Corporate America Predicts the Future at the 1962 Seattle World's Fair

Illustration for article titled Corporate America Predicts the Future at the 1962 Seattle Worlds Fair

"What'll It Be Like in 2000 A.D.?" asked Popular Science in its April 1962 preview of the marvels to be found at the Seattle World's Fair, which opened that month. First up on Popular Science's tour of the future was the Standard Oil diorama. Not surprisingly it featured a host of gas-guzzling vehicles for land and air—and failed to predict either fuel shortages or oil at $100 a barrel.

Huge, rocket airliners that can take off and land vertically soar through the skies. Individuals take to the air in scooters. Big jet helicopters serve as aerial busses and trucks. A few gyrocopters—silent as a breeze—float overhead.


Air scooters instead of jet packs? This was a bold departure from the accepted canon of 21st-century gadgetry. Anyway, for commuters, there were jet-propelled monorails (a step up from the electric ones that brought visitors to the fairgrounds) and rocket subways "roar[ing] through plastic tubes." Superhighways were electronically controlled and "surfaced with colored plastic, various hues indicating the fast, slow, and exit lanes."

General Motors expanded the electronic highway theme, imagining cars (perhaps even the Firebird III pictured above) that were "steered, accelerated, braked or stopped without any assistance from their drivers." (Amend this to "from their drivers' brains," and I think we would all agree this is happening now.) Instead "various current-carrying wires [were] buried in the pavement. Pickup coils . . . mounted on the cars" flashed signals to "electrohydraulic servos" which did all the work. "Meanwhile, the driver can safely take a snooze if he likes."


Plastic-walled houses got their electricity from a "petroleum-powered fuel cell . . . the size of a standard office desk," at least according to Standard Oil. Another view was presented "in the Fair's theme diorama, 'The World of Tomorrow.'"

Here are houses put together with chemical fasteners in place of nails, built of color-impregnated materials that never need painting, and kept clean by high-frequency sound. The homes have solar ovens for use on clear days, microwave ovens for stormy days. Each chair or sofa can be heated or cooled individually to suit the sitter. Heating devices are woven into the rugs and installed in the walls.

Dwellers would wear "lightweight, all-year, disposable clothing and incredibly durable plastic shoes." They'd sleep on disposable sheets and eat from disposable dishes. Once again, frozen food was the dinner of the future. It would be stored in "big cellar freezers which would rise to the kitchen at the touch of a button." "Domestic computers, sometimes casually given their instructions over the telephone, would be your servants."

Where the futurists of 1962 really shone, however, was in the field of communications. AT&T predicted fiber optics ("enormous conversational traffic will ride on beams of light"), cordless phones, videophones, teleconferencing, and the internet ("Between offices hundreds of miles apart, machine will 'talk' to machine, as computers automatically feed data to one another.") RCA claimed that all televisions would be color, ranging in size from that of a book, to "a very large set, only five inches thick" (huge compared to today's flat-panels, of course, but slender for the day). "One such console will offer a choice of live or preselected taped TV shows, plus stereophonic radio and tape recorder"—a primitive home entertainment center.


Even the American Library Association got in on the act, predicting computers that "at the twist of a dial" would "spew out complete lists of reference books on any subject. And if you want to take a look at a rare picture or manuscript in some distant library, you can do so by closed-circuit TV." Photo: Seattle Post-Intelligencer

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"We will eat cheap petro-products for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and bathe in petroleum every day to cleanse our pores!"