guesswork, of course, but it is quite conceivable that the present tendency to consolidation in Boston may continue until there shall be in the years to come but one large bank in this city, with branches at convenient points throughout the community.
“As compared with New York, it is likely that Boston as a financial center will lose a little rather than gain prestige, but it will always be a very important city in this respect, from the fact of its commercial and industrial rank.”
Most cities in the U.S. love to lay claim to the saying, “We have an old saying in [city X], if you don’t like the weather, just wait 10 minutes…” This article closed on its own light-hearted weather joke, seemingly poking a little fun at its local forecast official and the difficulty of predicting the weather.
There is one thing which The Globe, in its 20th century canvass, has been obliged to “slip up on,” and that is the subject of Boston weather in the coming period of progress.
Our genial and cultured local forecast official, Sergt J. W. Smith, who is alway a copious fountain of information concerning the weather of the past 25 years and the “probabilities” for the next 24 hours, has been obliged to throw up his hand on the question of what climatic conditions in Greater Boston are likely to be in the year 2000.
He really did make a serious effort to help The Globe out in this important matter, but after spending a whole week immersed in a mass of therometric and barometric computations, celestial charts, hydrographic reports and humorous weather stories from the back files of the Boston papers, Sergt Smith was obliged to give it up as a bad job and go off for a two-days’ vacation.
He is inclined to think, however, that the year 2000 may still bring forth an occasional Boston day in which rain sunshine, snow, hot waves, cold snaps, thunder and lightning, hail, fog, east winds, west winds and south winds will each play their particular part in the weather drama of the 24 hours, and that in this respect at least Boston will remain the same dear old Boston.