Still No Flying Cars

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A 1950 issue of Popular Mechanics predicts what life will be like in the year 2000.

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  1. What happened to the Skycar? Was that real or just fraud? Last I heard the alleged inventor was on his way to prison for defrauding investors.

  2. Listening to Opie and Anthony today?

    They did a great first hour on this 🙂

  3. Whoa, that was pretty cool. It’s surprising how wrong they got some things. If you can shop by television, why would you need a rocket to send mail? I think my favorite was the fully automated helicopter factory, run on paper-punch and vacuum-tubes! Har-dee-har-har.

  4. The parts they got right were pretty cool. Not everything was totally wrong.

  5. “Passenger travel by rail is a mere trickle…”

    So far so good…

    “Even commuters go to the city, a hundred miles away, in huge aerial busses that hold 200 passengers. Hundreds of thousands make such journeys twice a day in their own helicopters.”

    WTF? Okay, maybe not.

    Still it was right about more than I expected it to be. It’s amusing how so much is expected to be accomplished by new chemical methods, it really shows that these sort of things are a product of the times, as there was no real concept of genetics in the popular mind yet.

    Screw the flying car, I’ll take a $5000 house!

  6. Great post.

    I want the hose down living room. Actually, that’d be better for the kid’s rooms.

  7. I think Popular Mechanics did their own mea culpa on this in 2000.

    Obviously, it’s a lesson in the fact that technology doesn’t develop in straight lines.

    AT&T was touting the “video phone” at the 1964 World’s Fair, but it took the internet to make it somewaht of a reality. Chester Gould’s “wristwatch radio with TV” [‘Dick Tracy’ comics] was considered pure fantasy, but has turned out to be closer to reality than AT&T’s projections.

  8. Wait a minute, its 2007. I thought we were supposed to be buried in garbage, living on a waterless, treeless world, and awash in a sea of crash immorality.

    In the meantime, the 2057 docudrama that recently aired on Discovery did a great job shining light on biotech frontiers, but also threw in yet another flying car, big-ass Bladerunner skylines, and a world where everything looks like its part of downtown Tokyo. Pop-futurists are fun cultural icons, but I give the visionaries of 1950 a lot more credit.

  9. I thought we were supposed to be buried in garbage, living on a waterless, treeless world, and awash in a sea of crash immorality.

    That was the forecast from the Pop Bomb crowd from the 1970’s

  10. Discarded paper table “linen” and rayon underwear are bought by chemical factories to be converted into candy.

    That’s one prediction I’m glad they got wrong.

  11. Can anyone imagine what a nightmare scenario this would be? That is large numbers of individuals with flying cars? At least flying cars where they are the pilots (as opposed to a computer).

  12. It’d be like 9/11 in miniature, repeated three or four times a week.

  13. Sorry it took so long to remember. I read this edition in the University of Tennessee library around 1975 before they transferred the old periodicals to microfilm(che, whatever).

    On that shooting mail by rocket across the country, isn’t that what Iran is working on to send messages to Israel and open more friendly relations?

    Remember, you heard it from me first before Kucinich, Kennedy and Kerry rip me off!

  14. “9/11 in miniature?” You mean like 911 times 0.005?

    That’s right: 4.56. The terrorists will be winning many times over every day.

  15. I thought we were supposed to be fighting over the last bit of gasoline left in the ground now.

    I certainly feel funny about all the steroids, fetish gear, and hockey mask now.

  16. My favorite is the part about lighting oil slicks on fire to stop huricanes.

  17. Man, the entertainment value in watching somebody shave or apply make-up while piloting a flying car would almost make the ensuing mayhem worthwhile.

  18. Discarded paper table “linen” and rayon underwear are bought by chemical factories to be converted into candy.

    “Eat my shorts!”

    “Don’t mind if I do!”

    “Do you prefer milk chocolate or dark chocolate?”

    You know, one thing I like is that no matter how futuristic the old technology predictions are, the social predictions are so quaintly traditional: “A robotic assistant chef and an atomic stove make cooking a snap for apron-wearing housewife Jane, as she prepares dinner for her husband when he returns from work.”

  19. When Joe Dobson awakens in the morning he uses a depilatory. No soap or safety razor for him. It takes him no longer than a minute to apply the chemical, wipe it off with the bristles and wash his face in plain water.

    Nair brained schemes like these are why people have to shave dry in the international axe shaving competition.

  20. Yeah, the notion of the paradigm of the traditional, immediate post-war era, wife, continuing unchanged, right up until our future geniuses decided that the best, most efficient way to fry a chicken breast is via the splitting of atoms, is pretty mindbending. Then again, perhaps they thermonuclear cooking devices in mind.

  21. On a more sobering note, I happen to have on my desk some books about airplanes and space travel, published in 1969 and 1979.
    —————————————

    Beyond the AST [Advanced Supersonic Transport], FitzSimmons says that by the year 2000 the world’s fleets of transport vehicles may include the hypersonic aircraft. (The McDonnell Douglas Story – 1979)
    —————————————

    “This vehicle might tap an entirely new commercial market,” Bono projected. “Just as today’s ‘jet set’ hops over to the Riviera for the weekend, the well-heeled tourist of the 1980s might catch a Pegasus orbit express for rendezvous with a space station and a sojourn with companions 300 miles above the cares of this world.” (The McDonnell Douglas Story – 1979)
    ————————————–

    What lies farther ahead — as far as the year 2000? Experts foresee all airline planes, both subsonic an supersonic, as being wingless and wheelles “lifting bodies” powered by a combination of lift-thrust and horizontal thrust engines. Nor is the nuclear plane out of the question entirely. Some authorities think such a plane could be build within the next ten years and evolve by 1990 into a craft capable of carrying 1,000 passengers. (Flight – 1969)
    —————————————

    Artist’s concept of a nuclear-powered [manned] spacecraft of the type which might make the trip to the planet Mars in the 1980s. (Rockets – 1969)
    —————————————-

    When I think of the grand dreams people had, and how far “behind schedule” we are today, it makes me a little sad.

  22. On the Orwell Helicopter Factory:

    “The holes in the paper indicate exactly how long a reamer is to smooth the inside of a cylinder,”

    Wow. What with this and the recycling underwear into candy, the future sure sounds dirty.

  23. Ah, mr. Zanetti, I merely meant a lot of flying objects would be crashing into buildings, not the terrorism aspect. Besides, with the lousy drivers abounding the streets of the US, we wouldn’t need terrorists for carnage. They would really have to work hard to get noticed amongst all the wreckage plummeting to earth.

  24. The town will be centered on the airport?

    I guess we were all supposed to go deaf when Yeager flew the X-1.

  25. Substitution effects. Nobody understood the extent to which information technology would supplant the need for increased access to physical travel.

  26. joe:

    Well, there is Atlanta, I guess.

  27. Will Allen,

    Yeah, the notion of the paradigm of the traditional, immediate post-war era, wife, continuing unchanged, right up until our future geniuses decided that the best, most efficient way to fry a chicken breast is via the splitting of atoms, is pretty mindbending. Then again, perhaps they thermonuclear cooking devices in mind.

    Actually, in the article they say that atomic power is not efficient enough for Americans, but it will be huge in Canada, South America and Asia. Of course, North America will use solar power exclusively. Don’t forget about the felony of burning stuff and, in the future, natural gas is not natural enough, it must be “generated” in special mines and cleaned before burning! None of that old burn-off from oil wells.

    Tottenville is as clean as a whistle and quiet. It is a crime to burn raw coal and pollute air with smoke and soot. In the homes electricity is used to warm walls and to cook. Factories all burn gas, which is generated in sealed mines. The tars are removed and sold to the chemical industry for their values, and the gas thus laundered is piped to a thousand communities.

    . . .

    Power plants are not driven by atomic power as you might suppose. It was known as early as 1950 that an atomic power plant would have to be larger and much more expensive than a fuel-burning plant to be efficient. Atomic power proves its worth in Canada, South America and the Far East, but in tropical countries it cannot compete with solar power. It is as hopeless in 2000 as it was in 1950 to drive machinery directly by atomic energy. Engineers can do no more than utilize the heat generated by converting uranium into plutonium. The heat is used to drive engines, and the engines in turn drive electric generators. A good deal of thorium is used because uranium 235 is scarce.

    As a predictor of the real-world future, the article is pretty far off. As a blueprint for every enviro-wackjob ‘solution’ not a damn thing has changed in 50 years!

  28. Correction:

    Of course, North America will use solar power exclusively.

    Should be extensively, otherwise we will be using “alternative fuels” like this odd gas stuff from the article.

    BTW, if I could get a drain installed in the floor of the bathroom of my condo I would be doing that water hose cleaning method in there right after the full tile job is done.

    Humm, maybe I could tile the livingroom and use pool furniture? Wow, these PM guys are cooler than I thought!

  29. “JasonL | February 8, 2007, 3:22pm | #

    joe:

    Well, there is Atlanta, I guess.”

    WHAT?

  30. profiles of the future was a lot closer. i’m waiting for my personal GEM.

  31. “On the moon you only weigh 1/6 what you weigh on Earth… Whoa, slow down, tubby! You’re not on the moon yet!”

  32. The future will be soooo futuristic you can even order an all-black chrome chassis for your robotic servant! And how!

  33. This is why bad sci-fi has a shelf life of about 3 years. Good sci-fi: maybe 10.

  34. ipods, cell phones, and internet…did they get those?

    The left’s fixation on transportation seems to neglect the trend of it becoming obsolete.

    And yes 50’s futurism is irreversibly linked with todays left.

  35. joe:

    Isn’t Atlanta basically a Delta hub in the dirty south?

  36. Whatever happened to the price of tobacco in 2000, that traditional example of linear extrapolation.

    There have been plenty of flying cars, starting the late 40s with Aerocar I think. They were not great successes.

    I had an Aeronca 7AC in my garage in the early 60s. I don’t know if that counts.

  37. According to Back to the Future, we should have flying cars by 2015. That’s just 8 years away, so we better get crackin’!

  38. “The left’s fixation on transportation seems to neglect the trend of it becoming obsolete.”

    Huh?

    The leftists I have known have been rather negative on all forms of improved personal transportation, going back to the Hearst Newspapers’ condemning the automobile as a “toy of the rich.”

    And I don’t think I’ve ever met a leftist who would TOUCH an issue of Popular Mechanics.

    “Gee Whiz” toys – and extrapolations of them – seem more a facination with the geeks and the rich, who tend to be anything but leftist.

  39. “Any marked departure from what Joe -Dobson and his fellow citizens wear and eat and how they amuse themselves will arouse comment. If old Mrs. Underwood, who lives around the corner from the Dob-sons and who was born in 1920 insists on sleeping under an old-fashioned comforter instead of an aerogel blanket of glass puffed with air so that it is as light as thistledown, she must expect people to talk about her “queerness.””

    And they would know what’s on her bed how?

  40. Mm-hmm, people excited by “gee whiz” toys are anything but leftist.

  41. Is there a magazine more ironically titled than Popular Mechanics? Though my own reading of the rag has been limited thus far, what was the last thing in the rag that could actually be labeled “popular”?

  42. “Tend” to be anything but…

    Not “are never” …

  43. There ARE flying cars. It’s just that no one is buying them:

    http://www.moller.com/

  44. “We are living in the future
    I’ll tell you how I know
    I read it in the paper
    Fifteen years ago.”

  45. WASH: Psychic, though? That sounds like something out of science fiction!

    ZOE: Dear, we live in a spaceship.

    WASH: So?

  46. This is why bad sci-fi has a shelf life of about 3 years. Good sci-fi: maybe 10.

    ed,
    Read some PKD, man! That shit never expires.

  47. funny how all this shit was supposed to get all future-y, and yet the breadwinner/housewife model was supposed to stick around.

  48. “Gee Whiz” toys – and extrapolations of them – seem more a facination with the geeks and the rich, who tend to be anything but leftist.

    Yea, that’s exactly what the SF Bay Area is like. No gadgets, no Leftists.

    George Soros and Ted Turner secretly vote Republican or something?

    Do you write for PM or the New York Times?

  49. Jason L,

    “joe:

    Isn’t Atlanta basically a Delta hub in the dirty south?”

    You’re going to have to speak up.

    (The returns from this joke are rapidly diminishing. Sell, joe, sell!)

  50. “funny how all this shit was supposed to get all future-y, and yet the breadwinner/housewife model was supposed to stick around.”

    Not to mention the concentric circles of development and everyone still working in the city.

  51. In the future, people and freight will travel through pneumatic tubes, which will go to practically any destination.

  52. “In the future, people and freight will travel through pneumatic tubes, which will go to practically any destination.”

    Strange, travelling through a pneumatic tube is exactly the way my last Air Canada flight felt.

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