…How did the world of tomorrow look to those who were trying to envisage it in 1939 at the New York World’s Fair? The reality of change quickly outstripped the vision as it was embodied but…
…The most graphic representation of the future, and the most popular exhibit at the Fair, was the General Motors Futurama. Designed by Norman Bel Geddes as his conception of the world of 1960, it was the largest animated scale model ever built, containing 35,000 square feet of miniature highways, cities, towns and farms, half a million miniature buildings,a million trees, and fifty thousand scale model vehicles. Doubtless many of the twenty-five million persons who rode through the wonders of the Futurama on a moving platform either gaped in disbelief or considered the whole thing a pleasant fantasy.
In fact, some of Bel Geddes visions became more or less literally true; some continue to seem unattainable, and some of these now seem clearly undesirable as well. Also, a surprising number were surpassed so decisively that they now seem quite timid. Here were the expressways cutting though cities that, in the years after 1939, were indeed to make cross-country travel so much faster; here was the expansion of suburban living that was indeed to take place on a vast scale; here were the interstate superhighways that were to ruin the railroads in the postwar period.
The 100-mile speed limits that the Futurama envisaged have not developed, nor has the segregation of vehicular and pedestrian traffic to separate levels in cities; furthermore, most planners would agree that the Futurama’s assumption of the desirability of rigidly dividing cities into residential, commercial, and industrial sections has been emphatically reversed by recent experience.
Still, in its vision of the general tone of the future America- bigger, richer, more impersonal, more mechanized, more crowded- the Futurama was a remarkable essay in prophecy. Where it chiefly erred was not in overexuberance but, characteristically for 1939, in nearsightedness. For example he predicted thirty-eight million cars in America for 1960 but the actual figure was almost double.
(see link at end)… The 1939 Futurama had two other factors that compounded the fascination: first, a promise of personal car ownership (and after the Great Depression that sounded pretty good), and second, a grand vision of the future. Up until the Futurama, manufacturers had exhibited at fairs to show how they made their products, and then the Futurama came along and said, Here is how the future will feel. The 1939 audience wasn’t used to having a company selling optimism, and it made their hearts sing.”
GM’s ride presented a utopia forged by urban planning. Sophisticated highways ran through rural farmland and eventually moved into carefully ordered futuristic cities. “You have to understand that the audience had never even considered a future like this,” says Howland. “There wasn’t an interstate freeway system in 1939. Not many people owned a car. They staggered out of the fair like a cargo cult and built an imperfect version of this incredible vision.”
The Futurama wasn’t so much about the cars GM intended to build. Visitors were told about certain features these future cars might have — such as radio controls that help them maintain proper distance from each other —but the vehicles themselves were so tiny that they could barely be distinguished. What the Futurama ride was really selling was a highway system —a taxpayer-funded highway system. “I think the best take on it was in E. L. Doctorow’s novel World’s Fair,” says Howland. “A family exits the ride, and the father says, ‘General Motors is telling us what they expect from us: we must build them the highways so they can sell us the cars.'” Read More:http://www.wired.com