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
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.
I stumbled upont his fantastic illustration depicting nearly four dozen early balloons, many of which are a mystery to me. The image comes from the Library of Congress site, though the origin, title, and even the date of the engraving are unknown. It is known as "Balloons, airships, and other flying machines designed with some form of propulsion" though the title was bestowed by the library--one thing for sure is that it was engraved by "E. Morieu, and was printed between 1880-1905.
Source: Library of Congress [https://catalog.loc.gov/vwebv/search?searchCode=STNO&searchArg=2002722676&searchType=1&recCount=10]
Somebody at the LC identified some of the airships, as follows:
"Single sheet with 45 numbered illustrations; lacking identification key.- no. 18 shows a collapsible Montgolfier balloon from 1784; no. 23 is the design for a glider balloon as described in "Reflections on the aerostatic sphere," 1783 (September); no. 24 depicts Jean-Charles (l'avocat) Thilorier's plan for transporting troops across the English Channel to invade England, ca. 1800; and no. 32 shows the dirigible balloon glider used by Charles Guillé for an attempted ascension in Paris, November 13, 1814."
Also, I know for sure that the last figure, #45, at bottom right, is a steam-powered balloon railway...
There's another fine image of fantastical airships below, also from the LC, and published in Puck, volume 59, no. 1509 (1906 January 31)--this shows the airships of the near future putting the Panama Canal out of business:
Source: Library of Congress: https://www.loc.gov/resource/ppmsca.26030/?loclr=pin
Before the internet the idea to the idea of the internet existed to some extent in the head of a great unsung hero of the U.S. WWII figure, Vannevar Bush, a person who may well have invented the notion of hypertext. Vannevar (pronounced “van ee var”) was a flinty no-nonsense New Englander who was an organizational and mechanical genius who as a professor at MIT developed a remarkable analog computer that greatly advance computation capacities for solving differential equations. This was in the 1930’s, and even after creating an improved electromechanical version of the machine still chose the wrong way to go in the soon-to-materialize digital computer revolution. During WWII Bush was one of the most important Americans in the war effort, overseeing the entire scientific effort of the U.S.—an enormous effort dispatched beautifully (and successfully). His importance in this regard is difficult to overstate. He also published a short paper on the hypertext idea in an article in The Atlantic in 1945.
The article, “As We May Think”, outlined his idea for a device he called the MEMEX (“memory” and “index”), which compressed and organized all that its user could remember and whatever information would be obtained in the future via electromechanical apparatuses, and available with associative tracking between the microtext frames. So all manner of book and papers and reports and newspapers and images would be microphotographed and stored in a beautifully-indexed mechanical retrieval system where it would live with the information of others. There was also the possibility of real-time textual additions to whatever it was that was retrieved, the genetic precursor of hypertext. Bush’s thinking has been deeply recognized (and also by the creators of the internet) as the intellectual grandparent of the modern internet.
This brings me to the image leading this note--the index card train. It appears in the pages of Popular Mechanics for January 1917, and was certainly a step forward in organizing finger-tip data--it just wasn't quite a database, or Google, though the idea was present, after a fashion.
And then I had a mostly-comical response to the image that I found in the pages of the March 1932 issue of Popular Mechanics--it was actually on the back of the page that I was looking for (on passenger rocket travel across the Atlantic). With Bush in mind, this image of a man reading a miniaturized book using the system of Rear Admiral Bradley A. Fiske (1854-1942), and the photo shows the reader with the equivalent of a 100,000-word novel. The article only mentions this one book, and doesn't venture out into imagining anyone carrying a library with them, nor does it mention searches of organizing systems, but it does bring to bear the possible power of having access to a vast amount of info held on a strip of paper about the size of a newspaper column. And for 1932, that was a strong idea.
This was a bit of a speculative peep into the future by someone who actually may have been able to see into it--Glenn Martin was on the scene immediately following the Wright Brothers, and would go on to create an aviation company that would become Martin Marietta, and then Lockheed Martin. The article appeared in the September 1942 issue of Popular Mechanics. The plane was a beast, though a pretty one--it was also very restrictive, carrying 100 passengers in spite of its size. Packing people on wasn't the priority at this point (especially at a conceived round-trip ticket of $400 to Europe, real money in those days)--luxury was. When you look at the Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation calculator for that $400, it turns into about $6,000, which is something you might pay for your first-class accommodation to Europe, except with this plane you get a shower or bath, a lounge car, a ping pong table, and a LOT of leg room.
This creative vision of the future appears in Popular Mechanics (May 1932) and while picturing zeppelin-like space ships with stubby retractable wings traveling at 15,000 mph, it also depicts pilots in a very informal attitude of dress...they're also in a relatively cavernous command center with big gleaming instruments, including a very large compass and a very impressive graphical printout of some sort. Anyway it looks like a lot of big and heavy stuff in a big and bulky command center, which means the ship would've been bigger and bulkier, and who knows what was going to get it to the desired altitude of 600 miles for it to make its 15-minute Paris-Chicago flight. I think the sleeveless underwear deserved an explanation, but it found none.
A wonderful series of images appeared in the work of Darran Anderson on his Imaginary Cities (https://twitter.com/Oniropolis) contribution on Twitter. He shared several images by the great Winsor McCay illustrating humorous/satirical/speculative sci-fi/fantasy pieces by John Kendrick Bangs (1862-1922) on what the future might be, publishing them in the New York Herald in addition (at least) the Los Angeles Herald in 1906. One of the stories that I found most intriguing was on a supermegalopolis called Philyorgo--the vision of it being made possible via the invention of a fantastical instrument called the Spectrophone. It enabled the viewer to see (and hear!) into the future. In this installment the narrator tells his audience about an enormous city of the year 4307 called Polyorgo. It is basically a city comprising the cities of Washington DC, Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia, and all the little cities in-between, all rising in a neat 30-strata rectangle 1,600 feet tall and 238 miles long (which doesn't quite get to Chicago, but no matter. It is the imagery that matters, not the math [you can't spell "matter" without M A T, but...]).
From the Los Angeles Herald: "At this point," cried the megaphone bred pilot, "we see the southern exposure of the city of Philyorgo, the commercial capital of the universe. It is 238 miles in length, extending from what was once the city of New York on the north to the ancient city of Washington on the south, and from base to sky line runs sixteen thousand feet above the level of the sea.
"As you are aware, It is the greatest commercial aggregation in the universe, having a greater population than Mars, Saturn, the Great Dipper and Europe combined, and is the result of the annexation by the city of Chicago of New York, Philadelphia. Washington and other smaller cities lying between. It consists of thirty different strata, including basement and roof. Its resemblance to the skyscraper of other times being due to the superimposition of city upon city, until the final plateau-like sky line was reached, upon which dwell the workers who during working hours go below into the various underlying sections to which their business calls them."
"The various floors are connected from basement to roof by fast flying elevators, which daily carry the public to and from business at lightning speed. In the basement are the furnaces and dynamos by which the whole city is heated and by which the motive power for the rapid transit facilities of Philyorgo is supplied. The first floor above the basement contains all tho longitudinal rapid transit walks, moving without cessation around the city day and night at rates of speed varying from four to five hundred miles an hour. These lines of movable walks are arranged in concentric parabolic circles, so that a traveler wishing to proceed at the greatest rate of speed by stepping briskly from the fixed and Immovable walk on the outside across the Intervening circle toward the rapidly moving innermost platform may with perfect safety board the section that is traveling with the greatest velocity. By this means a wayfarer in Phllyorgo may go from one end of the city to the other in a trifle over two hours, finding at intervals of the ordinary city block the express elevators that will take him upward to the stratum he desires to reach."
The complete Bangs story is here: California Digital Newspapers Collection The Los Angeles Herald Volume 33, Number 155, 4 March 1906 http://cdnc.ucr.edu/cgi-bin/cdnc?a=d&d=LAH19060304.2.140.29
Imaginary Cities (https://twitter.com/Oniropolis)
A good source for this McCay material is the Norman Rockwell Center: http://www.rockwell-center.org/essays-illustration/the-rising-tide/
The quotation source for the Bangs article: California Digital Newspapers Collection The Los Angeles Herald Volume 33, Number 155, 4 March 1906 http://cdnc.ucr.edu/cgi-bin/cdnc?a=d&d=LAH19060304.2.140.29
It is not often one reads about creating an inland sea with trade routes between "Algeria and French West Africa", It is part of the creation of a vast Saharan sea, half of the size of the Mediterranean. I read about this version of the plan in an article by G.A. Thompson in an issue of the Scientific American for 19121, though as it turns out it was not the first time someone published on this fantastical idea. In this version, Prof. Etchegoven proposes a 50-mile long canal that would be built from the Mediterranean inland to a suitably low place and them well, the desert would get, well, filled up. The reasoning here was to make Africa accessible those with the money to take advantage of the situation, to establish trade routes, make Christianity more available to whomever it might confront, and also for "enhancing the value as a place for colonization by Europeans". In reviewing the proposal Mr. Thompson didn't see much danger or blowback or environmental issues--it was an outlook that was taken to task about a month later in a review in Nature2, which found his critique rather too-rosy.
In any event there have been plans like this reaching back at least into the late 19th century, a good example being The Flooding of the Sahara: An Account of the Proposed Plan for Opening ... written by Donald Mackenzie and published in 18773. Another significant proposal was made by Francoise Elie Roudaire (1836-1885) in his "An Inland Sea in Algiers", printed in 1874,m which was an idea he shared with Ferdinand de Lesseps. Actually it was the Roudaire work that seems to have been the basis for some of Jules Verne's last published work, L'Invasion de la Mer (1905) which took place in the 1930's and which made a very similar proposal for the Sahara--except in this version nature intervenes with an enormous earthquake, pretty much accomplishing immediately what it would have taken humans many decades to do. In any event, this is a good example of the Big Techno Think, though it wasn't necessarily a very good idea.