April 4, 2013
Yesterday the most important company of my childhood killed the second most important company of my childhood.
This past October, Disney purchased LucasFilm which included their venerable video game division LucasArts. But recently Disney decided that LucasArts no longer made financial sense for them to keep alive and just yesterday laid off all of the staff at LucasArts. Disney apparently reasoned that when it comes to video and computer games it makes more sense to simply license their stable of franchises (including Star Wars) to other game developers rather than produce games with them in-house.
Though gaming no longer takes up much of my time, it’s still a sad day for people like me who remember spending hours glued to the family computer playing the classic LucasArts games of yesteryear.
From Day of the Tentacle (1993) to Star Wars: Dark Forces (1995) to Full Throttle (1995) to Sam & Max Hit the Road (1995 for Mac) I spent an incredible amount of time parked in front of the family computer playing LucasArts games. Sure, I played games from other developers (sidenote: Age of Empires II is getting a Steam re-release in HD next week!), but a new LucasArts game coming out was always something special in the mid-1990s.
When LucasArts was first starting out as a company in the 1980s, the future of video games included holograms, virtual reality headsets and worldwide networking. Children’s books, magazines and movies all had a different take on what the world of games and computing would look like in the decades to come.
The 1981 children’s book Tomorrow’s Home: World of Tomorrow by Neil Ardley told the story of a child from the future who plays games with his friends remotely through the home computer. It’s raining outside, but despite the fact that weather control is a practical reality, this kid from tomorrow doesn’t live in an area where they practice it. With the rain spoiling the kid’s outdoor fun (remember going outdoors?) he’s pretty jazzed about at least being able to play video games:
Your day in the future continues. It’s not a school day, so you can do whatever you like. However, it’s raining, so you can’t play outside. Although scientists can now control the weather, this is done only in certain places to produce artificial climates that aid farming. Your home is not one of these places.
Even though everyone is busy and you’re stuck at home on your own, you’re still going to have an exciting and interesting day. After breakfast, you rush on to the living room. It has chairs and other furniture in new designs as well as some antiques like a twentieth-century digital clock and a push-button telephone. However, the room is dominated by a large viewscreen linked to the home computer.
The ability to play video games with friends and strangers from all over the world became a mainstream reality within my lifetime (and that of LucasArts) but the games envisioned by Ardley are decidedly more three-dimensional than most electronic games today.
As the caption to the illustration above explains, ”A home computer game of the future has solid images of spaceships that move in midair. These are holographic images produced by laser beams. The game is played with other people who also sit at their home computers and see the same images. Each player controls a ship and tries to destroy the other ships.”
Ardley emphasizes the social nature of future gaming in the book:
You ask the computer to contact several friends, and they begin to appear on the screen. Soon you’re linked into a worldwide group of people, all of whom can talk to and see each other. After chatting for a while, you decide to play some games together. As you can’t agree on what to play, the computer makes up your minds for you. It gives you puzzles to do and devises quizzes, as well as all kinds of electronic games. The computer keeps the scores as you play against one another, and then it gives you games in which you all play the computer. You carry on until someone loses interest and tries to cheat for fun. The computer finds out and everyone laughs. Then it’s time to break up the party and have lunch.
After lunch you decide to spend some time on your own at a hobby or craft you particularly enjoy. Making things of all kinds is easy with the computer. You design them on the screen of the terminal in your playroom, and then the computer operates a machine that constructs the objects in materials such as plastics. This system is very good for making your own clothes. You can dress up in all kinds of fantastic garments that you design yourself. To avoid waste, the objects and clothes can be fed back into the machine and the materials recycled or used again.
We may not have holograms, but as Ardley predicted, gaming at home in the 21st century has become an exercise in networking through multiplayer platforms. (And, Ardley throws in an uncanny prediction about 3D printers.) Gamers can play against people they know as well as complete strangers using tools like the internet and the incredibly popular service Xbox Live.
But what about the most popular form of electronic gaming in the early 1980s? Arcades (remember those?) were a major force in the world of gaming in the early 1980s. But what about their [retro] future?
A 1982 issue of Electronic Games magazine looked at the future of gaming into the 21st century and saw what some today might regard as the limitations of arcade games as beneficial. Specifically, the magazine imagined that the arcade console’s dedication to one function (which is to say, playing a single game) would allow the arcade game to maintain supremacy over the more versatile (but less focused) home computer.
From Electronic Games:
Since arcade games have the distinction of being designed for the purpose of executing one, specific program, they should be able to maintain an edge over home computers. The pay-for-play devices also utilize special monitors, that incorporate groundbreaking scanning technology, while home games remain chained to the family TV set.
The arcade games of the next century may not only be activated by voice command, but conceivably even by thought- at least in a sense. Something akin to galvanic skin-monitoring devices attached to the gamer’s arm, perhaps in the form of a bracelet, could measure emotional response and even act as a triggering device.
In terms of futuristic audio, tomorrow’s coin-ops – that is, if there still are such prehistoric items as coins still in use – will have miniature synthesizers to produce more highly defined sounds. There might even be devices to release pertinent smells at appropriate moments – the smell of gunfire for example. Such a machine could even blast the gamer with sound via headphones. Think about that for a second. Can you imagine the ambiance of a silent arcade? Now that would take some getting used to.
Aside from some very cool spots like Ground Kontrol in Portland, Oregon the video arcade is essentially dead in the United States. And as Gen-Xers and Millenials get older, the nostalgia factor becomes less enticing for generations that had little first-hand experience with arcade games. But just as predicting the future is a tough racket, predicting the future of nostalgia can be even tougher.
October 3, 2012
EPCOT Center opened on October 1, 1982 as the single most expensive private construction project the world had ever seen. It was immediately viewed by Disney purists as a shadow of Walt Disney’s utopian dream to build a dynamic city of technology and innovation. EPCOT was originally supposed to be a real city; alive with mass transit systems, a vibrant city center and a healthy dose of residential life. Corporations, as Walt explained in a 1966 film produced just a few months before his death, were to use Epcot as a proving ground for new innovations. One imagines this might include new chemical solvents or food additives aside from the more obvious examples of postwar gadgetry like small appliances and robot maids.
Disney believed that by the mid-1960s urban America was beyond repair and that the answer to our nation’s problems lie in starting from scratch. A new city was to be built with the interests of both massive multinational corporations and pedestrians in mind. But after Disney’s death in late 1966, the vision for “the Florida Project” was scaled down dramatically. Instead, EPCOT — the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow — became a theme park. This theme park was to be a permanent World’s Fair at the end of the World Fair’s golden age.
But if you could get past the fact that it was just a theme park, and not a radical experiment in building a futuristic city from the ground up, Epcot was still pretty neat. It’s a sprawling park divided into two parts: Future World and World Showcase. Future World purports to show off the latest in science and technology and has pavilions dedicated to such topics as energy, the ocean, agriculture, transportation and space. While World Showcase includes pavilions featuring various countries from around the world, including Norway, Mexico, Japan and Germany among others.
I’d argue that Walt Disney World’s Epcot (it’s no longer an acronym) is an important bellwether of America’s comfort with science and technology. Today, a trip to Disney World is a rite of passage for many American families. Epcot, one of the four theme parks that comprise Walt Disney World, is the third most visited theme park in the United States. Only Disneyland in Anaheim and the Magic Kingdom in Orlando (another Walt Disney World park) surpass it in attendance. This place of prominence in the American psyche means that at its best Epcot should function as a kind of ever-changing monument to science — much in the same way that the great American World’s Fairs of the last century did.
My first trip to Epcot was in 1989 at just five years old. I’ve quite literally grown up there, having been numerous times since. My parents and two brothers have made it a habit to dissect the minute changes that take place in the park each year, but as I step back and take a more distanced view of this admittedly artificial environment that I’ve grown up with, I become concerned for what it means to Americans as a reflection of what we value.
With kids competently pushing pixels on their parents’ iPhones before they can even speak, what kind of role does Epcot play in the education of the American family? What does the pathetically static exhibit Innoventions communicate to kids about the future of technology in a theme park that purports to be about the future? Does Epcot offer the latest in technological wonders that it promised when it opened in 1982? What kind of tone does Epcot set for science education in this country? And am I overthinking what is supposed to be an entertaining experience for people?
I credit Epcot with introducing me to retro-futurism — exploring how generations of the past viewed the future. It was in the early 1990s (when I was still a kid) that I started to think of Epcot as retro-futuristic. I hadn’t yet heard such a word, but I knew even then that Epcot was a vision of the future from the past. The monorails and the Dippin’ Dots and the silver rainbow jumpsuits didn’t represent the futuristic world of 50 years hence, it was the Mickey Mouse future as imagined in 1982.
The last time I visited Epcot (in 2010) the Innoventions pavilion in the heart of Epcot showcased Segways as the hot transportation technology of the future. But of course you’re more likely to hear the word “Segway” used as a punchline than see it as a practical mode of transportation these days. When Segways represent the future of transportation a decade into the 21st century, you begin to wonder where the last ten years went. And how Epcot, a place of tremendous nostalgia for me, can become a symbol of the future again.
September 19, 2012
It was 50 years ago this coming Sunday that the Jetson family first jetpacked their way into American homes. The show lasted just one season (24 episodes) after its debut on Sunday September 23, 1962, but today “The Jetsons” stands as the single most important piece of 20th century futurism. More episodes were later produced in the mid-1980s, but it’s that 24-episode first season that helped define the future for so many Americans today.
It’s easy for some people to dismiss “The Jetsons” as just a TV show, and a lowly cartoon at that. But this little show—for better and for worse—has had a profound impact on the way that Americans think and talk about the future. And it’s for this reason that, starting this Friday, I’ll begin to explore the world of “The Jetsons” one episode at a time. Each week I’ll look at a new episode from the original 1962-63 series, beginning with the premiere episode, “Rosey the Robot.”
Five decades after its debut, not a day goes by that someone isn’t using “The Jetsons” as a way to talk about the fantastic technological advancements we’re seeing today. Or conversely, evidence of so many futuristic promises that remain unfulfilled. Just look at a handful of news stories from the past few days:
- In fashion. (“Who better than the Jetsons to be inspired by for an out of space theme?”)
- Johnny Depp talks about the West Memphis Three emerging from prison after nearly two decades. ( ”By the time you came out, it’s ‘The Jetsons.’ It’s a whole ‘nother world.”)
- James Cameron talks about the future of interactive movies. (“There might be a certain amount of interactivity, so when you look around, it creates that image wherever you look,” Cameron says. He concedes it is far off: “You’re talking ‘Jetsons’ here.”)
- The future of cars, as depicted at the Los Angeles Auto Show. (“Considering that 2025 is only 13 years away, you would think that nobody’s going to go ‘Jetsons’ with their presentation, but the LAASDC doesn’t roll like that.”)
- The sound of kitschy futurism in modern music. (“Silencio allows Sadier’s various musical influences to breathe and linger, without being upstaged by the motorik propulsion, and ‘Jetsons’ kitsch, of the Stereolab formula.”)
Thanks to my Google Alerts for words and phrases like Jetsons, Minority Report, utopia, dystopia, Blade Runner, Star Trek, apocalypse and a host of others, I’ve been monitoring the way that we talk about the future for years. And no point of reference has been more popular and varied as a symbol of tomorrowism than “The Jetsons.”
Golden Age of Futurism
“The Jetsons” was the distillation of every Space Age promise Americans could muster. People point to “The Jetsons” as the golden age of American futurism because (technologically, at least) it had everything our hearts could desire: jetpacks, flying cars, robot maids, moving sidewalks. But the creators of “The Jetsons” weren’t the first to dream up these futuristic inventions. Virtually nothing presented in the show was a new idea in 1962, but what “The Jetsons” did do successfully was condense and package those inventions into entertaining 25-minute blocks for impressionable, media-hungry kids to consume.
And though it was “just a cartoon” with all the sight gags and parody you’d expect, it was based on very real expectations for the future. As author Danny Graydon notes in The Jetsons: The Official Cartoon Guide, the artists drew inspiration from futurist books of the time, including the 1962 book 1975: And the Changes to Come, by Arnold B. Barach (who envisioned such breakthroughs as ultrasonic dishwashers and instant language translators). The designers also drew heavily from the Googie aesthetic of southern California (where the Hanna-Barbera studios were located)—a style that perhaps best represented postwar consumer culture promises of freedom and modernity.
The years leading up to “The Jetsons” premiere in September 1962 were a mix of techo-utopianism and Cold War fears. The launch of Sputnik by the Soviets in 1957 created great anxiety in an American public that already had been whipped up into a frenzy about the Communist threat. In February 1962 John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth, but less than a year earlier the Bay of Pigs fiasco raised tensions between the superpowers to a dangerous level. Americans seemed equally optimistic and terrified for the future.
I spoke over the phone with Danny Graydon, the London-based author of the official guide to “The Jetsons.” Graydon explained why he believed the show resonated with so many Americans in 1962: “It coincided with this period of American history when there was a renewed hope — the beginning of the ’60s, sort of pre-Vietnam [protests], when Kennedy was in power. So there was something very attractive about the nuclear family with good honest values thriving well into the future. I think that chimed with the zeitgeist of the American culture of the time.”
Where’s My Jetpack?
As Graydon points out, “The Jetsons” was a projection of the model American family into the future. The world of ”The Jetsons” showed people with very few concerns about disrupting the status quo politically or socially, but instead showed a technologically advanced culture where the largest concern of the middle class was getting “push-button finger.”
It’s important to remember that today’s political, social and business leaders were pretty much watching ”The Jetsons” on repeat during their most impressionable years. People are often shocked to learn that “The Jetsons” lasted just one season during its original run in 1962-63 and wasn’t revived until 1985. Essentially every kid in America (and many internationally) saw the series on constant repeat during Saturday morning cartoons throughout the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s. Everyone (including my own mom) seems to ask me, “How could it have been around for only 24 episodes? Did I really just watch those same episodes over and over again?” Yes, yes you did.
But it’s just a cartoon, right? So what if today’s political and social elite saw ”The Jetsons” a lot? Thanks in large part to the Jetsons, there’s a sense of betrayal that is pervasive in American culture today about the future that never arrived. We’re all familiar with the rallying cries of the angry retrofuturist: Where’s my jetpack!?! Where’s my flying car!?! Where’s my robot maid?!? “The Jetsons” and everything they represented were seen by so many not as a possible future, but a promise of one.
This nostalgia for the futurism of yesteryear has very real consequences for the way that we talk about ourselves as a nation. So many people today talk about how divided we are as a country and that we no longer dream “like we used to.” But when we look at things like public approval of the Apollo space program in the 1960s, those myths of national unity begin to dissolve. Public approval of funding for the Apollo program peaked at 53 percent (around the first moon landing) but pretty much hovered between 35-45 percent for most of the 1960s. Why is there a misconception today about Americans being more supportive of the space program? Because an enormous generation called Baby Boomers were kids in the 1960s; kids playing astronaut and watching shows like “The Jetsons”; kids who were bombarded with images of a bright, shiny future and for whom the world was much simpler because they saw everything through the eyes of a child.
Why Only One Season?
If ”The Jetsons” is so important and resonated with so many viewers, then why was the show canceled after just one season (though it was revived in the 1980s)? I’ve spoken to a number of different people about this, but I haven’t heard anyone mention what I believe to be the most likely reason that “The Jetsons” wasn’t renewed for a second season: color. Or, more accurately, a lack of color. ”The Jetsons” was produced and broadcast in color, but in 1962 less than 3 percent of American households had a color television set. In fact, it wasn’t until 1972 that 50 percent of American households had a color TV.
The Jetsons’ future is bright; it’s shiny; and it’s in color. But most people watching on Sunday nights obviously didn’t see it like that. The immersive world of “The Jetsons” looks far more flat and unengaging in black and white. And unlike the other network shows it was up against on Sunday nights (which was in most markets “Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color” on NBC and “Car 54 Where Are You?” on CBS) “The Jetsons” suffered disproportionately more from being viewed in black and white.
NBC also had an incumbent advantage. If you’d made “Walt Disney’s Wonderful of Color” appointment viewing for the past year (Disney jumped ship from ABC to NBC in 1961 where they not only began broadcasting in color, but added “color” to the name) it’s unlikely you’d switch your family over to an unknown cartoon entity. “The Jetsons” was the first show ever broadcast in color on ABC, but it was still up to individual affiliates as to whether the show would be broadcast in color. According to the September 23, 1962 New York Times only people with access to ABC’s owned-and-operated stations in New York, Chicago, Detroit, San Francisco and Los Angeles were guaranteed to see the show broadcast in color—provided you owned a color set.
I’ve takens some screenshots from the DVD release of the first season to show just how dramatic a difference color can make with a show like this.
There’s also this promo from 1962, which gives us a taste of what “The Jetsons” looked like devoid of color. It’s bizarre for those of us who grew up on “The Jetsons” to see their fantastical world reduced to black and white:
There are a lot of “what-ifs” in “The Jetsons” universe that may have had substantial bearing on politicians, policymakers and the average American today. If we accept that media has an influence on the way that we view culture, and our own place in the future—as “The Jetsons” seems to ask us to do—we have to ask ourselves how our expectations might have changed with subtle tweaks to the Jetson story. What if George took a flying bus or monorail instead of a flying car? What if Jane Jetson worked outside of the home? What if the show had a single African-American character? These questions are impossible to answer, of course, but they’re important to recall as we examine this show that so dramatically shaped our understanding of tomorrow.
1985 and Beyond
Obviously the 1985-87 reboot of “The Jetsons” TV show played an important role in carrying the futuristic toon torch, but it’s in many ways an entirely different animal. The animation simply has a different feel and the storylines are arguably weaker, though I certainly remember watching them along with the original reruns when I was a kid in the 1980s. There were also movies produced—1990′s The Jetsons was released theatrically and the made-for-TV movie crossover The Jetsons Meet the Flintstones first aired in 1987. But for our purposes, we’ll just be exploring the first season and its immediate influence during the American Space Age. With talk of a live-action Jetsons movie in the works, it will be interesting to see how a revamped Jetsons might play today.
A few style notes that I’ll get out of the way:
- I spell Rosey the way it appeared in merchandise of the 1960s. Yes, you’ll sometimes see it spelled “Rosie” in video games and comics of the 1980s, but since our focus is the first season I’m sticking with Rosey.
- The show never mentions “within world” what year the Jetson family is living, but for our purposes we’ll assume it to be 2062. Press materials and newspapers of 1962 mention this year, even though the characters only ever say “21st century” during the first season of the show.
- Orbitty is from the 1980s reboot of The Jetsons. Orbitty, a pet alien, is essentially the Jar-Jar Binks of the Jetsons’ world and you probably won’t see me mention him again.
Meet George Jetson
The Jetsons, of course, represents a nostalgia for the future; but perhaps more oddly, it still represents the future to so many people who grew up with it. I’m excited to get started on this project and welcome your comments throughout this process, especially if you have vivid memories of the show from when you were a kid. I know I certainly do — I turned it into my career!
Update: The first paragraph of this post was revised to clarify that more episodes of “The Jetsons” were produced in the 1980s.
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.
December 16, 2011
After President Eisenhower pushed legislation in 1956 that would radically expand the U.S. highway system, artists began to imagine which technologies might shape our highway-rich future. These weren’t your father’s superhighways of tomorrow. These were highways built for self-driving cars; highways stretching from Alaska to Russia; highways running through the bottom of the sea.
The August 3, 1958 edition of Arthur Radebaugh‘s Sunday comic “Closer Than We Think” envisioned highways built by gigantic machines. These machines would roll along the untouched land, clearing a path with a tree crushing mechanism in front, and pour concrete out its rear, leaving a perfect highway in its wake. The text accompanying the comic explained:
Tomorrow’s turnpikes will “flow” out of giant machines like magic ribbons across the countryside. The basic equipment is already in existence; only a few improvements are needed.
The forward section of such a road-builder would be a variant of the new jungle-smashing LeTourneau “tree-crusher” combined with a grader. The middle section would pour concrete in a never-ending flow, with the rear portion leveling the still soft pavement. A line of freighter helicopters would be on hand to feed the behemoth with the material necessary to keep it moving across any type of country.
Where did old Art get such a silly idea? Radebaugh was likely inspired by an episode of Disneyland* which aired just a few months earlier. Magic Highway, U.S.A. was originally broadcast on ABC on May 14, 1958 and depicted the glorious future of hovercars and automation that exemplify mid-century, techno-utopian futurism. The episode also showed various automatic highway builders, including the one below. The narrator explains that “in one sweep a giant road builder changes ground into a wide finished highway.”
Hosted by Walt Disney, narrated by Marvin Miller (Robby the Robot in Forbidden Planet), and directed by Ward Kimball, Magic Highway, U.S.A. is a perfect artifact of the era, with a heavy emphasis on the family car. Watching the episode today, it amazes me that the episode wasn’t broadcast in color until July 29, 1962. The incredibly lush color palette of the animated sequences are truly what make the episode so stunning and may explain why TV critics gave it terrible reviews when it first aired, describing the future as “hideous if Disney artists have their way.”
*People are often confused when I refer to Disneyland as a TV program. From 1954 until the fall of 1958, ABC aired Walt Disney’s TV program Disneyland, which would change names many times over the years. In the fall of 1958 Disneyland would become Walt Disney Presents, then Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color in the 1960s, The Wonderful World of Disney throughout the 1970s, and maybe half a dozen more iterations throughout the 1980s, 90s and 2000s. The name I remember from my childhood was The Magical World of Disney, which was the title when Michael Eisner was hosting the show from 1988 until 1996.