A Daily History of Holes, Dots, Lines, Science, History, Math, the Unintentional Absurd & Nothing |1.6 million words, 7500 images, 4 million hits| Press & appearances in The Times, Le Figaro, MENSA, The Economist, The Guardian, Discovery News, Slate, Le Monde, Sci American Blogs, Le Point, and many other places... 4,200+ total posts
This seems as though it was an interesting idea back in 1934--but no doubt there were others thinking that instead of dropping mail on a city by a rocket that another payload could be substituted...better yet, just use the entire rocket for this delivery-of-something-else item and dispense with the parachute altogether. In any event, the idea never caught on (though megastars of rocket flight Hermann Oberth and Eugene Sanger discussed its possibilities in a positive light), and it seems as though there was only one instance of USPS rocket mail delivery--a converted nuclear-warheadless SSM-N-8 cruise missile was used to do so in 1959, and that seems about it.
Seating 100 and going 100 mph this "Torpedo Car" seems more steam-punk torpedo than car, and nearly as dangerous. The vehicle looks tremendously heavy, which makes the pylons and all other supports also need (and seem) to be very heavy duty. Also, a 10 or 20 ton bullet going 100 mph in a city and suspended 10' off the ground seems as though there would be a lot of collateral damage to this invention.
[Source: Popular Mechanics, February 1925, page 265.]
When I saw the cover for this pamphlet I thought that the "Human Engineering Laboratory" was going to be some sort of Frederick Winslow Taylor thing. It is a little late for that wave of interest (printed in 1939) and then when I saw the imprint (Stevens Institute of Technology) I realized it was going to be something different. And it was--instead of Fordian/Randian/Taylorist functioing of workers this pamphlet turned out to be about vocational aptitude tests. I guess if one thought too hard about this it could fit into the category of the pre-history of robotics in the robots' history of themselves, the test trying to assess where people will best fit into the giant machinery of society.
In the outline of services the pamphlet notes that each test-taker will be charged a $20 fee for the service, plus $10 if the test was taken a second or third time. That was a stiff fee--according to the inflation calculator at the Bureau of Labor Statistics that 20 bucks has the buying power of $321 today--but I guess it may have been worth it to take a peek into the future to see what best thing you might be suited for. Still, that was a lot of money at the end of the Depression to pay for someone to fit you into a grid.
I'm posting this mostly because of the great title.
It also reminds me of another title, though this one is Outsider-y:
Another interesting bit as a result of scurrying around a 1934 volume of Popular Mechanics looking for something else: a propeller-less aircraft moving through the air on bee-wing-like pulsating wings. The image of the aircraft certainly makes it appear fairly large for 1934, but it turns out to be 38' long--we are told in the first sentence that it weighs only 2200 pounds and is powered by a ten-horsepower motor--I have no idea how this would work. This is the idea developed by Raymund Nimfuhr, "an Austrian scientist" about whom I can find nothing except for references to this article. The aircraft was supposed to have the capacity of forward and backward flight, in addition to being able to remain almost motionless while hovering.
Normally I wouldn't qualify a dirigible as "flying", except here it works because this imagined dirigible can also function as a submarine, which is something I am pretty sure I've not seen before. It is a wonderful and wild idea, especially when coupled wit the other imagery, showing the same dirigible landing softly in a city street using its eight "feathery" propellers. As high-in-flight as this may seem, and as lovely as the idea of having that same aircraft be submersible, there is also the fabulous and monstrous flying wing (center), which may may grab top billing in this image of the future of air travel.
[Source: Popular Mechanics, volume 36, July, 1921.]
It is a little difficult to get a realistic idea of how big this plane is--beyond it being really big--but by using the height of people and the stairs used to gain access to the aircraft it seems as though the height from the street/wharf to the bottom of the massive wing is at least 80'. Since this is a seaplane and there is still plane-enough below the wharf level, level, so it may well be that from the top of the wing to the water may be closer to 100'. That's a tall plane. The wingspan is more difficult to guess, but it seems as though there's room enough for a loose line of 75 people to fit under it comfortably with ample personal space, meaning that this section of the wing--probably 40% of the entire wingspan--may be on the order of 200', meaning the overall width would be in the neighborhood of 500'.
According to the technically-light description of the aircraft (found in Popular Mechanics, April 1934) this beast was meant to carry 1500 people and several hundred tons of cargo on a Transatlantic flight that would go from Southampton to New York "at a speed of 200 miles an Hour" in "less than fifteen hours".
The odd thing about this is that the imaginateers ("visioned by British Aeronautical Engineers") didn't see more powerful engines for their gigantic aircraft that could push the envelope at 350 mph. Why not? If you could give an aircraft an acre or two of thick wings, why not press the imagination a little further and assume that there would be unseen developments in powering the thing?
In any event, the artwork has a certain "Wow!" factor to it, and that someone, somewhere, was coming up with a mostly-big idea.
I think that this may have been one of Punch's responses to Mr. Edison's newly-invented talking phonograph. Given that the machine was now capable of reproducing not only voices but musical sounds as well, perhaps the cartoonist decided to push the idea a step further and introduce the "chrysophone", a device that fit over the face and allowed the user to sing perfectly. So, no need now for recorded music (at least for vocals) when you can produce the music perfectly on your own, regardless of personal ability. It seems a bit "robotic" to me, and I think that in Our Future Robot Overlords' (OFRO) history of robotics that this image could find a place in the archives, mainly because it suggests (even in parody) the adaptability of a human-mechanical biological interface, which in 1878 was pretty early stuff.
There is little doubt that scribes and woodblock cutters and such absorbed the stab of the movable type printing press, and that stationers felt the stab of modernity when the telegraph came into play threatening sales of paper generally used for letter-writing, an art form that they felt would be diminished by the new technology. At about the same time though came the second revolution in mail delivery, which made it cheaper and more regulated in using a more-competent mailing system, which meant an increase in letter writing. Ditto that for the telephone, which again would threaten written communication. Movies too threatened the theater, and on and on. That what comes to mind in viewing these ads unearthed by Matt Novak at Smithsonian.com for the American Federation of Musicians who were protesting the arrived-future in theaters of "robotic" or "canned' music--that is, recorded music that would replace the in-house small orchestras/organists that would play during live shows or movies.
The ad extols the reader to join "in rebuking the proposal that mechanical music is adequate fare for the American intellect" by joining the Music defense League. At this point the musicians do have a case--even though the recorded music is just music recorded, which would be as good as the musicians who made the music, there was a larger issue of playback for the performance, which is where the "canned" part of "canned music" partially comes from. The quality of the speakers and so the so of the recording was not very high at this point, around 1930, so the clarity and richness and color of the music must all have suffered compared to its live performance.
This also speaks to the "emotional" part of robots, as well as their influence on emotional/social aspects of the human experience--in this case, interpreting music (though there is no mention yet of creating or writing the music. But the robots-doing-our-creating-for-us part may be inherent in these ads, and this part of the history of Our Future Robot Overlords goes back a long but skinny and limited way, at least as far as the seemingly never-disappointing Daniel Defoe--that part of this story will have to wait for another day and a different two cups of coffee.
[Source via Matt Novak/Paleofutre http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/musicians-wage-war-against-evil-robots-92702721/]
[Source: Hack the Union, http://www.hacktheunion.org/2013/09/]
[Source: Matt Novak/Paleofutre http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/musicians-wage-war-against-evil-robots-92702721/]
[Source: Matt Novak/Paleofutre Smithsonian.com http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/musicians-wage-war-against-evil-robots-92702721/]
Many more images and history from this campaign are located Novak's Smithsonian.com's "Musicians Wage War Against Evil Robots" at http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/musicians-wage-war-against-evil-robots-92702721/
This was a big gulp of a very colorful possible futureworld in which intergalactic travel has become possible, this image of this model being given an advanced peek prior to the New York World's Fair of 1939. "Intergalactic" is a big deal, because, well, there are galaxy-sized distances involved--even in Star Trek the Next Generation, the Enterprise never in the run of that series leaves the galaxy under its own power, and so the possibility of travel between the galaxies such that there could be a 'rocketport" for it would be a very big deal, indeed. Perhaps that is what was needed at the New York World's Fair of 1939, given the state of things--the long Depression, the Munich Appeasement and the hollow "peace in our time", the Austrian Anschluss, the seizure of the Sudetenland, Kristallnacht, the Spanish Civil War, and the continuation of the Japanese assault on China, all could have spelled out the need for some sort of relief even if that was fictional and in the future. Certainly intergalactic travel would qualify for that, as did a number of other pieces of speculative/scifi entertainment that year: Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers were alive and well, Superman appears for the first time, and Orson Welles scares the wits out of a certain trumpian segment of the population with the Halloween-night performance of The War of the Worlds. Perhaps the time was ripe for the rocketport--especially in such vivid color.
[Source: Popular Mechanics, volume 70, August, 1938]
This gives a new and heavier, colder (?) meaning to the phrase "on the rocks"--a envisionaryiztion or some such thing of air travel in the future, the image fueled or at least paid by Seagram's Canadian Whisky. At the time when this ad appeared (in LIFE magazine, ca. 1945/6?) it was evidently okay to articulate distilling interests with air flight, which isn't done so much anymore--that and of course smoking in-flight, though admittedly people were firing up their cancer sticks with a lot more legroom than one has nowadays, but, still, I'd have to go with cramming my body into a too-small seat than sit in a smoke-filled tube with little tiny flames in a combustible environment.
So this particular piece of the future foresees long-distance flights but not necessarily long distance planes, with the flights accommodated by a large airport at the North Pole that would serves as a nexus for international connections. The airport there "would be heated" and the runways kept clear of snow and ice via 'radio waves', adn that's about it. No matter about the details or the ideas, so long as you start your own flight of fancy with Seagram's.
In the midst of a short article on bits of transportation advances of the future are these two wonderful futuro-peeps, selected here because of their appearance more so than anything else, as there isn't really anything else to go on. The article has 13 illustrations over four pages and perhaps is 750 words long, so the narrative is heavily dependent upon the images and imagination. That said, the two I'm interested in here have almost no text accompanying them. So be it.
The first is a mammoth transatlantic seaplane, "proposed by a German inventor"--and that's it. I can't tell how "giant" it is supposed to be, nor how many engines, or if there's anything going on inside the wings, and so on. But it does look streamlined and tubular and blocky, which is a hard thing to do at the same time, in a loud-stealthy way.
[Source, Popular Mechanics, August, 1928.]
The other image is that of one tower in a series of untold numbers of such towers popping up throughout France, much like Rommel's asparagus in Normandy, I guess, except more numerous, and far taller. Iterating the height of the structure by the cars at its base, I take this one to be about 150-175' high, from which there are many suspended tubular cages within which travels a 10' long torpedo-like tube that would speed mail from station to station across France at 200 mph. The engineers were Hirschauer and Talon, and from another source1 I see the invention described as "la torpille postale", which is what the mail carriers looked like, except sitting on four wheels, and going really fast on a skinny track suspended a hundred feet off the ground.
I can't but help to think about this arrangement of wire and cable and flowing mail as a kind of non-computer email--it has seemed odd to me for a long time that the one of the backbones of our communication existence is strung up above the ground on wires that are for the most part hung on dead recycled trees. Granted the mail would travel a lot faster in France in 1928 at 200 mph, but completely unforeseen and not-knowable is that email would be a little faster, cruising along at a big chunk of the speed of light. Seems as though there would have to be thousands of these lighthouse-like structures built to accommodate the French mail demand--no doubt they would have been pesky reminders of a past's attempt at the future, though perhaps being France and all the mail carriers might have blown them up.
JF Ptak Science Books (Expanding an earlier post, not having previously noticed the robot baby)
Punch, or the London Charivari published this delightful and somewhat prescient illustration ("Harlequin Aluminum; or, Jack and the Pharaoh's Serpent") in its 27 January 1866 issue. It is for me an excellent, sort-of early depiction of a steam-man, a steampunk man, a steam-driven clown robot person, that is very deeply and frequently hinged, with smoke belching from a curved smokestack coming from the back of its head, and controlling its own destiny enough so that it is actually attacking and blowing up a steam locomotive.
And that's what this image is all about--in the age of steam, the future looks more so; that, and given its extraordinarily frequent use (16 times) in the very short text, things in the future are going to get very "scientific1".
And what the (aluminum2) robot seems to be doing with its scientific poker is exploding a scientific locomotive, for reasons unknown, except that the application of the poker was very successful, if that is the proper word to describe this action--it does act to control its steam technology is busting the new technologies of the era, a rub and at the same time a statement of hope or expectation in a high-Victorian manner, a rationalism of all things via technological means. And at this time, in the mid-1860's, the new wellspring of hope was being found in electricity-based solutions--moving away from the pervasive steam-driven technologies--though as the cartoon suggests those expectations might be too soon, too fast and too deeply placed. After all, these things are being exploded by a "scientific clown" with a "scientific poker"--and that clown is being driven by steam.
Further, the steamrobot clown is pulling a scientific baby from a mortar--this is something that is unique to my experience, a robot generating a newer, younger, baby-robot in some undescribed manner. This is a generational moment among robots and something that is certainly not common in the history of early robots.
In the background-right we see a string of "scientific fairies" suspended by electricity, and beyond them, center-rear, is a comedian reading from Joe Miller's joke book (of "scientific puns") into a telephone-like device, with an audience to his mirth sitting and listening on the other end of the line--and this still 11 years away from the invention of the telephone. And so on. It is a marvelous piece of work, especially considering what was probably an ephemeral status.
(Also, the "Pharaoh's Serpent" part of the title of the illustration refers to a three-year-old phrase: "1863 W. AllinghamJrnl. 3 Oct. in H. Tennyson Mem. Tennyson (1897) I. 513 Mrs Cameron showed a small firework toy called ‘Pharaoh's Serpents’, a kind of pastille which when lighted twists about in a wormlike shape"--from the OED.)
1. It is well-known that William Whewell created the word "scientist" relatively recently, in 1834 (see below). "Scientific" goes back quite a bit further, deep into the 18th c in some uses; farther back in others.
"Scientist" in the OED: 1834 W. Whewell in Q. Rev.51 59 Science..loses all traces of unity. A curious illustration of this result may be observed in the want of any name by which we can designate the students of the knowledge of the material world collectively. We are informed that this difficulty was felt very oppressively by the members of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, at their meetings..in the last three summers... Philosophers was felt to be too wide and too lofty a term,..; savans was rather assuming,..; some ingenious gentleman proposed that, by analogy with artist, they might form scientist, and added that there could be no scruple in making free with this termination when we have such words as sciolist, economist, and atheist—but this was not generally palatable.
1840 W. WhewellPhilos. Inductive Sci. I. Introd. p. cxiii, We need very much a name to describe a cultivator of science in general. I should incline to call him a Scientist. Thus we might say, that as an Artist is a Musician, Painter, or Poet, a Scientist is a Mathematician, Physicist, or Naturalist."
2. "Aluminim" is a word created by Humphrey Davy in 1812.
I bumped into this robot in the pages of Illustrated London News for August 27, 1932. The idea of mechanical people had been around at least since the early 19th century, and by the time this one appeared i its gleaming glory in 1932, the word "robot" was around for a dozen years, invented in 1920 by Karel Capek for his book on the future called R.U.R. Actually the human-like forms created by Capek in this early scifi work were biotech, and not fully mechanized.) The form of the robot stretches back hundreds of years, in a way--if not the exactly the idea of a robot, but at least with the appearance of one. "Alpha" was anthropomorphic, but hardly what you'd call bio-mechanical, or even pretending to be so. It was created by Harry May of London, and was evidently 6'4" tall and weighed a ton (or two, perhaps), and was supposed to entertain and answer questions from the crowd when unveiled at the London Radio Exhibition of 1932. Mr. May kept the details of his creation secret, though no doubt the robot was operated offstage by confederates, the voice supplied by wireless. Still, Alpha was a major attraction, and kept people entertained, if not confused. In any event, it looked frightening as a vision of a possible 1930's future-vision.
[Source: http://davidbuckley.net/DB/HistoryMakers/Alpha1932.htm This is a very interesting blog by David Buckley, including a long chronological section on the developments of robots--Alpha appears on this list, which includes six or so good links for contemporary stories about the robot's appearance.]
This cover design decorates a pamphlet from the Australian Constitutional League of Sydney, written towards the end of WWII, and visualizes a post-war Australia in terms of free enterprise vs. socialism. Needless to say the pamphlet took a dim view of the prospects for a Socialist Australia. From my brief read of the little pamphlet, the Utopianopolis on the "myth" side of the future belongs to what the Socialists could never deliver; on the right side, the "reality" part, as socialism "promises everything" but "fails in everything".
I've been looking at early flying machines--real and imagined--and came upon this at the Library of Congress. There is very little information provided there, and I can't find anything useful online, so I'm going with this being a poster for J.M. Gaites' "musical farce comedy" The Air Ship, which was copyrighted in 1898. The cover shows a "Fly Cop" making a rather forward advance on a young woman with babies in a basket fashioned as a part of the stern of a delicate self-propelled flying machine. The cop is attached to a min-dirigible that has a small fan for its propulsion, as does the remorseful-looking butcher bringing up the rear to the scene. And the whole thing takes place high over Manhattan, looking to be well north of midtown, and probably 3k feet high. Looking south over the island we see the rivers (and a hint of the Brooklyn Bridge) and then in the harbor a suggestion of the Statue of Liberty.