American companies during World War II often stressed sacrifice in their print advertising. If we can all just be patient, they promised, we'll have more televisions and personal helicopters and push-button kitchens than you can shake a rocket car at.
The June 24, 1945 San Antonio Express ran an article by Associated Press science writer Frank Carey that looked at the futuristic post-war products Americans were being promised. Dissecting a Labor Department report, Carey describes what it would take, with the end of the war, for these products to see the light of day.
I'm most intrigued by the article's optimistic outlook on plastics, "...and years after the war, we may even see automobile bodies made entirely of plastics." However, the report acknowledges that plastic's high price doesn't make it quite yet competitive with steel. Magnesium, plywood, aluminum.. it's fascinating to look at what people of the 1940s thought the future would be built upon.
Carey's entire article is below, but I'll leave you with one word about the future: plastics.
Dresses made of aluminum mesh...
Bathtubs made of plywood...
Transparent refrigerators made of plastics...
Automobiles with magnesium engine and body parts...
Such visionary products of the post-war world are either in the design or experimental stage, or they're being talked about as possibilities.
But the extent to which they might come into use depends upon various factors. Not the least is the dollar sign.
Discussion of the post-war outlook for such war-developed materials as polastics, aluminum, magnesium, plywood and synthetic rubber, is contained in a report made by the Department of Labor's bureau of statistics to the Senate subommittee on war mobilization.
The latter group, a brand of the Senate military affairs committee, described the report as "the first comprehensive statement of wartime developments."
The extent to which these new materials will be generally adopted is difficult to foretell," says the report.
"It is apparent that many of them will find larger markets than in the pre-war era period, but it is also virtually certain that not all of the facilities built during the war for the production of these materials will be needed. Comparisons of costs of various materials, which have not been of the greatest signifcance during the war, will again become important when peace returns."
And the report adds:
"The costs of production for these newer materials will be influenced not only by purely economic factors but by many political considerations.
"Of primary importance will be the policies followed in the disposition of government-owned facilities. For some materials, notably synthetic rubber, much will depend on the policies adopted with respect to foreign trade.
"Many of the new materials will compete with each other as well as the older materials for particular uses — for example, plastics, aluminum, magnesium, and plywood."
The Labor Department's glance into the future was part of a comprehensive study of some 1400 technological developments made in various fields during wartime.
Of plastic, this picture was given:
Special qualities of plastics, such as transparency and resistance to chemical action, will fit them for varied uses in industry, the laboratory and the home. Continued use of plastics for structural parts and other articles in aircraft and automobiles is expected.
And years after the war, we may even see automobile bodies made entirely of plastics.
On the other hand —
"The future of the plastics industry will be governed largely by economic factors," says the report. "The price per pound of most plastics remains higher than that of many materials with which plastics compete.
"Despite the fact that articles of plastics are usually lighter than those of metal and that economies may be affected in fabrication, the price differential between plastics and, for example, steel is so great as to discourage large-scale substitution.
"There nevertheless remains a multitude of applications in which plastics are highly economical, because of special properties not elsewhere attainable or because of great savings in fabrication time and costs.
The report points out that the production of aluminum and magnesium expanded tremendously during wartime and says both materials may come into greater use in the future.
While the annual production of magnesium before 1939 was 4,000,000 pounds, production in 1943 was 368,000,000 pounds and the nation has production capacity for much more.
Indicated uses for aluminum, the report says, are for buses, automobiles, passenger ships and for the manufacture of household appliances, furniture, bicycles and burial caskets. But most uses, it adds, "are contingent upon a suitable adjustment of the price of aluminum relative to that of stainless steel, plastics, magnesium or other competing materials."
Desings have been prepared for automobiles with much aluminum in engine and body, "but the large-scale application of these designs will probably have to await further development of inexpensive mass-production methods of working with the metal."
The outlook for plywood in the post-war world "is promising" says the report, but it, too, will have to cope with competition."
Among possible uses are private airplanes, lightweight box-cars, prefabricated chicken houses and automobile bodies.
The Paleofuture Blog was started by Matt Novak in January of 2007. Matt has since become an accidental expert on past visions of the future, and has amassed an enormous library of media related to the study of retro-futurism. Matt can be reached at email@example.com or followed on Twitter.