A Daily History of Holes, Dots, Lines, Science, History, Math, the Unintentional Absurd & Nothing |1.6 million words, 7000 images, 3.6 million hits| Press & appearances in The Times, The Paris Review, Le Figaro, MENSA, The Economist, The Guardian, Discovery News, Slate, Le Monde, Sci American Blogs, Le Point, and many other places... 3,000+ total posts
This terrific proposal for a miniature, semi-individual monorail appeared in Popular Science Monthly for April 1935:
And the text, which makes you wonder why something like this would be necessary, at least for the version of the vehicle in the interior pages. The cover version at least accommodates eight passengers, perhaps, though there's an awful lot of metal around them. The interior version packs four in its bubbly self, and given the amount of effort that would go into powering and building the vehicle to move around a restricted number of people--though perhaps you can say the same about cars, and then some.
Dr. William W. Christmas (1865-1960) a long-lived deep pioneer in the history of early aviation, proposed this interesting, streamlined, and odd underground airport, the image appearing in Popular Science Monthly in April 1935 (volume 126 for January-June 1935). The numerous levels seem to establish a subway line, four lanes of vehicular traffic, a mall-type concourse, then perhaps something else, topped by a rotating platform of aircraft, above which was a pedestrian/passenger concourse above which was an access area for the aircraft. I'm not sure why this was designed, but it is certainly engaging--and compact.
Here's a photo from Smithsonian of Dr. Christmas and a cross section of the model of the airport:
These poor early robots--some were designed to pretend-to-clean, others to pretend-to-smoke, and yet others (even at this tender age in the history of robots) were designed to threaten people and whatever else was in front of them with a pistol. It is a sad, thing, really--it is hard not to empathize with the amalgamated sorrow.
[Source: Popular Science Monthly, January 1935, page 19.]
I've written perhaps 15 or so posts on early robots (prior to WWII) and to me it seems that most were relegated to menial tasks--and when not menial, then they were often killing or threatening living humans. Perhaps when our robot overlords of the future (ROOTF) absorb the human interpretation of their early history they will take pity on us for representing their early possibilities in such unfortunate ways--they may get over the images of robots harvesting, pulling wagons, sweeping clergy, squeezing the blood out of workers, savaging scantily clad women of the future, and so on...or they may not.
For other posts on robots, enter "robots" in the google search box at left. If nothing else, the images are very good.
[Image source: FUTURAMA.Published by General Motors, 1940. 24pp. Original wrappers. Provenance: the Pamphlet Collection, Library of Congress. ]
The 1939 World's Fair in NYC famously exhibited a spherical attraction that exhibited a semi-robotic display of what the future would be like--a future that was only 21 years away, in 1960. There would be an enormous amount of weight on the shoulders of 1960, given what the World's Fair had to say about it in 1939. Few things were very right, and many of course were necessarily wrong--but that must be the case when looking into the short-ended future with a monstrous amount of anticipation. That--and since this was a feel-good celebration--nobody was talking about the world war that had already started.
One thing is for sure--the pavilion's creator, General Motors, did foresee that highways and automobiles will be in high demand up there in the tomorrowland of 1960. The display was designed by the fantastic Norman bel Geddes, who actually expanded on his superhighway theme in the next year with his book Magic Motorways (which can be read here). Anyway people were very excited by the whole affair--waiting in line for a few hours, winding their way through the pavilion to take their seats in a circular gallery overlooking a vast and complex assemblage of miniature societal models, the seating arena rotated to give the viewers views of the entire display. More than 26 million people saw the display over a six month period.
26 million is a big number. Futurama drew as many people in six months as the three New York City baseball teams (the Yankees, Giants and Dodgers) brought in for almost the entire decade. It is also equal to all of the deaths suffered by the Soviet Union during WWII.
I guess this was as good a vision as any--or at least it didn't seem to involve very much planning outside the new automatic automobile nervous system that would leech into the life-blood of the country. Other planned visions of the future do not look quite so good. For example, Le Corbuser's demolition of central Paris to make way for his Soviet apartment block reconstruction in his Voisin Plan (1925):
Again, this is not a wholesale look into the future, just the resurfacing of one of the world's greatest cities.
A man with a little bigger vision, Frank Lloyd Wright, saw a heavier future in his Broadacre CIty:
I'm not sure how these domed cities worked. B. Fuller had an idea like this for central Manhattan that I wrote about earlier in this blog, but his idea escaped me too.
I found this curious publication the other day, one that takes a look at the near future at the end of WWII. It is by Mario la Stella ("And Now that the War is Finished? What Will the Future Be?"), and unfortunately there is no date in the pamphlet, and I cannot find a listing of the work in WorldCat/First Search, and there are no clues for me about dating it, though I suspect it could have been published as early as 1944 (as Italy was finished with the war by 1943 but the Germans were not finished with them) but probably it the real date was 1945. That said, the most interesting part of this work is the design in the illustrations, which in their breezy and suggestive way remind me of a style in the 1950's rather than the 40's--with the exception of the cover, that is, because there is nothing light and airy about that.
The future vision of la Stella is not very penetrating, though the final panel does display a huge machine regulating traffic or something that is controlled by a lounging operator with just one button.
I think it would be an interesting thing to have a look at "The One-Button1 Solution to Everything" following the development of the ultimate state of the push-button world, where most things/everything is automated.
And just a note here: la Stella was the author of several books, including a history of Rome, and a textbook or two in the sciences. There was also a work on Marconi (published in the year of the inventor's death in 1937) that contains a very early public reference to Marconi's possible work on the "death ray", which sounds like it was some sort of directed energy weapon/EMP device that would disable powered vehicles
This was the vision of future high-altitude flight, at least according to Illustrated World magazine in their July/August 1920 issue , page 806. It was reported in these pages that at about 22,000 feet the sky above is perfectly black and all of the stars are visible. This of course is not near the limit of the atmosphere, and not very close to the Karman line "outer space" it may have been believed to be (though the blackness part does come into play at around 60,000'. and at 100,00 kilometers the Karman line is far beyond that).
In any event the record for the highest altitude achieved by humans was still at the mark of 39,000' set in a balloon in 1862, a record which would not be broken (at 43,800') until 1927, when the achievement cost the aviator/balloonist his life. The article was slim on the atmosphere and slimmer on the necessaries for the high-altitude aircraft--except to say that the current open-cockpit approach just wouldn't do at cold temperatures, thus giving rise to a tiny discussion on the only mentioned feature of the future aircraft: that it would have an enclosed cockpit.
Flight altitude records via Wiki https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flight_altitude_record
[This image is similar to one that I wrote about in September 2014 for the Mensa Bulletin, here]
Theodor Hosemann was a cartoonist, book illustrator, caricaturist and social commentator--but more interestingly, for today, he was edgy visioneer. The lithograph, "Extrabeilage zu Nr. 24 des Gewerbeblatt vom 24. Januar 1947", is Hosemann's somewhat noir-y vision of the future from his perch in 1847. His sense of the future "wirklickeit'/reality from where I sit here in 2015 is mostly bumpy and uncomfortable--it may have been funny in a fatalistic manner when the "brave" artist constructed the piece, perhaps like a forbidding fairy tale; if so then Hosemann was a jagged comic.
It seems there are to me an equal number of found/lost elements in the image. The most obvious prognostications are the two steam vehicles/dampfwagen in the lower right, passing each other at the entrance of the engineering marvel that would have been a tunnel through the Alps. The anthropomorphic horseless carriage in the shape of a horse, steaming to the entrance, is driven by a guy who is (I guess) smoking a cigarette (as are several other people). Odd thing here is that the ciggie had just been introduced into France and named just a few years earlier, and here it is in the lips of a pater familias cruising with his family--his child flying a kite from the back seat--as they make their way to a trans-European ride. The steam vehicle exiting the tunnel is driven by a hooded figure whose three passengers are in various stages of welcoming teh new sights: one has a heavy headdress and is adorned by large steampunk goggles, while the woman seated behind him is having a private moment of some sort of exasperation; meanwhile the guy traveling on the roof of the car has just been hooked through the nose by a woman at teh tunnel top, seemingly fishing for, well, something.
The most visible object is mysterious--the long skeleton at top is composed of bone, sausage, forks, spoons, morphing ducks, spoon vertebrae, plates, knives, corks, a champagne flute and a bottle. I'm unsure of the allegory.
In the upper left corner we see women taking the waters, immersed in a hydrotherapy of something-or-other from a "healing source". A man beneath him lifts his hat to reveal a wild head of hair produced presumably from the bottle of "balsam" in his hand--hair tonic that has produced a giant mane plus hair sprouting out everywhere else. The man seated before him is beginning his meal on some sort of bird by pulling its eyeball out.
The central figures are particularly engaging, and perhaps prophetic. At the top of this little structure is a Punch/Judy-like character with marionettes (standing beneath a sign that extols us not to laugh at bad jokes). He is also lazily seated on jars of babies. It may be that they are children being produced in artificial wombs, grown somehow, as beneath them we find more fully-formed children in cages being lectured by a classic schoolmaster with book-and-whip. Perhaps related to all of this in the foreground we find the "wonder child" who at seven years of age is very muscled and defeating grown men in a wrestling match,m one of whom he has thrown into the air with one arm. Perhaps Hosemann was telling us of the possible future from 68 years ago where a race of super-people would be manufactured in artificial environments to embody super-human traits? Certainly seems so.
So Hosemann did get a few things right in this vision, or at least he got the sense of future developments correct. I still have a bit of a problem with what I think is the humor of it all, but then again I wouldn't read the fairy tells of the Brothers Grimm to a little kid, either. It is difficult to translate those sensibilities forward 175 years, for me, anyway, the sense of 'funny" and the insight that comes from that getting lost in the swirl of historic dust, like mostly all of the "amusing" parts of books (not the movie!) like Pinocchio, where the soft places to land in this child's story have all fallen away leaving not much more than a fledgling adventure in rounded brutalism.
Say "hello" to the "telescope house", an unusual idea in small house design, found in Popular Mechanics for the March, 1945 issue, just before the end of WWII in Europe. It was designed by F(rank) J. Zavada (1916-1998?), and it is a tidy little place: four rooms on the first floor and two bedrooms on the second, the house is made to collapse and expand vertically and horizontally. I don't see area mentioned, but it looks to be on the order of 400 sq ft or so.
This design put me in mind of a much-inferior idea: the rolling house of the future (offered in the September, 1934 issue of Everyday Science and Mechanics). Etienne Boullee it is not. The house does, however, roll, for whatever that is worth, and if that is a positive thing then that would be one advantage it would have over a non-rolling house. (I don' get to write that phrase very often.) And it rolls exclusive of some rolling platform, which somehow seemed like a better idea than just having a more-traditional house with wheels. Presumably the rolling house would be filled with E. Lloyd Wright nothingness, so there will be no displacement issues.
[Read more about the Rolling Houses and Glass Homes of Futurlandia here.]
1923 was a tough year for most Germans so far as chocolate was concerned, though Riquet (the advertiser in the striking graphic, below) was promoting their ("enchanting" and "irresistible") goods very prominently, so I guess there was still some good demand for it no matter what happened to the fabric of social/economic Germany. But it was in January--when this ad was published in Illustrirte Zeitung--that things started to go very badly for Germany. By the end of 1922 it was apparent in Germany that they could make their next reparations installment payment (in January, 1923); the French and Belgians, among others, didn't believe it and got very quickly pissed, and within days responded very aggressively, militarily occupying the Ruhr district. The Ruhr was home to German industry and electrical production, and manufactures in general, and the government-led response to the invading force was peaceful though it did call on the workers to go on a general strike. And so it came to pass that no production to speak of was happening, and the tight-cashed German government, which was still under obligation to pay the strikers, did so, but created the money out of nothing, just printing it as necessary. This would be the start of a disaster that would lead to a greatly debilitating and damaging hyper-inflation, which helped pave the way to a failure of the Weimar government, and finally helping to give rise to Adolf Hitler--it was all downhill from there.
Chocolate of course had been around for a long time by this point--especially in Central and South America, where it reaches back about 3700 years to to Olmecs, and carried forward to the Aztecs. Christopher Columbus bumped into it during his fourth voyage, but chocolate as "chocolate" really didn't make it to high society consumption until the late 16th century; then some more years, until in the early 17th century came the chocolate craze, eventually winding its way to anyone with a little disposable income, to the modern day when some chocolates (like Hershey Kisses) are hardly chocolate anymore, but have the near-scent of it.
At this point in 1923, five years after the war, and more years than that into a crippled economy, it would have been a luxury for most people in Germany to be able to afford some of this Riquet chocolate. It was certainly not uncommon to see advertisements for luxury goods during hard times, though. Having looked at every page of the popular weekly magazines like the Illustrated London News, Illustrirte Zeitung, and Scientific American for the 1914-1918 period, I can safely but not experimentally say that there was plenty of advertising revenue collected by these mags for the sale of luxury goods. This extends too to Life magazine for 1936-1945, where there was also "a lot" of advertisement for common and semi-luxurious goods that wrapped themselves up in patriotic war efforts (cigarettes are among the most conspicuous of these win-the-war/smoke-Lucky-Strikes ad campaigns).
I'm not taking issue with Ricquet, not at all--I think that the ad was simply "standard". But it did strike me as being somewhat loaded with potential zeitgeist, like the ad I found for traveling to Czechoslovakia for "wintertime fun!" dated October 1, 1938.
JF Ptak Science Books [Expanding an earlier post from 2013]
There were 75 entries to this blog in June--see archive at left to access
"The cheek of every American tingle with shame as he reads the silly, flat, dishwatery utterances of the man who has been pointed out to intelligent foreigners as the President of the United States"--The Chicago Times, on the Gettysburg Address, 1863
We all know today what to expect when we hear something referenced as a Gettysburg Address--and we certainly know what something might be if it was referenced as not-the-Gettysburg-Address.
The address as it was when Lincoln gave it didn’t even have a title, named as it was post facto by the newspapers and periodicals covering the event (on the spot or remotely). The speech is considered as being among the greatest ever given by an American, though at the time it its reception was very mixed—in many cases it was seen as a failure and even as an embarrassment to the solemnity of the moment and place. There were many newspapers which panned the speech (as in the case above with the Chicago Times, which at the time was considered more of a Democrat paper than anything else), while others (like the New York Times gave the speech a warm reception. The speech’s presence in national memory was crafted over time (not unlike Mr. Leonardo), its perception formed into the polished gem that it is seen as being today.
The possibility of the implied actions of the titles of the pamphlets below were somewhat similar, though mostly in reverse. I’m not saying that some of them were always seen as quacky and the works of demented seers; their titles and possible content, though, were not seen as dismissible, and their concerns were real and a possibility. The concerns over “invasion” today depend on what invasion means. I don’t imagine that people are seriously considering the possibility of a land or air force attacking this country, though other sorts of invasions (biological, chemical, cyber, etc.) are a possibility.
The Battle for America/How We Can Avoid It (1939) was published by the Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies (and headed by William Allen White, iconic middle America newspaper editor and editorialist) which attacked isolationism and advocated strong support of the European effort. The thinking here was that if America didn’t become involved now it would so later, with battle lines of a Nazi-illuminated truce drawn close to American borders. So it was a pay-now-or-pay-more-later position from a man who supported the New Deal but whop didn’t support FDR.
Much of this thinking looks a bit tenuous to me.For example the position excluded the use of an American expeditionary force in Europe (“for theatre for such a large force elsewhere”), though if nothing at all were done there would be a “certain” use of the AEF in South America combating Nazism.Also, if the U.S. backed the Allies with supplies and war materiel the “liability” to the US in the consequence of European defeat “would leave America's fate against attack and able to make stalemate peace”.So at the very least, doing a little bit of something would d at least allow us to make a truce with the German/Japanese alliance.Doing nothing at all in this area would infer “unlimited” liability, and “defeat of the United States could bring loss of independence”. (“Could”?)
The way aid ourselves in this war “(was) to aidBritain to hold out to defeat Nazi Germany….the chance for Britain to hold out and win is a good risk for America”.
Then there is Whither United States?, written fairly late in the war (1944) by T.H. Tetens, who was a journalist (born 1899) thrown into a concentration camp in 1933 and who subsequently escaped, making a career in the U.S. The provocative cover brings up a real issue inside, as Tetens questions how people are appointed to sensitive positions in the war-time. His major example is Hans M. Hoffmann, who was appointed to a critical post in the Office of War Information.though Tetens' investigation shows that Hoffmann was the editor of teh Staats Zeitung, which was pro-Germany and Hitler-supportive through Hoffmann's tenure there from 1933 to 1941. I don't know about Hoffmann--he doesn't show up in any of my references here and doesn't make an appearance in this capacity on the internet, but Tetens seems to make a very strong point. And hence, I guess, the large question mark.
The next pamphlet, Will America Be Invaded, was published by the Christian Fellowship Press in Akron, Ohio, in 1941, and leans mightily upon scripture to state assumptions about the coming menace to America being presaged in the Bible.That invasion also seems to be allowed by God (according to prophesies and such) in pursuit of murky results.The conditions which will prevail “when God permits invasion” (according to this person’s reading of the bible)) include the formation of monopolies, extensive wine and music, “unbelief in God’s judgments”, conceit, “wine and bribes in high places”, and “perverted moral stanfa5rds.All of this—it is claimed—can be remedied through one medium:prayer; and prayer through only one mediator, Jesus Christ, who would then take the communications to god’s ear.
The Attack on America, published by the Friendly Sons of St Patrick (of NYC), was a cautionary pamphlet published in 1920 warning against certain dispassionate evils of British propaganda in the United States. Freedom or Enslavement for United States of America (sic), published in 1939 for the Mothers of United States of America (sic) advocated a freedom policy that prohibited conscription in foreign wars and would present a state of permanent neutrality. It also made some pretty vicious anti-Roosevelt attacks, finding him the Socialist root of the coming empire of American evils with a wildly power-mad and legislative-grabbing presidency.
Quite a grouping of pamphleteers concerned with the potential overthrow of the United States, each seeing the unfortunate possibility of national death via divergent and disparate means: the fall of the country due to not being part of the Allies during the war and also for being in it; biblical ordination of invasion that is only combatable through prayer; British and European propaganda control of the national welfare; and of course the diabolical Socialist menace of Franklin Roosevelt and the imperial presidency as the ruination of the nation's future. All of this gently hidden by disturbing titles which really don't give you a hint about what wildly unexpected ways the end was approaching. And whatever they were, they were definitely not high-order thinking.
And then there is this:
To listen to the song, check out this link to the Library of Congress (male solo, orchestra), 1916.
What would an Alien, an alien life form of unspecified type and intelligence (but with necessary assumptions taken to allow this little expedition in possibility), think of bubble gum? It would be an interesting thing to know. After all, even though gum is very trivial matter for humans, the process that produces it is not. Let's assume that the aliens are allowed to see the story of gum from start to finish. They would see a physical plant containing workers and heavy machinery; the machines are tended and maintained and work tirelessly to produce the gum product. The gum bits are fed into the machines which processes the brew and then wraps and boxes and prepares them for shipment; the boxes are packaged and arranged, loaded in some instances onto ships that take them halfway around the Earth, and then loaded onto trucks, and then onto smaller trucks, taken to distribution centers (like, say, supermarkets) which are big and bright and shiney and attractive to hundreds or thousands of cars which transport humans in order that they may receive the gum gift. And then a magical thing happens when humans make an exchange of labor for the gum as represented by "money" and are then allowed to remove the gum from the final distribution center, possession of the gum now complete. And then, finally in its seemingly long life of preparation, the gum is unpackaged, put inside the human for a small amount of time, and then removed (sometimes unceremoniously).
After this enormous expense of energy in producing and moving gum (not to mention the advertising and sales aspect of it) it is consumed for less than 1% of the time it took to be produced, and then disposed of in the trash, on the street, under a school chair, or passed through the human digestive system where it releases less energy than what it took to consume it making the trip through the energy-replacement system more or less completely intact.
(Jean Baptiste) Amedee Couder wrote L'Architecture et l'industrie comme moyen de perfection sociale, a fine work that was published in Paris (by Brockhaus et Avenarius) in 1842. The work presents Couder's rather stroing visionary plans for a perfect city of industrial and scientific harmony, laid out in suggestively-fractal harmony, with the suggestions of a Renaissance-laden snowflake design. Whatever it was, it was beautiful to look at, at least on paper, though I'm not so certain that I'd care to live in the canyonlands of stone and shadow on the other side of the garden wall of the perfect scientific-industrial conclave.
(Its actually a fairly scarce book, with only two copies found in the WorldCat directory, so I've reproduced the book's larger folding plates)
The original volume may be purchased via the blog's bookstore, here.
Projet d'un palais des Arts et de l'industrie. 18x14 inches.
I wonder if this design had anything to do with Captains Kirk's/Picard's great and lovely ship, the USS Enterprise? It seems as though it is of a singular inspiration, this futuristic airport of London's futuristic future, designed by Mr. D.H. McMorran. Mr. Matt Jeffries, the man who design the Enterprise for Star Trek, was certainly alive at the time (1921-2003), though it seems a slim chance that the Illustrated London News for February 2, 1929 (in which this thumbnail image appeared) would have found its way to his boyhood hands in Lebanon, Pennsylvania. More likely for his engineering/design muse is the electric range heating coil, which seems to be the standard story of where the design originated. Still, this airport design does bear a striking resemblance to the Starship.
There have been several posts to this blog regarding unusual airport construction--covering part of the Thames, floating in the NYC bay, on top of numerous/differential rooftops, floating and/or moored in the ocean, on top giant airplanes, landing and launched from dirigibles, and so on (including a vertical airport where the aircraft are dropped in tubes). The example I have just found this morning is a mild twist on this topic, as it is a helipad--a futuristic one, judging from the Harley Earle/Buck Rogers-style design.
See, for example:
Floating and Airborne Airports: http://longstreet.typepad.com/thesciencebookstore/2015/03/floating-and-airborne-airports.html
There's nothing quite so ironic as understatement when the understatement is understated even in advance of itself. I've noticed this here and there with the depictions of atomic/nuclear war in the bomb's early history, say 1946-1960, as seen in comic books. For example, here's something I posted last week that is a fairly representative understatement done in a small way about a big thing:
It is I think representative of an entire class of mid-century image of atomic understatement.
Having found this one others were quick to follow.
The comic World War III is a caustic of advanced crispy-crunchiness, and set in the year 1980, where the future found the Brooklyn Dodgers still playing in NYC. For some reason, the photographer on the roof of the Polo Grounds takes a slow burn of realization that something big was going on, processing the burned pennants /heat/glare before settling on the enormous mushroom cloud rising four miles above Manhattan...
And another fine example, this graduating to a hydrogen bomb later in the decade, a bomb far more unimaginably powerful than the unimaginably powerful 20kt bombs of 1945. Okay, there are red skies and a firestorm the width of a city, and the "mushroom" ends the film, but there is only a perfunctory statement of the too-close-together heads that they now know what a hydrogen bomb explosion was, or is, or could be:
I know it is difficult to describe the Grand Canyon as it would be to witness a nuclear explosion (let alone be in one). But these under-nucleated statements is sort of the equivalent of describing the Grand Canyon as something along the lines of "We're here now and looking down".
And this is about as loud as the screaming gets in Capt. Marvel's adventures with the atomic bomb. This is surprising mainly because the comic was published only about a year after Hiroshima/Nagasaki, and imaging a "flock" of missile launched atomic weapons falling all over the U.S. was a salient look into the possible future.
And in the face of the unspeakable, Capt Marvel seems unflappable:
On the other hand there are excitable statements regarding the bomb:
But it does make one wonder about featuring shock-of-recognition statements about the apocalyptic bell ringing of nuclear weapons as expressed in comic books as a comparative whisper in the description of the thing. It is almost as though if the Cornishman spoke quietly enough he wouldn't make the wakening giant angry.