December 11, 2012
This is the twelfth in a 24-part series looking at every episode of “The Jetsons” TV show from the original 1962-63 season.
The 12th episode of “The Jetsons” originally aired in the U.S. on December 9, 1962 and was titled “Astro’s Top Secret.” Personally, this is my least favorite episode in the entire series. It has odd pacing, is visually uninteresting, and the animation seems abnormally sloppy.
The episode opens with a voiceover introducing us to George and Astro as having a relationship that’s a bit strained at the moment. We’re then shown Mr. Spacely and Mr. Cogswell — two business rivals playing a game of golf together — as Spacely insists that he’s going to put Cogswell out of business. Later, Cogswell sends one of his employees to spy on George who Cogswell believes must be working on the project that will help Spacely Sprockets put Cogswell Cogs out of business. Through a series of misunderstandings, the corporate espionage leads Cogswell to believe that George has developed an anti-gravitational device that allows George’s dog Astro to fly. Cogswell interrogates Astro but can’t seem to figure out what makes the soaring pooch fly. In the end, it’s revealed to both Cogswell and Spacely that Elroy’s flying car toy was the source of Astro’s anti-gravitational feats, and through even more misunderstandings the status quo is simply restored by conclusion of the episode.
As I mentioned, this is one of my least favorite episodes but I think there’s a lot of interesting technology going on with the golf game between Cogswell and Spacely. Their futuristic golf game game features flying golf carts, expandable club heads, hovering greens and robotic tees.
As is often the case with “The Jetsons” the forward-thinking technology has roots in the futurism of the day. In the case of Mr. Spacely’s hovering golf cart, we find similar technology in the newspapers of the early 1960s. The March 5, 1961 edition of Arthur Radebaugh‘s Sunday comic strip “Closer Than We Think” looked at the future of golf, augmented by push-button technology:
To save steps for the par-shooter of the future, a Tokyo firm has designed a remote-control golf cart, based on the same principles that permit a television viewer to change channels without leaving his chair. Once our golfer arrived at the edge of a green or bad rough, he would walk to the ball, take his shot, and then summon his cart by voice or button as he moved along toward the nineteenth hole.
Still another advance, lacking in the Japanese concept, lies ahead. It’s the “ground effect machine” principle, through which the cart could float on a cushion of air instead of riding on the turf. No more fairway flattening in the future!
Golf in the U.S. is often associated with prosperity and the kind of leisure activity that stodgy old men love. So it’s fitting that two titans of business would be playing it well into the 21st century. Later in the 1960s golf would be used in promotional films to demonstrate that in the future even the common man would be able to zip off to distant resorts and play golf whenever he pleased. Unfortunately for George, only his boss Mr. Spacely would enjoy “a good walk spoiled” whenever he pleased.
December 4, 2012
This is the eleventh in a 24-part series looking at every episode of “The Jetsons” TV show from the original 1962-63 season.
The 11th episode of The Jetsons opens with a police officer pulling over Montague Jetson — George’s grandfather and a man whose abundant energy and enthusiasm for life dominate the episode. The cop observes that Grandpa Jetson is, “110… and still acting like a man of 75.” With that, we learn that the promises of the 20th century were true: not only will people of the future live longer, they’ll be much happier and healthier. Titled, “A Visit From Grandpa,” the episode first aired on December 2, 1962 and looked at everything from future fashions (when Judy and Jane come home with an assortment of new hats) to sports of the future (when Grandpa Jetson plays with and bests every member of the Jetson family at their favorite sport).
In “The Jetsons” everything naturally has a Space Age twist — even the fashion. When Judy and Jane come home from shopping they model their new hats for George which include names like “Moonscape,” the “Cosmonautris” and the “Nuclear Look.” All of these looks appeal to the googie-tastic flare that we’ve come to associate with mid-century futurism and more often than not, what people of the 21st century call the “Jetsons look.” But these far out styles have roots that extend beyond the 1939 New York World’s Fair. The dress at right was featured in the February 1, 1939 issue of Vogue magazine and was designed by Henry Dreyfuss for the woman of the year 2000.
Retailers of the 1930s would sometimes put on futuristic fashion shows but the trend really took off in the 1950s and 1960s, with designers who were inspired by the techno-utopian ideas of the era. In 1957, Marshall Field’s in Chicago had a two week exposition of American living in the year 2000. The store showcased the futuristic works of 17 apparel and accessory designers, giving customers a peek at the supposed futuristic fashions to come. From the May 15, 1957, issue of the Chicago Daily Tribune:
Most of the designers represented agreed that the fashionable woman of the future will be wired for sound, with sending and receiving equipment built into their costume. Fabrics will be treated to be warm in winter and cool in summer. Some will screen the sun to allow tanning without burning while others, used in bathing suits, will make them unsinkable.
The article went on to explain that fashion of the future would require plenty of pockets for all the high-tech gadgets and meal pills we’d all be using.
A futuristic lounging robe by Dorian, for example is equipped with 40 pockets containing food pills, electrical outlets for instant permanents, and communications systems with robot controls to keep the housewife in touch with the laundry, the nursery, and the kitchen.
And what about the Space Age wedding? We’ve looked at late-1950s predictions for honeymoons on the moon. According to fashion designer Zagri, the wedding itself will take place on Venus:
The chic place for weddings of the future will be the planet Venus, according to Chicago designer Zagri. Her design for a bridal costume is a convertible two-piece ensemble of luxurious gold lame. The voluminous skirt and train comes off to reveal a coverall suitable for a space ship honeymoon. A huge plastic bubble equipped with radar is the bride’s headdress.
The rocking chair is a symbol of a slower life — the natural desire to take it easy as one becomes older and less agile. Grandpa’s futuristic rocking chair (or at least the one that George and Elroy are working on for him) is another example of Jetsons technology that doesn’t operate quite as it was intended. Silly jokes like George wobbling around on an out-of-control rocking chair are certainly par for the course during any cartoon, but in the Jetson household they also speak to a kind of conservatism that runs throughout the series. Using sight gags, the show will often argue that messing with symbols of tradition (like the rocking chair) will have unpleasant consequences. And tradition aside, there’s no way Grandpa Jetson needs a rocking chair, since in the future even a man of 110 years old will be as happy and healthy as a person half his age.
Predictions of increased longevity became extremely popular mid-century, but they date back much further. The January 2, 1926 Charleston Gazette included a short article about predictions for a future when humans might live to see 200 years old:
A serious scientist has glad news for all those that want to stick to this world, in spite of its troubles and worries. In the year 2000, says he, the average life will be 100 years, and many will live to be 200 years old.
That will interest birth control advocates, for something in the way of birth control would seem to be necessary in 2000 A.D.
A man and woman 200 years old might easily have thousands of descendants. Providence, however, doesn’t let the trees grow into the heavens.
A quarter of a century later the Associated Press would look at life expectancy and health into the year 2000, with a short piece by the AP’s medical editor in 1950:
Medicine by the year 2000 will have advanced the length of life of women to an expectation of nearly 80 and of men to over 75.
The record will be better if the cause and cure of cancer is discovered. Cancer is a form of growth. It is part of metabolism. Concerning growth, nothing is now known. Metabolism is not such a complete mystery, but is complex. Most of the chronic diseases, except infections caused by germs and viruses, are based on metabolism gone wrong.
Growth, metabolism and cancer studies will make the first break into clearing another mystery, the causes of aging. After that is known it will be possible to control aging so that elderly persons will be healthy to nearly the end of their lives.
Hope is very good for restricting cancer’s attack before 50 more years, but not for eradicating it. For it now appears that cancer is not a single disease, but takes many forms.
The prevention of baldness depends on studies of growth, aging and death more than on any other now known factor.
Public health will improve, especially the knowledge of how air carries infections, like the common cold, from person to person. Before 2000, the air probably will be made as safe from disease-spreading as water and food were during the first half of this century.
Surgery, which has been the fastest-moving side of medical science, will by 2000, be able to repair bodies damaged by disease, by accidents or by heredity so that the “lame and the halt” will nearly disappear. Polio probably will be stopped well before 2000.
Since the episode revolves around the fact that the elderly will be able to stay active well into old age, we see Grandpa Jetson participate in physical activity with every member of the family. Grandpa shows that he can keep up with Judy’s dance moves, he can both pitch and catch against Elroy in spaceball (which bares a striking resemblance to baseball), he can best George in bowling, he can sky-ski with Jane, and he can play catch with Astro.
The Jetsons, as we’ve seen, most often want to present viewers with something relatable to a mid-century audience. With this in mind we understand why our family of the year 2062 all participate in sports that are familiar to the people of 1962 rather than completely fabricating a new sport. Just add “space” “sky” or “nuclear” to anything and voila: it’s been futured. Or more appropriately from the vantage point of the 21st century: it’s been Jetsoned.
October 12, 2012
The February 26, 1977 edition of the Herald-Star in Steubenville, Ohio published dozens of predictions for the year 2000 made by the people of Steubenville, a working class town in eastern Ohio (and the birthplace of Dean Martin). Some of these letters came from local middle school kids 10-12 years old and they provide a fascinating snapshot of the era; unique in their ability to reflect the pessimism stirred by a down economy and shaken faith in government in a post-Watergate, post-Vietnam War era, while also laying bare the irrational optimism of youth.
Many of the predictions are clearly influenced by the energy crisis, with many kids predicting there will be tough times ahead without access to cheap energy. However, there’s also optimism about space exploration and more than one reference to women as astronauts. Even though Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space in 1963, the first American woman (Sally Ride, who died this past summer) wouldn’t become an astronaut until 1983 — a full six years after these kids were making their predictions.
Interestingly, for being middle schoolers these kids sure seem concerned about high taxes. All of these kids are now between 45 and 48 years old and if you happen to be one of them, I’d love to hear from you. How do you feel reading your predictions from the vantage point of “the future”? How do you feel about the years to come?
Some of the letters from the February 26, 1977 Herald-Star appear below:
New Great Depression
I think that by the year 2000 we will be in a great depression. People are saying that we are running out of fuel. People will be using machines to do everything. And machines run on fuel. If we run out of fuel we won’t be able to run the machines and people will be out of jobs. So we can save fuel. Everybody should try to save by turning their heat to 68 degrees.
Debbie Six, 12 (Harding School)
We’ll Find More Oil
My view of the future is that we will find more gas and oil. No one will be poor and we all will live in peace! Also in the future, I think they will find some mechanical device that could make kitchens, dining rooms and etc. You’d just push a button and WHAM!! An instant living room or WHAM!! an instant milkshake. And that’s my view of the future!
Emma Conforti, Age 11 (Harding School)
Robot Maids, Robot Teachers
In the year 2000, we will have all round buildings. We will have a robot teacher, a robot maid, and all workers will be robots, too. We will have a pocket computer that has everything you can name. We will even be able to push a button to get anything you want!
Marty Bohen, Age 10 (Harding School)
Electric Cars and Ladies on the Moon
The year 2000 might have everybody walking instead of riding in their cars because there might be a gas shortage by then, and the cars give out a lot of pollution. Or there might even be electric cars instead of gas cars. The year 2000 may send ladies to the moon to explore and look and see if there are people living on the moon. And when you work you will push buttons and robots will come out and do the work for you. And there will be lower prices and taxes, I hope.
Tim Villies, 10 (Harding School)
Cures For Every Sickness
In 2000 I will marry a doctor and maybe have kids. I would like my husband to be a doctor because he would be helping people and would still want to be close to my family. As for a job for me I would help the crippled boys and girls. I would still like to have my same friends. And the most important thing for there to be is no wars and killings. I hope they could find cures for every sickness. And everybody will care for each other.
Monica Katsaros, Age 10 (Harding School)
The Last Five Years Haven’t Been So Good
I think 2000 will be a good year. I hope so because the last five years haven’t been so good with people dying and getting shot and murdered. I will be a grown man by then and will be married. I’ll probably have kids. I hope it will be a good America.
Michael Beal, Age 10 (Harding School)
In the year 2000, I think there won’t be any crimes of any kind. Shorter school days and lower taxes. I hope there will be lower taxes and no crimes because I’ll be 33 years old and I am sick of crimes and high taxes. I hope woman can be astronauts. I also hope there won’t be any pollution. And I also hope there will be town in space, where people live in space capsules.
Lora Ziarko, Age 10 (Harding School)
Cars That Float On Air
I think the future will be better than it is now. The pollution problem will be solved and there will be cars that float on air. I will be 34 in the year 2000. I will have a good job designing modern houses with push-button controls for everything to make it easier on everyone.
You could push a button and a bed would unfold from the wall. Everything would run on solar energy so you wouldn’t have to worry about the fuel shortage. You wouldn’t have to go to school. It would be on TV and living would be much easier for everyone.
John Vecchione, Age 11 (Harding School)
Young People Unemployed
I think by the year 2000 we will be riding bikes or driving solar-energized cars. By then more younger people will be unemployed. The price of gas will go up and so will the price of coal, silver, gold and oil.
Pietro Sincropi, 10 (Harding School)
Living on Mars
I think it is going to be an all-new world. People are going to be able to live on the moon and on Mars. Man is going to have computers to do the work for him. It is going to be a computer run world.
Tracy McCoy, Age 12 (Harding School)
Most of the World Will Be The United States of America
In the year 2000 I will be 34 years old. And actually I don’t think kids will have to go to school, because I believe that families will have computers to educate students. That’s all for education. I also believe that most of the world will all be the United States of America. I also believe that business and industry will be up 75 per cent. And as for culture, the Model T will be an old artifact. And, if you have children or grandchildren, they’ll all be more interested in culture than ever.
Mike Metzger, Age 10 3/4 (Harding School)
I Hope By Then Things Will Get Better
I think that everything by the year 2000 will be different. I hope the violence will all be stopped. I hope that the computers don’t take over people’s jobs. I hope by then things will get better.
Mary Gallo, Age 12 (Harding School)
February 3, 2012
Sports writer Michael MacCambridge wrote, “The Super Bowl contains multitudes; it has always exemplified America at its best, America at its worst, and more than anything else, America at its most.”
So it’s no surprise that the largest televised spectacle in the world has a history of using jetpacks. It doesn’t get much more spectacular than strapping a rocket to your back and taking flight in a sports stadium holding 60,000 people.
In 1967 the Green Bay Packers and the Kansas City Chiefs faced off in the very first Super Bowl. A crowd of over 60,000 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum — and 50 million watching at home — marveled at the sight of two men from Bell Aerosystems flying like Space Age supermen with their rocket belts (the more appropriate term for the technology, though I prefer “jetpack”). Those two men were more than likely a young William P. Suitor (who would go on to be featured in everything from James Bond movies to TV beer ads) and Peter Kedzierski (who acquired the nickname “Bird Man” at the 1963 Paris Air Show).
I emailed Mac Montandon, the author of Jetpack Dreams and an editor at FastCompany.com, and asked his take on the use of jetpacks at the first Super Bowl:
“Super Bowl I was an historic and memorable event for many reasons, not the least of which being that this was the first Super Bowl, as you may have gathered from that Roman numeral. Also Bart Starr quarterbacked the Packers and was named the game’s MVP. But the thing that most people remember about the first Super Bowl was that a jetpack flew during the halftime show–and there’s nothing quite as spectacular as a live jetpack demo. Okay, that’s not really what most people remember. But I think it should be. The Super Bowl, after all, happens every year. How many times have you seen a jetpack fly?”
The Super Bowl XIX pregame show on January 20, 1985 also featured a jetpack pilot. Fresh from his flight at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, Bill Suitor’s rocketbelt still had the “USA” emblazoned across the back. Suitor (the the most famous of the Bell Aerosystems test pilots) salutes the crowd and gives a thumbs up before blasting off for a short trip around the field. Frankly, it feels less spectacular to watch Suitor in 1985 than it does to see the footage from 1967. Maybe it’s because there was sadly no real technological progress made on the jetpack in those 20 years.
For the hardcore jetpack enthusiast, Bill Suitor wrote a book in 2009 titled, The Rocketbelt Pilot’s Manual.
Who knows when we’ll next see a jetpack at the Super Bowl. With any luck, Madonna will strap one on for her halftime show on Sunday. But I’m not holding my breath.
January 11, 2012
I recently heard someone assert that the 1962/63 TV cartoon show “The Jetsons” invented the concept of the moving sidewalk. While the Jetsons family certainly did a great deal to plant the idea of the moving walkway into the public consciousness, the concept is much older than 1962.
Today, moving sidewalks are largely relegated to airports and amusement parks, but there were big plans for the technology in the 19th and 20th centuries. In 1871 inventor Alfred Speer patented a system of moving sidewalks that he thought would revolutionize pedestrian travel in New York City. Sometimes called the “movable pavement,” his system would transport pedestrians along a series of three belts running parallel to each other, each successively faster than the next. When Mr. Speer explained his vision to Frank Leslie’s Weekly in 1874 it even included a few enclosed “parlor cars” every 100 feet or so — some cars with drawing rooms for ladies, and others for men to smoke in.
An 1890 issue of Scientific American explained Speer’s system:
These belts were to be made up of a series of small platform railway cars strung together. The first line of belts was to run at a slow velocity, say 3 miles per hour, and upon this slow belt of moving pavement, passengers were expected to step without difficulty. The next adjoining belt was intended to have a velocity of 6 miles per hour, but its speed, in reference to the first belt, would be only 3 miles per hour. Each separate line of belt was thus to have a different speed from the adjacent one; and thus the passenger might, by stepping from one platform to another, increase or diminish his rate of transit at will. Seats were to be placed at convenient points on the traveling platforms.
Though a very forward-thinking French engineer by the name of Eugene Henard submitted plans to include a moving platform system for the 1889 Paris Fair, those plans fell through and the first electric moving sidewalk was built for the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The moving sidewalk featured benches for passengers and cost a nickel, but was undependable and prone to breaking down. As the Western Electrician noted in the lead up to the Exposition, there was a contract for 4,500 feet of movable sidewalk designed primarily to carry those passengers arriving by steamboats. When it was operating, people could get off the boats and travel on the moving sidewalk 2,500 feet down the pier, delivered to the shore and the Exposition entrance.
The 1900 Paris Exposition had its own moving walkway, which was quite impressive. Thomas Edison sent one of his producers, James Henry White, to the Exposition and Mr. White shot at least 16 movies while at the Exposition. He had brought along a new panning-head tripod that gave his films a newfound sense of freedom and flow. Watching the film, you can see children jumping into frame and even a man doffing his cap to the camera, possibly aware that he was being captured by an exciting new technology while a fun novelty of the future chugs along under his feet.
The New York Observer reported on the 1900 Paris Exposition in a series of letters from a man who simply went by the name Augustus. The October 18, 1900 issue of the newspaper included this correspondence describing the new mode of travel:
From this part of the fair it is possible to proceed to a distant exhibition which is placed in what is called the Champs de-Mars, without going out of the gates, by means of a travelling sidewalk or a train of electric cars. Thousands avail themselves of these means of transportation. The former is a novelty. It consists of three elevated platforms, the first being stationary, the second moving at a moderate rate of speed, and the third at the rate of about six miles an hour. The moving sidewalks have upright posts with knobbed tops by which one can steady himself in passing to or from the platforms. There are occasional seats on these platforms, and the circuit of the Exposition can be made with rapidity and ease by this contrivance. It also affords a good deal of fun, for most of the visitors are unfamiliar with this mode of transit, and are awkward in its use. The platform runs constantly in one direction, and the electric cars in the opposite.
The hand-colored photographs below are from the Brooklyn Museum and show the moving sidewalk at the Paris Expo in 1900.
Likely inspired by the 1900 Paris Expo, this moving sidewalk of the year 2000 was one in a series of future-themed cards released in 1900 by the German chocolate company Hildebrands.
The moving sidewalk again came into vogue in the 1920s when the city of the future was imagined as something sleek and automated. The February 8, 1925 issue of the Texas newspaper, the San Antonio Light, featured predictions about the year 1975 from the great prognosticator Hugo Gernsback. The article included a prediction for the moving sidewalk of fifty years hence:
Below the elevated railway we have continuous moving platforms. There will be three such moving platforms alongside of each other. The first platform will move only a few miles per hour, the second at eight or ten miles per hour, and the third at twelve or fifteen miles per hour.
You step upon the slowest moving one from terra firma and move to the faster ones and take your seat. Then arriving at your station, you can either take the lift to the top platform or else you can get off upon the “elevated level” and take the fast train there. which stops only every thirty or forty blocks. Or, if you do not wish this, you can descend by the same elevator down to the local subway.
The 1930s and 40s largely saw the world much more pre-occupied with the Great Depression and World War II respectively, but postwar American companies really pushed the idea of moving sidewalks into high gear. Goodyear was at the front of that effort and in the early 1950s drew up different plans for the use of moving sidewalks in stadium parking lots and a radically re-imagined New York subway system.
The May, 1951 issue of Popular Science explained to readers that the moving sidewalk was like an “escalator running flat.” That article used the same Goodyear publicity illustrations that were later used in the 1956 book 1999: Our Hopeful Future by Victor Cohn. Cohn describes Goodyear’s vision of a pedestrian-friendly moving sidewalk system:
For example, why not conveyor belts, huge moving sidewalks, to zip pedestrians along from place to place? Such conveyor-belt “speedwalks,” not supersonic but steady moving (in contrast to busses or taxicabs) may be just the device to come to our rescue.
Today, Goodyear makes the moving sidewalks you can find at the Disney theme parks. These moving sidewalks will be familiar to anyone who has been on Space Mountain at the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World or a great number of dark rides at Disneyland, where they allow people to get on and off rides with ease. This practical use of a moving sidewalk in a theme park is not unlike the picture above of Goodyear’s New York subway system of the future.
Goodyear’s moving sidewalks were also featured in the June 7, 1959 edition of Arthur Radebaugh‘s Sunday comic Closer Than We Think. The comic explains that the moving sidewalk — which Goodyear imagined would be used to transport sports fans from a stadium to the parking lot — was indeed built at the Houston Coliseum:
The large malls planned for tomorrow’s metropolitan centers will not be tied up with vehicular traffic. Shoppers and sight-seers will be transported by mobile sidewalks that closely resemble giant conveyer belts. Parcels to be delivered will be carried by overhead rail to trucks on the area’s perimeter.
Passenger-carrying belts are already in use. Goodyear has built one connecting nearby rail terminals in Jersey City, N.J. Another has been set up by Goodrich and it runs from the entrance of the Houston Coliseum to the parking lot.
One of the longest such devices is the two-mile installation at the site of Trinity Dam in California. It was designed to facilitate the movement of material during construction of the dam.
Well, that about takes us to 1962 and as you can well see, the Jetsons had almost 100 years of futuristic moving sidewalks to draw from.