A Daily History of Holes, Dots, Lines, Science, History, Math, the Unintentional Absurd & Nothing |1.6 million words, 7000 images, 3.5 million hits| Press & appearances in The Times, The Paris Review, Le Figaro, The Economist, The Guardian, Discovery News, Slate, Le Monde, Sci American Blogs, Le Point, and many other places... 3,000+ total posts
Herbert Hoover--perhaps a better classical scholar than president--famously promised "a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage". Well, in this example of thrift and austerity, we see a summer cottage offered for sale for $375.00 (disassembled plus freight), with room for a car, and even for a family. A small family.
There are different types of mystery as any quick look at Medieval legacies will tell you. Some are mysterious mysteries never meant to be understood outside of obliqueness given their allegorically ambiguity, and some are just, well, different, but answerable.
The history of the future lends itself a little to the Ecclesiastical (or first) sort of mystery as just described--sometimes, anyway. Sometimes looking at an imagined future drawn years ago for a period of time that has already passed may lend itself to some fair-game comedy. But getting things "right" as a futurist/illustrator may be quite beyond the point, as with the example above, drawn by Jim Powers.
Being furiously correct was not the point Powers was trying to achieve. TO me he was drawing to a certain deep sight, presenting an allegory of possibility, trying to excite some interest in speculation in someone by elements of what he was drawing, not in the overall image.
In the alphabet of 'RAMAS, perhaps the most famous of them all is futurama, which (real or imagined) is part of the continuum of motoramas version of raceoram's spaceorama. It was in this envelope of futurama that Jim Powers worked his mysteries in a series of images for Life in the Year 2000, laboring away at insight in the mid-1950's. Surely he could0 not have believed in these rocket-stuffed ultra-streamlined mega-finned interplanetary autos would come into being in five decades, but I'm pretty sure that he believed that somewhere in the details of his work were useful bits/ideas for someone else. Surely he did not think that the overall vision was more significant than the sum of all of his very interesting parts.
That's the hopeful outcome in the opening paragraph of this urbano-centric tale.
In the piece of speculative fiction, "The Man who Unmade Cities" by George Holmes (found in Illustrated World, May 1916), a Mr. John Watterson becomes the ultra-Ford of aviation. Watterson introduces massive reform in airplane design and production such that the new machines are available to, well, everyone--instead of selling thousands of the new planes, millions are sold.
The story begins with Watterson in childhood, developing his flying interests and, by 1950, andhe becomes a world-beater, and destroyer of cities. The plane allows people to fly off, leaving the cities in swarms, and "within three years the motorcar was on its way to oblivion".
The revolutionary planes were "flimsy-looking", "dwarfish contraptions", "spindle-shanked", and so light "that a man could carry it" and "sold for a song of one's own singing", and were collapsable, carry-able, and capable of reaching speeds of 70mph.
And at the outset of this triumph "the great city was killed; John Watterson was triumphant".
But the article, reporting from somewhere in the near-future, reported that the city would return, benefiting from the need for closer stores, and the want for a walk, and the plummeting prices of evacuated city spaces--people were drawn back into the city in much the same way they were drawn out to the suburbs.
Gelett Burgess (1866-1951, a Boston high-ground MIT grad poet/critic/all-around lit figure who wrote a lot and created an important Little Magazine called The Lark) continued his work in humor and nonsense and future-vision with his The Lively City O'Ligg, a Cycle of Modern Fairy Tales for City Children, in 1899. There's a lot in this squarish book to suggest itself as a sort of farcical-absurdist tomorrow's retro-vision fiction--its only his second book, and not the work he is most famous for, and it was written for the amusement of kids, but really for kids of all ages, and very funny. (Full text here via Internet Archive and prettier edition here via Hathi Trust.)
And it has great illustrations. For example, the front cover artwork (for the edition here) suggests a dimension of space/landscape and how it changes as a moving body viewing that scene approaches the speed of light--this is Burgess' art, and it is amazingly prescient of the modern art that was fast approaching in the next decade or so, only Burgess' name isn't very commonly associated with the precursors of displaying the fourth dimension in art. [He is there, though with early associations with Stieglitz at 291 and Max Weber. When I think of these early names it is generally of the more-obscure but very early W. Stringham in his "Regular Figures in n-Dimensional Space", published in 1880, followed by the great Jouffret in his geometries of four-space (published in the 1900-1905 or so), and then of course Charles Howard Hinton and the hyperspace philosophy of Claude Bragdon, followed by H.P. Manning's Geometry of Four Dimensions in 1914. But in between Jouffret and Manning there is also the artwork of Picasso and Braque and Metzinger Gleizes and Le Fauccionier and Gris and Kupka and Duchamp, all of whom addressed this issue of space and time and the fourth dimensions in their work, seminal pieces all and created between 1909-1912. Burgess himself came to the attention of the Stieglitz group by 1910 or so and was given an exhibition of his watercolors at 291 in 1911.)
The image illustrating the chapter three, "The Three Elevators" (above), just shows one of them bursting through the roof of an "immense building in the City of o'Ligg" "Twenty-seven stories high (!)". (At the time the world's tallest building wasn't in O'Ligg but in NYC: in 1890, it was the New York World Building, New York City (309 feet, from 16 to 26 stories, but that is another story; closer to the time of the Burgess book it was the
Manhattan Life Insurance Building, again in New York City which was 18 stories and 348 feet high. So the Burgess building was a big one by world standards in 1899--and of course there would be no tall structures like this without steel framing, or elevators, or for that matter fool-proof elevator emergency brakes. In any event the elevator spikes through the roof of the o'Ligg building, looking for all the world like one of the aliens from Wells' War of the Worlds, which was published a year earlier than this book, in 1898. (I should say the appearance was suggested by the first edition of Wells' 1898 book, as it was not illustrated.)
Another surprising example of found-modern art occurs in the final chapter, "The Eccentric Loom", when loom No. 7--like the other machines and implements in these stories--has a mind of its own and produces "something queer", a "crazy design" producing an "insane tapestry". The loom is "either crazy", or "it is a mighty clever machine; altogether too clever for me". But the design as an intentional piece of art for 1899 is pretty extraordinary--and the underlying premise, that the machine might be producing the art on its own, is exceptional and early.
To put the artwork in a more machine-creative-context, here's teh Burgess image that starts off the "Insane Loom" chapter:
There's much more in the Burgess book to discuss, particularly in the anthropomorphization of objects, as in the chapters dealing with a sleepwalking house, the boldness of a balloon, the laziness of o'Ligg lampposts, a flying stable, runaway chairs, and the like1. It is very enjoyable to watch Burgess breathe life into these objects, and give them personalities and lives. But it is a true joy to see him present some of the objects as the "artist" and not just the tool, as we see here in the opening paragraph of the chapter "The Blind Camera":
"THERE were many Cameras living in the Ligg Photo-
graphic Parlours, artists who looked down with scorn upon
all other machines, not only upon the manufacturing
or working members of the community, but upon such
aristocrats as the Bicycles and Balloons as well. The
musical instruments they recognized as artists, it is true,
but it was the Cameras' opinion that most musical instru-
ments were a bit mad. Even the Very Grand Pianos
often got out of tune ; and, besides, they were all totally
blind, from the Penny Whistles to the Church Organs.
The Cameras themselves were deaf and dumb, but they
never thought of that, as they had the best eyes of all
the objects in the City o' Ligg, except the Telescopes,
and the Telescopes didn't count ; they were not artists-
they were merely elaborate tools."
Perhaps our future Robot Overlords (a phrase taken from Mr. Eugene Krabs in Spongebob Squarepants) will one day in the future look backwards and find the beginning recognitions of the creative souls of machines in the work of Mr. Burgess.
[Image source: the wonderful Frank Wu (sci-fi fanasy artist) website, here.]
This is the delightful and reaching cover art by the great Frank R. Paul for the October 1929 Science Wonder Stories, illustrating "Into the Subconscious" by Ray Avery Myers, a story of a physician/shrinkologist/physicist who concocts a way of reading into the memories of his subjects--long, deep, ancestral memories. The doc (Macey) is seated at right on the cover, somehow retrieving images from the patient--an idea that has had long legs, and seen famously in the end-all road movies, Wim Wender's 1991 PunkNoir film, Until the End of the World. Or perhaps its more future-driven than that, where each viewer is viewing the other's memories or dreams or visions, rather than their own, the images flickering to life onto the monitors, initiated by the simple proximity of another person...all memories available, nothing secret.
At least in the Wenders portrayal of the dream-end of this idea, there was precious little time for anything but dreams.
JF Ptak Science Books Post 2019 (expanding an earlier post)
I am very attracted to the innocence and softly bizarre
category of my store’s Outsider Logic Collection, like this little pamphlet that
was published in New York in 1944. The pamphlets in this
category are odd but still understandable, and the "what the ____!"
response to the subtle ones isn't quite so high and the exclamation points
not so many as in the cases of the Outsider Logic titles. Bizarre is different from that, certainly not hiding behind any lesser or ambiguous title--it stretches the category a bit as it is intended to be a parody of the more-popular magazines and their advertising sponsors, but it is really quite a bit different from a simple humous and pun-laden trip into dead-end future visions. It was copyright by the very far-reaching Hugo Gernsback, who in 1926 started the first magazine dedicated
to the genre of science fiction (Amazing Stories) and for whom the World
Science Fiction Society’s annual award for Science Fiction Achievement is named
(the “Hugo”). Gernsback evidently had a taste for cheeky parody, producing similar magazines to this called Quip, Forecast, Jolliers, Tame and Newspeep--it seems though that Bizarre may have ultimately morphed into Forecast.
I guess that this was deeply weird for mass-production publication, and it was probably funny--now it is just weird, odd, and somewhat discomforting--a successful and intentional reach for being part of the Uninentional Outsider right from the start.
Most of the magazine is dedicated to imaginary electronic delights--analog electronics (though it is still fairly early to be having such dreams and using the word "electronics", as it was just barely two decades old at this point). One of the oddest of these inventions of the near future was the Electronic Odoranalyzer, which was necessary for reasons I couldn't discern. (I'd like to assume that odors are calculated and calibrated and a scent is chosen specifically for them, or it.)
The advertising was unusual as well: there were hats you could potnetially purchase of weeping willow Platina fox tails; some hats had tanks (as with the Le Chapeau Tank hat, modeled for the magazine and "worn pugnaciously at a slant"), and other hats had simple canons (as with the French Mitrailsuese). While wearing your tank hat you could also theoretically relax to your favorite tunes in style with a $125,000 radio--it was made for war profiteers who couldn't find banks enough to hold their cash and was billed as too expensive to steal.
Then there's the EBC--the Electronic Bed Company--with their magnificent new product, an invention "by the great sage of Hackensack" so spectacular as to make ordinary sleeping obsolete. The bed was an air-conditioned, self-washing, self-adjusting, self covering, fiberglass-cushioned, telephone-capable, air pillowed, air conditioned masterpiece that looked like it was about ready for anything but sleep, which I guess would make it revolutionary.
A post ("Nuclear Everything") over at Dark Roasted Blend that featured a magnificent and stodgy atomic-powered zeppelin pushed me into this short visual note on differentially-powered airships, and then in general about airships with airports on them. (There's a whole other category for planes-of-tomorrow that were so enormous that they had landing strips on their wings, but that's another story.)
And they remind me of things that just aren't "right", because these things just weren't. I'm not sure why, but I'm drawn into an old story about the legendary Charlie Goodnight, Texas pioneer, one of the creators of the idea of the cattle drive (the Goodnight-Loving Trail), a man who lived an extraordinary and powerful life. He lived for a long time, too, from 1836 to 1929 (almost to the year of the birth of Larry McMurtry, who told a version of Goodnight's story so spectacularly well in Lonesome Dove), well into a future so far advanced from the year of his birth that he could scarcely have imagined it. Anyway, towards the end of his life, in 1916, Goodnight had the idea of making a movie of the Old West that included a "final" Indian buffalo hunt. I've seen the film, and it is a fascinating, heartbreaking, wonderful/awful thing, that somehow might appeal to almost no one. It certainly didn't appeal to the folks at the time looking for a cowboy film, because much like Mr. McMurtry's cowboys, Goodnight's reality didn't much resemble the cowboys that the public wanted to see. In a sense Goodnight lived beyond the history that he so much helped to create, and that his old, passed "present" was something that the people in his future really didn't want to recognize. Then of course one of the things that made it all seem "not right" to me was seeing a vignette of Goodnight entering into one of the scenes, in a car, making the whole thing a little spooky.
First up is this mammoth flying advertisement to both peace and war, a nuke-powered dirigible proposed by Eisenhower in 1953 as part of the Atoms-for-Peace push, a move which by this point was already entirely too late.
For some reason it was seen as a good idea to have a detachable convention hall built for the airship. \
And of course there is no greater element of a Something-for-Peace anything unless there was a competing idea, as seen in this mammoth Soviet atomic zeppelin, a ship completely absorbed in being bigger than the big thing that it already was:
At 300 metres this monster had room enough for virtually anything, though it didn't have the retractable/detachable convention hall--it did however have a small airport.
Another dirigible approached the airport-on-board idea, but preferred solar power for its energy source.
The magnificent possible, 1924, saw another kind of airborn airport:
Guido Tallei's 1932 Diri-Disk was a combination airplane/dirigible, and looked as though it could harbor an expansive airport on its NCC-1701-like wing, but didn't, alas:
Konstantin Eduardovich Tsiolkovsky (1857-1835), the Russian/Soviet space pioneer who was nearly without peer (and who somehow survived the bloodlust of Stalin which sucked up and murdered so many of his scientific colleagues), stepped outside his spaceflight bubble to write about this monster with collapsing sheathing:
The Kueperle dirigible, planned in 1909, was nothing if not pretty, and pretty is pretty much what the whole thing consisted of:
And lastly, this example of the tracked airship--this must have been a popular notion because I've seen perhaps 15 different plans and I don't spend much time at all reading in this area. But harnessing the power of the balloon or dirigible or (kite!) whatever to a track system seemed to be a good idea, once upon a time:
In 1893 George Moore unrolled his papers and derived this wonderful mechanical man, a gas-fired steam-boiler-driven, half-horsepower, six-foot tall 5-mph dromedary. It was made of "heavy tin", had spikes on its heels for added traction, a fire-funnel surrounded by water and connected in some way to a small but powerful motor. The exhaust of course would exit through the nostrils. Or, in another version, the exhaust would come out via the machine's cigar.
This pamphlet is very strong--very deeply, drippingly, rippingly, troublingly, strong. It is an anti-Soviet French publication, Voila ce que le bolchevisme apporterait a l'Europe, (Des Promesses de Bonneur Jusqu'au Coup de Feu dans la Nuque), anti-Socialist/Soviet/Bolshevist of the highest order. "This is What the Bolshevist will Bring to Europe" has a cover based on a 1934 poster, and was so published in 1934 or 1935. It is, essentially, a brutal portrayal of Stalinist Russia and what the coming of that communism would mean to Europe and the U.K.
The poster--which is slightly larger and reaches deeper to the East--is available here.
If the young Ned Ludd had fallen asleep and somehow managed to stay in a reverential dreamland for the past 225 years or so, I wonder what he would think, awakening in 2013. Where would his ambitions lie, assuming that he awoke with the old fire still intact?
Certainly the strength of his convictions would be displaced to some new area beyond smashing the machines that took away the jobs of workers and helped secure them as the lowest-end of a very new man-machine interaction that keep workers working hard for less money. Seeing that machines are everywhere, it would be a hard thing to reject, what most jobs in most areas depending upon a pile of machines that like the cosmological pile of turtles of James Jeans reaches all the way down and all the way up.
Ned Ludd may not have been real, but his name and at least imagined riotous activities against machines were real enough to give the Luddites their name. I think it is commonly believed today that a Luddite is simply anti-tech, but back at te turn of the 19th century and into its second decade, the Luddites were a definite force intent on destroying the very new machines that were taking away the jobs of skilled workers. In the 18-teens, it seems that most of the historical interest in this movement concentrates on their actions against machines in the textile industry: these were proto-"strikes", very physical labor protests against industry selecting machines over man. The threat grew so intense that following the threatening acts of the late 1780's attempting to protect industrial property from this sabotage, that in the war year of 1812 the Destruction of Stocking Frames, etc. Act 1812 (52 Geo 3 c. 16), also known as the Frame-Breaking Act was passed by an act of Parliament, which made it a capital offense to destroy mechanized looms. It was intended to break the back of the Luddite movement and preserve industry, and in the progress of the life of the limited act (it was designed to expire after two years), saw the execution of some 60-75 people for acts of violence against property. (The sentencing end of this act is a little difficult, as it seems that judges imposing sentences tended not to cite this act, though the result was the same.) The Frame Breaking Act was replaced by another less lethal act which sentenced lawbreakers to 10-20 years "exile" in Australia, but that too was short-lived and replaced by another flavor of the act that brought back the death penalty.
For whatever reasons, the Luddites seem to have been broken, or absorbed, or exhausted, by the end of the second decade of the 19th century. Mr. Ludd it seems never had a birth date and didn't seem to die, and may not have been an actual person. But as I said if he had slept for 225 years and entered consciousness again, today, it may well be the current evolution of human-machine interaction may be too advanced for him to address. Perhaps Ludd would be interested more in the coming future of human/machine development, when human bodies are disposable, and i hta tcase would fight for the right of humans to retain their humanity. But where would that fight start? Would he have rejected artificial hearts in the 1960's? Artifical hips? Would heart stents be a part of this encroaching history of the mechanization of humanity? And if that was so, would the innovations of Joseph Lister in sanitizing the operating theatre also be an unfavorable development? Would spectacles count? Haring aids? Canes" Wheelchairs? It does get very sticky, unless Mr. Ludd decided to draw the line in the sand at the future transmission of consciousness or whatever into a new non-carbon-based receptacle to cheat death.
Maybe Ludd would aim lower and higher at the same time, deciding that the computer and its veiny internet was the real culprit of contemporary human demise, seeing the world wide web as more a primitive attempt at a global consciousness that robs all of its users of their individual humanities. Of course he would have to become something on the lines of an alchemical adept in order to know how he and his confederates could hack and destroy the internet, causing what might be monumental collapse of the economic world as we know it, launching a new/old era of agrarianism.
Or maybe Ludd has something entirely different on his mind, like Captain Ahab not really thinking very much about The Whale at all, his mind elsewhere, concentrating just on the contract for hunting up a commission rather than an intellectual and hyper-spiritual trophy.
Philip K. Dick might have had a place for Ludd in one of his stories, which is about as much harm as he could do, unless resurrected by a super-evil-rich-nogoodnic with a mask and a cape intent on committing his Geniusopathia to Digiocide.
Let no man seek / Henceforth to be foretold
what shall befall / Him or his children. -- Milton, Paradise Lost XI,
In recent history the general response of the popular vision of society to new innovations in technology is to put whatever the newcomer is to work and to find a commonality to mediate newness and necessity. There's really nothing quite like having a vision of the future when there's something new in the techno-world to make the image seem as though it could be possible, the limitations of the innovation not yet being established and all that. And so when something like the Second Industrial Revolution takes of in the 1830's there is a new belief that problems wide and narrow could in the future be solved with steam power--and often these same hopes and visions were cauterized in print, the belief in inventions like steam-powered laundresses and carriage horses and ditch-diggers all painted with sloppy buckets of incredulity and overreaction by immensely talented and public artists like George Cruikshank, a gifted English cartoonist/satirist/caricaturist and social commentator. In many cases like these though artist/visionary was wrong in the short run by right in the long--Cruikshank couldn't have seen too deeply into the future in the 1830's/1850's because that Steampunk world of the 1930's would arrive with electricity or the internal combustion engine or some other innovation that would come after Cruikshank's time, and those impossible images that he created of steam-powered flying machines and such would actually come true and quickly, but would just skip his own generation's technological innovations and become the commonplace object in the future two-generations or so hence.
For example, here we seem some hyperspeculative Cruikshankian dreams on the possibilities of near-in-time powered flight, which combines the newness of steam and flight, and published in his The Comic Almanac (1843). The possibility of Utopia prophesy is so strong that steam-fired flying machines fill the air and passengers fill building-tops, standing above enormous banners advertising daily trips to Peking, Mont Blanc and Canton, as well as half-hour departures to Paris.
There are legions of images like this, but what attracted my attention this morning was the application of the relatively new-found technologies wrapped around the possibilities of robotics and radio. Early radio broadcasting and the newly-coined "robot" (the term was coined just a few years earlier in 1921 in Karel Capek's play Rossum's Universal Robots) came together very nicely in this spec article for Science and Innovation in May 1924:
The inset detail is pretty interesting, the robots unleashed on a crowd, under control of a radio patrol car.
Another view of police-in-the-future, earlier-on in the century, from a series of French postcards (printed ca. 1900), depicting what the possible world of the future might look like in the year 2000:
And an earlier 'version" of both came to life int he hands of Curikshank (again), who produced what might be the earliest image of an artificial exoskeleton:
Albert Robida (1848-1926) saw pretty deeply into the future, his mind
wrapped around the plausibilities of possibilities, and getting a lot of
them quite right. (He was enormously prolific, with some 60,000 designs
to his credit as well as 200 illustrated books and many dozens of
illustrated journals, many of them quite lovely and prescient, if
somewhat upsetting to the common-reading mind of mid-late 19th Europe). Here's Robida on the possibilities of ElectroPunk:
["Un quartier embrouillé ", La Vie électrique, Paris, Librairie Illustrée, . I wrote a little about Robida here.]
Of course, Robida as well overplayed and underplayed his vision of the electrical future--I think he woul d have been shocked to see that dead trees are still supporting most of the wired world's digital infrastructure, but he would have been overwhelmed to learn what that electricity was transmitting.
It would be an interesting measure to see how long it took between some futures going from hyper-speculated to not-so to be positively under-speculated and perhaps naive.
There are many facets in the history of the future that sound very familiar and true, making it shocking to realize what a long timeline some presumably modern things have. For example, take the issue of the superiority of children to understand newly-arrived technological innovations. It seems as though children need to be shown exactly once how to access a certain segment of a program or how to program the television. It is perhaps a modern conceit that this issue belongs with us in the present and to the children of these children, somewhere in unfolding technological future. But this was certainly the case in 1876, with the (very) new technological breakthrough, the telephone.
Alexander Graham Bell was not the first to the invention of the telephone--this is one of those breakthroughs that was 'in the air" (like the electric telegraph, and the hypothesis on the background radiation of the creation of the universe, and television, and Cubism), and in several issues of the standard-keeper scientific journal Nature for 1876 there are several articles discussing the telephone which do not mention Bell. For example Antonio Meucci in 1849, Charles Bourseul in 1854, Johann Philipp Reis in 1860, Elisha Gray in 1874, and Thomas Edison in 1875, all came close to the practical application of the idea of the 'speaking telephone", but it was Bell who ruled the day with the superior design and the patent award. It was Gray who came closest of all to winning the future, beaten in the accounting department at the Patent Office by Bell by only a few hours, both his and Bell's patents received on 12 February 1876. (Gray's patent was actually received earlier in the morning than Bell's, but it was Bell's attorney who insisted on his patent being recorded immediately in the accounting ledger, with Gray's patent entered into the books two hours later, resulting in the awarding of the telephone patent to Bell. Ouch).
The August 24, 1876 issue of Nature contained a compact article (uncredited but written by the editor, the esteemed astronomer/astrophysicist Norman Lockyer) on the recent extravagances in electrical development, and included a long section on the telephone. Bell's name was not mentioned, and Lockyer concentrated on the work of Reuss and Gray. He also wrote about the use of the telephone, which does not yet involve the use of the instrument for voice communication. As in an earlier article in the same journal by J. Munro ("On the Telephone, an Instrument for Transmitting Musical Notes by Means of Electricity".London, Nature: May 11, 1876. Pp 30-32 and concentrating mostly on the Gray telephone), Lockyer discusses one application of the telephone in the transmission of music. (He does mention the remarkable experiments of Bourbouze, who in 1870 attempted to use the Seine as a conductor between two stations, those being two bridges, each outfitted with electric piles, enabling the transmission of information without wires--but that's for another post).
Lockyer writes about "the germ of notable improvements to be made on the electric telegraph", that
"in its present state, the invention is so complete that we can, at a distance, repeat one or more pianos the air played by a similar instrument at the point of departure. There is a possibility here, we must admit, of a curious use of electricity. When we are going to have a dinner party, there will be no need to provide a musician. By paying a subscription to some enterprising individual, who will, no doubt, come forward to work in this vein, we can have from him, a waltz, a quadrille, or a gallop, just as we may desire. Simply turn a bell handle, as we do a cock of a water or gas-pipe, and we shall be supplied with what we want".
Lockyer finishes with this great line: "Perhaps our children may find the thing simple enough".
My initial reaction is great surprise, that this feeling about children coming to understand a new technology quickly/instantly reaches (in evidence) back to 1876. How far back in time does this sentiment or realization reach? Is it ancient? I've never really thought about it, but now that I have, a little, and been presented with hard evidence that the sentiment reaches back into the 19th century, that it might as well reach all the way back, deep into dusty history--even pre-dusty. In any event, even though it is a little difficult for me to ascertain Lockyer's real feelings about the use of the new instrument, his reaction to children and technology seems to be an honest belief.
(I actually have a series of original early papers on the telephone (1876-1878) including the one below, offered on the bookstore section of this blog, here).
Jean-Jacques Lequeu (1757-1825), a French architect of fabulously distanced sight, produced this breathtaking image in 1792. The Tomb of Lars Porsena, King of Etruria (the great Etruscan king, d. ca. 500 BCE ), is just one of hundreds of works by Lequeu, a re-discovered architectural genius who worked during the same era as other visionary architects such as Etienne Boullee (1728-1799), Claude-Nicolas Ledoux (1736-1806), Louis-Jean Desprez (1743-1803), Francois Barbier (1768-1826), Charles Bernard (1765-1818), Francois-Joseph Belanger (1747-1818), and others, though these guys are the most famous. As a matter of fact, I think, almost all of these architects were re-discovered—Boullee, perhaps the most famous of the lot, was found again not in his buildings but in his visionary drawings that he deposited with the National Library. But Lequeu—found again in the same way--it seems had to be rescued from an even greater obscurity than the others. He tried to expose a unity that he saw in the world, some secret sort of unity, that he saw all around him, and which was unseen by everyone else in creation—at least until the 20th century.
Lequeu started out in a staid and brilliant way, a successful architect in his own right, and student of Scoufflot, designing ancient-inspiration buildings for the super rich. But along came the Revolution and away went his career—he wound up a surveyor and a cartographer until his retirement in 1815, after which he enters social and historical oblivion, until he finally dies in total obscurity ten years later (or so, the date is unclear). His post-revolutionary vision was as phenomenal as his success in selling his ideas were dismal. Well, this is really a cheap shot—his imagination was shockingly large, enormous, his designs fantastic and beautiful, and completely unexpected, and they seemed to grow larger/loftier and more interesting as time wore away at him.
I think that as Lequeu was cleaved away, cell by cell falling through the floorboards of his single rented room, he reached further into time and deeper into space than almost any architect of that hundred-year period. I also think that he was very well aware of his genius being seen as pure eccentricity—his dozen or so self portraits are among the most bizarre that I’ve ever seen (before 1900).
The odd thing in all of this is that in this brilliance there is still a reluctance to leave the Baroque, and this at a time when just about everyone else---beginning around 1750—was abandoning it. So much of the work of the other visionaries mentioned earlier freed themselves of the Baroque—not entirely true, not true at all, for the unique creations of Lequeu, who (as in the Tomb of Lars Porsena) included more than a few bits of the practice even in his most incredible works.
Somehow Lequeu saw the Lars Porsena tomb as a 650-foot tall (!!) structure, with impossible insight and filigree. Extraordinary. (In the upper corners of the drawing of the tomb Lequeu included a design for a coin and also the plan of the structure. The original tomb of Lars Porsena, according to Pliny the elder in his Natural History, XXXVI, 19, 91ff, was a 15 meter high rectangular base with 90 meter sides--completely destroyed in the wars in the first century.
Perhaps his most sensational creation (and one which was devoid of all Baroque influence, as it turns out) was his Meeting Place at Bellevue. It is almost impossible to believe that it is am 18th century creation—it is as harmonious (armonia) as it is asymmetrical. It looks deeply 20th century, and looked as far into the future as it was deeply unknown.
I found these images browsing through The Illustrated London News for April (date obscured) 1853. In my experience seeing articulated, steam-driven robots in the mid-19th century is pretty unusual. There's an earlier image (from about 1849) that shows a robot like the one pictured above, though it was actually a man in a robot suit, a person driving a machine--the image above of "the Stream Ploughman" is clearly a stand-alone robot, as we can see through the thigh area, though it does have human attributes, like a semi-face and the capacity to whistler while it worked.
(This beautiful sprocket nest, for a patent for transmitting power (1874), like all of the following patent images, is located at Google Patents, here)
For some odd reason I was thinking about Spacely's Sprockets, George Jetson's (of The Jetsons cartoon in the 1960's) employer. I wondered if this was a high irony--the "sprockets" part-- and if there would be any sprockets in our space-aged future. Even by the end of the 60's, just at the end of this cartoon, I wonder if in the tens of thousands of parts that went into the hardware of the Apollo Project to get us to the Moon if there were any sprockets among them.
The sprocket was just such an excellent idea in the history of the transmission of power...but in the 15 or so books that are on hand here on the history of technology there's nothing in between "spring" and "Sputnik" in their indexes. Patents for sprockets seem to begin in U.S. patent history in the late 1860's. Sprockets show up in Gatling/machine guns (1878, with the Leland gun), chain propellers (1875), turn tables for railroads (1874), chain saws (1883), holler for printing machines (1882), stump extractors (1878), wind engine engines (1880), window shutters (1879), safety pulleys (1880), traction engines (1881), feathered paddling wheels (1882), potato differs (1883, with very great tank potential), harvesters (1880), hay elevators (1881), horse treadmills (1884), corn planters (1881), grain elevators (1883), and of course in veliocepedes (a very cumbersome device by Emmit G. Latta in 1880).
I suspect that there were sprockets in space in 1969, and perhaps they're in a Space X vehicle--I really don't know. Its just interesting to think of the coming of the sprocket and what an enormous influence it exerted in the history of power transmission--and the device's beauty.
My sneaking suspicion is that Rosie the Robot, the maid for the Jetson family--who was 45 years old in the beginning of the 1962 series-- was loaded with 1965 sprockets--whether sprockets would exist in the year 2062 or whatever year George Jetson was alive in (certainly many centuries post-2062) is another story. But Rosie--the outdated-model mid-life maid of the future and most reasonable character in the series--surely had them.