Visions of 1964 World's Fair didn't all come true

Apr 12, 2014 by Deepti Hajela
This 1964 file photo from the World's Fair in the Queens borough of New York shows a views of the future in the "Futurama 2" ride put together by General Motors. The millions of visitors who attended the New York World's Fair that opened in 1964 were introduced to a range of technological innovations and predictions. Some of those turned out to be right on the money and others, perhaps thankfully, were way off the mark. (AP Photo/File)

Video phone calls? Yeah, we do that. Asking computers for information? Sure, several times a day. Colonies on the moon and jet packs as a mode of everyday transportation. OK, maybe not.

The New York World's Fair of 1964 introduced 51 million visitors to a range of technological innovations and predictions, some that turned out to be right on the money and others that, perhaps thankfully, were way off the mark.

At the Bell System pavilion, engineers touted a "picturephone" that allowed callers to see who they were talking to, a concept that lives on in modern-day apps such as Skype and FaceTime.

At the time, though, picture phones didn't take off, said Lori Walters, history professor at the University of Central Florida. She attributed that to high setup costs that made them accessible to relatively few. And at a time when many men attended the fair in coat and tie and women in dresses, people weren't quite ready to be seen on the phone at any hour, in their pajamas or worse.

"We were still a little more of a formal society," Walters said.

The fair also gave wide exposure to the power of computers, which at the time were seen as huge cabinets of blinking lights and electrodes operated by big corporations. At the IBM pavilion, visitors saw a in which a machine took in a card with a date written on it and gave back another card with a news story from that date. At the NCR pavilion, a computer would answer scientific questions or give out recipes from a cookbook.

This 1964 file photo from the World's Fair in the Queens borough of New York shows a views of a moon colony in the "Futurama 2" ride put together by General Motors. The millions of visitors who attended the New York World's Fair that opened in 1964 were introduced to a range of technological innovations and predictions. Some of those turned out to be right on the money and others, perhaps thankfully, were way off the mark. (AP Photo/File)

Hmm, asking a computer for information? Well, hello, Google.

"I don't think it's a stretch to say in a lot of ways this fair was key to familiarizing people with and really normalizing the concept of working with computers," said Ryan Ritchey, a Philadelphia filmmaker who's making a documentary about the fair.

In this undated file photo provided by Disney, Walt Disney displays a model of Disney's "It's a Small World" attraction from the 1964 New York World's Fair. Along with three other exhibitions, including one featuring a robotic President Abraham Lincoln, Disney used the opportunity of the fair to test out concepts. The exhibitions were then put in place at Disney's parks and have been there ever since. (AP Photo/Disney)

Another bit of technology (along with an annoyingly hard-to-forget song) was introduced by Walt Disney with the "It's a Small World" attraction: robotic animation.

That "animatronic" exhibit and three others, including one featuring a robotic President Abraham Lincoln, showed characters moving in lifelike ways, including smiling and blinking.

"This is the first time that millions of people had the opportunity to see something that could be described as robotic. The special effects you could see in the World's Fair blew away what you could see in the movies," said Joseph Tirella, author of a book about the fair.

In this 1964 file photo provided by AT&T, a Picturephone is demonstrated at the AT&T Pavilion at the 1964 World's Fair in the Queens borough of New York. The Picturephone itself may have never caught on, but the concept endures in technology such as SKYPE. The New York World's Fair that opened in April 1964 introduced the 51 million visitors to a range of technological innovations and predictions for how the future would look. (AP Photo/AT&T, File)

Of course, not everything presented as the way of the future came to pass, as seen in some of the views of the future in the "Futurama 2" ride put together by General Motors. It included scenes of colonies on the moon as well as in Antarctica, huge underwater dwellings and a machine that used a laser to cut through rainforests, leaving behind paved roads.

And don't forget the jet packs, demonstrated by men who wore them and zoomed around the grounds, but which remain a mode of transport found primarily in science fiction.

In this 1964 file photo provided by Disney, shows visitors to the "It's a Small World" attraction at the 1964 World's Fair in the Queens borough of New York. Along with three other exhibitions, including one featuring a robotic President Abraham Lincoln, Disney used the opportunity of the fair to test out concepts. The exhibitions and the robotic animation were then put in place at Disney's parks and have been there ever since. (AP Photo/HO, Disney, File)

Regardless of whether such notions survived, observers say the fair offered a vision of the world's potential that made it seem like anything was possible.

"It really seems like 50 years ago, we had more exciting visions for 50 years in the future than we do now," Ritchey said.

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julianpenrod
1.5 / 5 (11) Apr 12, 2014
There are many who suggest a disconnect between predicting the future and the actual future. In fact, it's most the corporations deciding what they want and don't want. There is, for example, a way to alter even conventional car engines to get 100 miles per gallon, but the gas companies wouldn't have that. Computers answer questions today, but they are often disabled by virus like advertising pop ups. But, then, all computers are built with back doors so the corporations can unleash viruses to cripple them and force purchase of new systems on schedule every two or three years. And television, the marvel of the 1939 World's Fair, is broadcasting "reality TV". And, note, that the universal "future" depicted today, "grunge" in nature, is not modeled after hopes or real expectations, but just to be the kind of atmosphere that appeals to the marijuana addicted punk types spending most of their time on computers and spending the most money on garbage.
Eikka
5 / 5 (7) Apr 12, 2014
There is, for example, a way to alter even conventional car engines to get 100 miles per gallon, but the gas companies wouldn't have that.


No. Instead they settle for about 80 MPG as a compromize because people don't want to buy tiny underpowered cars. Physics and thermodynamics you know - can't get something for nothing.

You really should update your conspiracy woo to the year 2014.
julianpenrod
1 / 5 (4) Apr 13, 2014
Popular Mechanics, Popular Science, Mass Transportation, between 1938 and 1968 ran a number of articles about cars that could get at least 200 miles per gallon. The key is vaporizing gas in the engine to a degree even modern engines do not. The burning of the near liquid gas in modern engines is nowhere near the degree of burning of gas vapors. Cleaner exhausts can be a consequence, as well.
alfie_null
5 / 5 (2) Apr 13, 2014
100 miles per gallon, but the gas companies wouldn't have that.

In every country? Like China, a powerful, technologically advanced country where big oil has no influence? Yeah, right.
. . . disabled by virus like advertising pop ups.

Not a problem on my computer. Care to guess why?
. . . back doors . . . corporations can unleash viruses to cripple them and force purchase of new systems

Microsoft doesn't build computers ('least not ones that sell). Apple doesn't charge for OS updates. Your statement is irrational.
. . . appeals to the marijuana addicted punk types spending most of their time on computers and spending the most money on garbage.

Must be a pretty big group to have such an influence on our view of the future.

Would you say we're more schizo now than decades ago?
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (3) Apr 13, 2014
We would see a lot more of this if an adequate power source existed.
http://www.e-catworld.com

We could be on the verge of another major tech revolution. Or not.
. . . back doors . . . corporations can unleash viruses to cripple them and force purchase of new systems
I wonder. I just blew another power source on my notebook. I read where the bios needs to be updated to fix this. Why doesn't the bios update itself? Doesn't this qualify as planned obsolescence?
Whydening Gyre
not rated yet Apr 13, 2014
Would you say we're more schizo now than decades ago?

Bout the same... Because pot is still mostly illegal?