1939 vision of the future

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The World of Tomorrow in 1939 – post on Design Observer about the 1939 New York World’s Fair, a dazzling display of optimism and innovation 75 years ago with the theme ‘Building the World of Tomorrow’.

For a nation just coming out of the Great Depression and about to enter the Second World War, this fair is considered to be an important benchmark in visionary design thinking, and did much for New York City history and the culture of the nation.

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What most of us recognize from this fair are the huge Trylon and Perisphere that became its symbols.  There’s a wonderful episode of Twilight Zone, The Odyssey of Flight 33, in which an airliner heading for New York City in 1961 ends up going back in time.  The crew only realizes what time period when they see the Trylon and Perisphere far below in what looks like actual aerial footage.

 “The spirit of the fair was personified by two giant architectural structures, the stark white Trylon, a 700 foot spire and the Perisphere, a gigantic orb “as large as a city block.

But it was in General Motors’ Futurama exhibit designed by Norman Bell Geddes that a visitor could step onto a moving conveyor belt and see for themselves what homes and highways, airports and farms might look like 20 years into the future.

Thanks to the Museum of the City of New York we, too, can see some of what a fair-goer might have seen.  The museum has put an archive of images from the 1939 World’s Fair online.  There are pages and pages of drawings, plans, and photos of fair buildings and exhibits (including the Hugh Ferris rendering, above, but only one image from the Futurama).  Wired Magazine included a 5+ min clip of some of the Futurama displays in an article here, with rousing commentary that provides an interesting glimpse into planning theory of the time.

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Update: While we’re on the subject of predictions of the future, check out this short clip of Walter Cronkite in 1967 showing us the office of the 21st century.  Saw it here.

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