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
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.]
The "coming event" here, as depicted in a satirical bent-future speculative cartoon by the ever-present Linley Sambourne (1844-1910) in the journal Punch in 1878, is electricity. The shadows cast by its own approach are many, and though we don't have a pre-historic campfire, we do see candles, and a gaslight, and oil lamps, and plain matches, all sadly scurrying their paths away from the sharp War of the Worlds legs of electricity. An interesting bit here is that what is generally seen as the common capstone for the invention of the electric light--with the first practical incandescent light bulb--was achieved by Thomas Edison about a year after this graphic was published. There are numerous inventions of different sorts of electric lights prior to that which Sambourne is no doubt referencing, and he certainly knew enough of his recent history of technology to guarantee that his vision of the importance and standard of electricity for the future was absolutely correct.
Source for the idiom in the title:
Lochiel, Lochiel! beware of the day; For, dark and despairing, my sight I may seal, But man cannot cover what God will reveal. ‘Tis the sunset of life gives my mystical lore, And coming events cast their shadows before. I tell thee Culloden’s dread echoes shall ring For the bloodhounds that bark for thy fugitive king.
--Thomas Campbell, (d. 1844) Loichiel’s Warning, (1802). .
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:
The first twenty pages or so of Punch, or the London Charivari, for the year 1879 are far and away my favorites of that periodical. They are absolutely loaded with visions of the past and future technologies, and most of that centered on the newest electrical inventions--and this of course is one of the greatest periods for electrical developments, seeing (all in a couple of years) electric lighting, the telephone, the phonograph, and more. In those few pages (of two issues, the first and bound first is the "Punch Almanack" for 1879 and published December 11, 1878, and then followed by the first issue for 1879, published January 11, 1879) there is a three-illustration on Thomas Edison's anti-gravity underwear (!), a full-page "Museum of Modern Antiques", "Edison's Telephonoscope...", and then the two-page "Prometheus Unbound, or Science in Olympus", while in the second issue is "The Electric Light, Pro and Con". I've written about all of these save for the cover of the "Almanack" and the "Prometheus Unbound"--the posts for the three images of Edison's Anti-Gravity Underwear have been very popular over the years.
The image on the cover of the "Almanack" features Mr. Punch introducing the shocking bit of techy newness in electricity--here though he is dancing on the cells of a Wimshurst machine, which for some reason is being operated by a dog:
And the big two-pager for science in Olympus:
Lording over the scene is Mr. Punch, resting on the shoulders of "strength" and "force", holding a scroll ("practical science") in one hand and in the other, high above, is an orb of "electricity". To Punch's left is an astonished Zeus, who holds under his a scroll labeled ("Gas Shares"), representing no doubt gas technologies that was being replaced by electricity. There's a lot going in in this print: Vulcan wondering about the steam hammer being brought to bear on an egg; Neptune being shoved away by the naval developments of deep-sea diving equipment and a torpedo (as a Mermaid retreats in tears); a boy at a telephone (in the bottom-right corner);Time as an old man under the hood of a camera, and then a few others. The obvious message here is that the previous and Olympian technologies were being overtaken by the new and electrically-based technologies of the modern age.
Color and its use and abuse is a very personal thing—especially the “abuse” part. The pamphlet below (Views of the New York World's Fair, 1939, and published that year) to me is certainly one of those entries in the history of the abuse of color, not so much that the colors used in it are odd together, but the saturation of color across the board leads to something like Splendorama hyper color. I'm not sure why the colors are like this--they remind me of a color equivalent of a laboriously and not-very-good translation of a tech manual. It isn't as though color printing was new in the publishing industry, as books had been printed in different colors besides black for at least 300 years by this time; even full-color printing had been around for 120+ years, so it isn't as though they were experimenting with the color equivalent of newly-available typefaces in a 1985 word program. Color photography in books is brand new at this point, the wide-scale use taking place this year, but these images are not photos, so I doubt that this had much of an effect on the creativity of the designer.
Since a few of these images are quasi-sci-fi, I even wondered about the color influence in speculative novels and movies. Color was very adventurously used int he early sci fi pulps and monthlies, but that stuff was already being employed for two decades by this point so their newness in regard to publishing experimentation is not an issue. And so far as sci fi and color in the movies goes, that also wasn't an issue because it didn't exist yet, as the first color film1 in that genre didn't appear until Lesley Selander's awful Flight to Mars (1951).
In short, I don't know what is going on here, color-wise.
1. Flight to Mars, from Monogram Studios, was about a manned flight to Mars in 2000, There was another unusual film, I think it was Destination Moon at about the same time, where the spaceship overshot the Moon and went to Mars instead. This note though is in regard to the Georges Melies film, Le Voyage dans la Lune (1902), which did have some color, though that was tediously applied by hand in post production. (Invaders from Mars (1953), by the director William Cameron Menzies, was the next sci fi flic made in color.
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.]
There are many instances of assembly-line manufacturing before Henry Ford, but none were nearly as complete and extensive and done on such a large scale as the principle and practice he established in 1913. The idea became generalized and (to a degree) fashionable, and the practice started being implemented in many other business wide and narrow. To a certain extent that applies to this parking garage proposal that appeared in Popular Mechanics in December 1921. the effect of this idea here is the introduction of the building-as-robot, though the idea in this form didn't yet exist, nor did the term "robot". In any event the building took care of the customer's car once the car had been driven in--attendants would drive the car to an access point for a conveyor and perhaps an elevator, and deliver the car to its designated slot, much in the same ways some libraries operate in storing some of their more obscure books.
I guess that "Taylorism" works its way in there, too. Frederick Winslow Taylor (born in 1856 but dead already at this point by six years) introduced a study of business in his Principles of Scientific Management, and that was a synthesis of humans with their environment and tasks to produce a more business-harmonious utilization by increasing the workers' productivity via time/use studies, making the worker more a part of the business machine, and in a sense a Borg-like part of a techno-human robotic industry. Among other things Taylor discovered to the hatred of hundreds of thousands of laborers that the short-handled shovel (villainized in the Song "Big Rock Candy Mountain") was the better tool to use in many shoveling tasks even though the thing itself is a back-breaker that no worker would choose to use. Anyway, int eh history of robots, both of these bits deserve some attention.
[Source, Popular Mechanics, December 1921, vol 36, p 751.]
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.
In all my exposure to the history of WWII I am pretty sure that the only reference to Nazi television has been along the lines of the Berlin Olympics or Carl Sagan's Contact--that and some dim memory about Hermann Goering somehow in the great bowels of the labyrinthine Nazi bureaocracy being in control of German tv broadcasting. The International Future of Television, an address by Paul Railbourn before the American Television Society in NY in January 1944, discusses the possibility of television in the Post WWII era--and in that, stresses in no uncertain terms that the Nazis should not have access to the new medium. Railbourne (who would later become a VP at Paramount Pictures) talks about how Hitler utilized and dominated the radio, and how after the war re-education of Germany was necessary along with free enterprise undertaking of newspapers, radio, television, and motion pictures.
He notes that "The Nazis are well aware of the importance of television...destroy the Luftwaffe and the Krupps Armament works, but leave television in their hands, and we shall be leaving them with the most powerful weapon of all..."
To that end the author discusses post-war control of radio and television in German. He also talks about establishing television networks throughout the U,.S. as quickly as possibly to "capture world leadership in television programming" and "carry the gosphel of the Four Freedoms to all mankind". "...Television will play a vital role, for good or ill as it is intelligently or evilly directed, in the establishment and maintenance of an enduring peace, once the present war comes to an end."
Railbourne made good sense, and had I think a pretty good idea of the coming possible influence of the new medium.
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.