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.
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.
February 10, 2012
After the release of The Jazz Singer in 1927, all bets were off for live musicians who played in movie theaters. Thanks to synchronized sound, the use of live musicians was unnecessary — and perhaps a larger sin, old-fashioned. In 1930 the American Federation of Musicians formed a new organization called the Music Defense League and launched a scathing ad campaign to fight the advance of this terrible menace known as recorded sound.
The evil face of that campaign was the dastardly, maniacal robot. The Music Defense League spent over $500,000, running ads in newspapers throughout the United States and Canada. The ads pleaded with the public to demand humans play their music (be it in movie or stage theaters), rather than some cold, unseen machine. A typical ad read like this one from the September 2, 1930 Syracuse Herald in New York:
Tho’ the Robot can make no music of himself, he can and does arrest the efforts of those who can.
Manners mean nothing to this monstrous offspring of modern industrialism, as IT crowds Living Music out of the theatre spotlight.
Though “music has charms to soothe the savage beast, to soften rocks or bend a knotted oak,” it has no power to appease the Robot of Canned Music. Only the theatre-going public can do that.
Hence the swift growth of the Music Defense League, formed to demand Living Music in the theatre.
Every lover of music should join in this rescue of Art from debasement. Sign and mail the coupon.
The robot of recorded or “canned” music had many guises, all somehow destroying the best things in society. Here the robot makes a lunge in its attempt to steer “musical culture” away from a decidedly more pure course:
Another ad claimed that musicians were being put out of work by Hollywood because recorded sound required just a few hundred musicians in recording studios. The ad even uses scare quotes around the word “music,” implying that recorded sound couldn’t even be considered as such:
300 musicians in Hollywood supply all the “music” offered in thousands of theatres. Can such a tiny reservoir of talent nurture artistic progress?
Joseph N. Weber, the president of the American Federation of Musicians, made it clear in the March, 1931 issue of Modern Mechanix magazine that the very soul of art was at stake in this battle against the machines:
The time is coming fast when the only living thing around a motion picture house will be the person who sells you your ticket. Everything else will be mechanical. Canned drama, canned music, canned vaudeville. We think the public will tire of mechanical music and will want the real thing. We are not against scientific development of any kind, but it must not come at the expense of art. We are not opposing industrial progress. We are not even opposing mechanical music except where it is used as a profiteering instrument for artistic debasement.
That debasement came in the form of the evil robot grinding up instruments in a meat grinder, like in this ad from the November 3, 1930 Syracuse Herald.
The robot was even shown as a new nurse ineffectively soothing a baby, which represented the audience of the future.
You best hide your daughters, because this ad from the August 24, 1931 Centralia Daily Chronicle in Centralia, Washington shows an “unwelcome suitor” who has been “wooing the muse for many dreary months without winning her favor.”
The robot was often shown as greedy in the ads, caring nothing of people but only of profit, like in this ad from the October 1, 1930 Portsmouth Herald (Portsmouth, New Hampshire).
Fundamentally, the ads were an effort to make people believe what made music so special was the musician’s soul that was somehow only reflected in a live performance. This ad from the August 17, 1930 Oelwein Daily Register (Oewlwein, Iowa) got to the heart of it — robots have no soul.
January 17, 2012
I recently came across a short, silent film from 1922 called Eve’s Wireless. Distributed by the British Pathe company, the film supposedly shows two women using a wireless phone. Apparently this video has been making the rounds for the past few years. Could it be an early demonstration of some futuristic technology? I hate to be the Internet’s wet blanket, but no. It’s not a mobile phone.
Rather than an early mobile phone, think of the box they’re holding as an early Walkman; because the two women on the street don’t have a telephone, but rather a crystal radio. The confusion comes from the fact that the term “wireless telephone” was widely used in 1922 for what we simply call “radio” today.
The film opens with two women walking down the street with an umbrella and a radio in a box. An inter-title slate (the words that would appear in a silent movie to help aid in narrative development and were sometimes known as “letter cards”) explains that “It’s Eve’s portable wireless ‘phone — and won’t hubby have a time when he has to carry one!”
In the next shot the women approach a fire hydrant and attach a ground wire from the radio to the hydrant. Crystal radios don’t need a power source (like a battery) because they derive their power from a long antenna, which Eve has strung up through an umbrella.
After they get the umbrella up, one of the women puts a small speaker up to her ear. The film then cuts to a shot of a woman speaking into a microphone.
She then holds that microphone up to a phonograph, which is presumably playing music.
Since the woman on the street only has a speaker to her ear and no microphone, it’s reasonable to assume that our Jazz Age disc jockey can’t hear her talking to her friend. What’s not entirely clear from the film is whether the woman playing the phonograph is playing it for many people or just the two women on the snowy street. The use of the word “telephone” in 1922 didn’t necessarily mean two devices that could both receive and transmit messages. Sometimes (as possibly was the case with Eve’s Wireless) the telephone was used for a one-way message.
You can watch the entire film for yourself.
The use of an umbrella as an antenna for a crystal radio dates back at least to 1910, as we can see from the image below, which ran in the February 20, 1910 Washington Post. The image is pretty amazing to 21st century eyes, but it’s not until we read the last few lines of the accompanying article that we realize the wireless communication is only traveling in one direction and is little more than a crystal radio, which needs a ground connection.
Wives can call husbands at their offices or on the way to Harlem or the suburbs in the car and say, “Do stop at the butcher’s on the corner and get some liver and bacon!” It’s the girl’s day out. And you know how she is! She never orders a thing ahead….
Advice to Married Men – Don’t you care when your wife says angrily, “Don’t tell me, I know you heard me. I called you all day and your wireless telephone was in perfect condition when you fastened it to your hat this morning when you left the house.”
Affect a look of surprise and reply, “Don’t be angry dear. I forgot to take off my rubbers and wore them all day.”
Indeed, by 1922, the term “wireless telephone” as used in Eve’s Wireless was actually quite old fashioned. The article below from the January 31, 1909 Nevada State Journal also shows an early use of the term for point-to-point radio communication with ships on the Great Lakes.
An article in the May, 1922 issue of Radio Broadcast magazine even mentions the shift in terminology in an article called “The Romance of the Radio Telephone.”:
The story of the radio telephone is a study of extremes. It is the most popular fad at this moment, yet only a short while ago it was the most unpopular invention ever introduced to the public. To-day it is in many good hands for full and sound exploitation; a dozen years ago the wireless telephone, as it was then called, was the prey of unscrupulous stock promoters who used it as a means of prying money away from the gullible public.
Flip through the pages of an early radio magazine like Radio Broadcast published before June of 1922 and you’ll come across countless uses of the term “wireless telephone.” But by the July, 1922 issue almost every article and advertisement in Radio Broadcast had stopped using the term. This was no accident.
The U.S. Commerce Department held a meeting in 1922 to standardize the technical language of radio. At that meeting the Committee on Nomenclature of the Radio Telephone Conference defined terms like “interference” and “antenna.” The Committee also recommended the adoption of the word “radio” rather than “wireless.”
The June, 1922 issue of Radio Broadcast magazine devoted a page to explaining the committee’s recommendations with the headline, “What to Call Them.” The first recommendation on the list was about the use of the word “radio”:
In place of the word “Wireless” and names derived from it, use the prefix “Radio”; Radio Telegraphy, Radio Telephony
In 1922, the language of radio was in transition because of radical technological improvements made by men like Lee de Forest and Edwin Howard Armstrong over the previous twenty years. The concept of broadcasting (transmitting from one transmitter to many receivers) was technically impractical until the mid-1910s, when Armstrong improved vacuum tube technology, making it possible to amplify a radio signal thousands of times more than was capable before. During World War I, the U.S. government commandeered all wireless transmitters, which kept Armstrong’s technology from being used by anyone but the military. But after the war, the practical uses of radio as a form of mass media started to be realized.
The article below appeared in the June 15, 1919 Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette and describes the advances that were just over the horizon; a futuristic time when the president might address the entire nation simultaneously over the radio. The president “at the ‘phone” as it were:
The terms “wireless telegraphy” and “wireless telephone” were kind of like calling the automobile a “horseless carriage.” Telephones and electric telegraphs in the early 1900s depended on physical lines that would transmit voices and electrical impulses from one person to another. An article by Prof. J. H. Morecroft in the July, 1922 issue of Radio Broadcast magazine explains why the transition was made from using the term “wireless” to the term “radio.”
The new idea of using radiated energy, as contrasted to the previous schemes, gives us the reason for the change of name from wireless telegraphy, up to now a proper name for the art, to that of radio communication, indicating that the power used in carrying the message was not due to conduction through the earth’s surface, or to magnetic induction, but to energy which was actually shaken free from the transmitting station antenna, and left to travel freely in all directions.
In 1922 telephones were hard-wired and your voice was carried over lines that would have to go to an operator. The operator would then patch you in with another physical wire to the desired recipient of your call.
British Pathe even referred to the supposed mobile phone in Eve’s Wireless as the first “flip phone” because the top of the radio receiver opened.
But as you can see from the photos and advertisement below, this was a popular design for crystal radios in the early 1920s.
Below are photographs from the Library of Congress which date from between 1910 and 1915. The handwritten description on the bottom reads, “Wireless Telephone, Los Angeles.”
You’ll notice that in the picture below it says “McCarthy Wireless ‘phone,” not “iPhone,” as my 21st century brain initially read it:
History often plays linguistic tricks on us. We all look back at earlier eras through the prism of our own biases. The evolution of language — especially when it comes to rapidly changing technologies — can make us think we’re watching or reading about something much more incredible than it is. However, there was a lot of exciting futuristic communications technologies that people were devising at the beginning of the radio age, and we’ll look at a few of those in the weeks to come.
December 23, 2011
When I was a kid I would’ve given just about anything to see a hoverboard under the family Christmas tree. Back to the Future II came out in 1989 (when I was six years old) and the movie promised kids like me a world of hoverboards and ubiquitous product placement by the year 2015. I even occasionally get emails from people who ask if hoverboards are real. These people vaguely remember seeing a short promotional documentary when they were kids about the making of BTTF2, which included a joke about hoverboards from director Robert Zemeckis. With a smirk that was obviously too subtle for the kiddies, Zemeckis claimed that hoverboards were real, but that child safety groups wouldn’t let them be released into stores. I’ve broken many a dear reader’s heart by sending out that link.
Alas, hoverboards still aren’t real (at least not in the way that BTTF2 envisioned them) and I never saw one under our Christmas tree. But the latter half of the 20th century still saw plenty of predictions for the Christmas celebrations of the future — everything from what kind of technologically advanced presents would be under the tree, to how visions of Santa Claus may evolve.
The 1981 book Tomorrow’s Home by Neil Ardley includes a two page spread about the Christmas presents and celebrations of the future. If we ignore the robot arm serving Christmas treats, Ardley pretty accurately describes the rise of user-generated media, explaining the ways in which the household computer will allow people to manipulate their video and musical creations:
Christmas in the future is an exciting occasion. Here the children have been given a home music and video system that links into the home computer. They are eagerly trying it out. The eldest boy is using the video camera to record pictures of the family, which are showing on the computer viewscreen. However, someone else is playing with the computer controls and changing the images for fun. At the same time, another child is working at the music synthesizer, creating some music to go with the crazy pictures.
But what of my parents’ generation, the Baby Boomers? What were they told as children about the Christmases to come? Below we have a sampling of predictions from the 1960s and 70s about what the Christmas festivities of the future would look like. Some of these predictions were made by kids themselves — people who are now in their 50s and 60s.
The November 28, 1967 issue of the Kingston, Jamaica newspaper The Gleaner ran a story by Londoner Carole Williams imagining what Christmas of the year 2000 would look like. It’s interesting that Williams spends the first paragraph acknowledging that the year 2000 could very well be a nightmarish, Orwellian dystopia wherein Santa lies dead in a snowbank:
Christmas in the Big Brother world of George Orwell did not exist at all; Santa Claus was dead. Indeed, he had never lived. Many eminent sociologists are today profoundly pessimistic at a rate of social progress which is carrying mankind swiftly, it seems, towards Big Brother living.
But to take the optimistic view that Christmas 2000 will be just as much a Christian celebration as now leads to interesting speculation. Firstly, Christmas Day 2000 will be the greatest festival ever known simply because of the anniversary. The events of Christmas 1000 will no doubt be recreated with techniques to envisage now, as a centre-piece of global festivity.
Williams continues to describe a jolly world that is connected by a vast network of videophones:
On Christmas Day 2000, greetings will be sent around the world in colour by television, person to person, as simply as a telegram. There will be two TV systems in every home: one for news and entertainment, the other for personal use, linked to telephone networks. Thus Mr Smith in Hong Kong will dial his home in London from his hotel room, say Happy Christmas and watch his children open their presents.
What will be in those bright, bulky packages only Father knows, but he will have had a staggering variety of gifts to choose from. More popular than today, probably, will be travel vouchers — tickets for supersonic weekend tours of, say, Kenya, or Brazil — anywhere where wild animals and vegetation are still free and unchecked. A ticket to Tokyo from London will cost about 100 dollars in the new world currency. 100 dollars will represent perhaps one week’s pay for a medium-grade computer operator.
Very young children will find midget colour TV sets, no larger than today’s transistor radios, in their Christmas stockings, and tiny wire recorders. Toys will probably be of the do-it-yourself variety — building go-karts powered by selenium cells, with kits for making simple computer and personal radars (of the type chests will use in Blind Man’s Buff). Teenagers will get jet-bikes, two seater hovercraft and electronic organs, the size of a small desk, that will compose pop tunes as well as play them.
The piece also explains that the most glorious Christmas celebration won’t even occur on the earth. Remember that this was 1967, two years before humans would set foot on the moon.
The most extraordinary Christmas in the year 2000 will without a doubt be the one spent by a group of men on the moon — scientists and astronauts of maybe several nations carried there in American and Russian rockets, establishing the possibility of using the moon as a launch-pad for further exploration.
They will be digging for minerals, looking at planets and earth through electronic telescopes so high-powered that they will be able to pick out the village of Bethlehem. Their Christmas dinner will be from tubes and pill bottles, and it is extremely unlikely that any alcohol at all will be allowed — or an after-dinner cigar.
Williams explains that the religious festivities surrounding Christmas will likely be the same as they were in 1967, but the buildings of worship will be different:
Down on earth, religious celebrations will continue as the have done for the previous two thousand years, but in many cities the churches themselves will have changed; their new buildings will be of strange shapes and design, more functional perhaps than inspirational and hundreds of them will be interdenominational, a practising symbol of ecumenicalism.
The Dec 23, 1976 Frederick News (Frederick, MD) looked a little deeper into the future and described Christmas in the year 2176.
Just imagine what Christmas would be like 200 years from now: An electronic Santa Claus would come down the chimney because everyone is bionic and Santa Claus should be, too. Christmas dinner may consist of sea weed and other delicacies from the deep. Mistletoe would only be placed in aristocratic homes because it would be much too expensive for the average family to buy.
There would be no such thing as Christmas shopping, because all the ordering can be done from home by an automatic shopping device.
Children would no longer have to wait so impatiently for the Christmas holiday to officially close schools, because you would only have to unplug the electronic classroom connector each student would have in his home. There would be no worry of what to do with the Christmas tree after the season, because it would have to be replanted and used again the following year.
The Lethbridge Public Library in Canada held a Christmas short story contest in 1977. The winners were published in December 24 edition of The Lethbridge Herald. Little Mike Laycock won first prize in the 9-10 year old category with his story titled, “Christmas in the Future.”
It was the night before Christmas, in the year 2011, and in a castle far away, a man named Claus was scurrying down a gigantic aisle of toys. Now and then he stopped in front of an elf to give him directions.
“Hurrying, hurrying,” he mumbled, “will I ever get some rest?” Finally everything was ready and the elves began to load the sled. Rudolph and all the other reindeer had grown long beards, and were too old to pull the sled anymore. So Santa went out and bought an atomic powered sled. It was a smart idea because in the winter nothing runs like a (John) Deere.
Well, if you could have seen the pile of toys you would have been amazed! There were piles of toys fifteen feet tall! Soon all the toys were loaded. Santa put on his crash helmet, hopped into the sled and brought the cockpit cover down. He flicked a few switches, pressed a few buttons, and he was off. Zooming through the air at sublight speed, he delivered toys to places like China, U.S.S.R., Canada, U.S.A. etc.
He flew over the cities dropping presents. He dropped them because each present had a small guidance system that guided the presents down a chimney. Then parachutes opened and the presents gently touched the ground.
It was snowing heavily and the ground was glittering with beauty. The stars were shining, the moon was full, and there, painted against the sky, was Santa, zooming across the sky in his atomic powered sled.
This drawing by 13-year-old Dennis Snowbarger appeared in the November 28, 1963 Hutchinson News (Hutchinson, Kansas). Dennis won second place in a contest the newspaper put on. It would appear that Dennis’s art was inspired by the TV show The Jetsons, whose original 24 episode run was from late 1962 through early 1963.
The “Junior Edition” of the San Mateo Times (San Mateo, CA) was promoted as being “by children, for everyone.” In the December 17, 1966 edition of the Junior Edition, Bill Neill from Abbott Middle School wrote a short piece which imagined a “modern Santa Claus” in the year 2001. In Bill’s vision of Christmas future, not only does Santa have an atomic-powered sleigh, he also has robot reindeer!
It is the year 2001. It is nearing Christmas. Santa and all his helpers were making toy machine guns, mini jets (used like a bike), life-size dolls that walk, talk and think like any human, electric guitars, and 15-piece drum sets (which are almost out of style).
When the big night arrives, everyone is excited. As Santa takes off, he puts on his sunglasses to protect his eyes from the city lights. Five, four, three, two, one, Blast Off! Santa takes off in his atomic-powered sleigh and his robot reindeer.
Our modern Santa arrives at his first house with a soft landing. After Santa packs up his portable chimney elevator, fire extinguisher and gifts, he slides down the chimney. These motions are repeated several billion times.
Things have changed. The details of how Santa arrives has changed and will continue to change, but his legend will remain.
Original illustration of robot Santa by Will Pierce.
Read more articles about the holidays with our Smithsonian Holiday Guide here