The 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair – which took place of course just as the world teetered on the brink of apocalypse – made the expansive promise to show visitors ‘the world of tomorrow.’

At the fair’s heart was the General Motors Pavilion and a ride called the Futurama.

According to many reports lines were endless. There was a real hunger amongst the public to experience what life would be like in the the year 1960.

Hover cars, anti-gravity machines and highways in the sky: all traceable to 1939’s Futurama

In a very real sense, the American modernist ideal articulated at the Futurama with those of Europe in the ashes of the second world war – and a world that approximated the Geddes-designed utopia grew out of the devastation.

city of 1960_'39

Rather than featuring actual General Motors concept cars, visitors to Futurama were introduced to prescient visions of a real urban future of : like proximity control devices and sat nav.

Squint critically at the dream encapsulated in the Futurama vision: you can see that what this all about was the promotion of a tax funded road system that would motor the postwar economy of both North America and Europe – thereby furthering the rise and rise of the biggest corporation in American history.

And though it’s ironic to think that the corporation who summoned this sort of world into existence is now all but bankrupt, it’s obvious that the exhibition has huge influence on popular culture in general. Post war architecture and urban planning, science fiction movies and would be unrecognisable had Futurama not been created.

Designer Norman Geddes pre-empted gridlock by a few decades

Though it’s easy to dismiss the somewhat quaint trappings of an exhibit like Futurama, think for a moment: the world might be a better place if the establishment had followed the designs of the exhibition to the letter.

Norman Bel Geddes, the designer of the Futurama carried out extensive research into potential traffic problems and how to overcome them with technology – decades before the problems even manifested themselves.

But nobody paid much attention to the problems Geddes anticipated. We ended up with the motorways and the towering urban residencies and workplaces – but the roads are approaching gridlock and the workers in the glass towers are bringing the downfall of captialism, and the tower blocks are the manifestation of a popular modernist folk devil.

Perhaps if we lived the Futurama way, there would be no oil shortage, no climate change and there’s be no need for all this post millennial angst that’s making us look at electric cars for inspiration.

But then again, perhaps not.


6 Responses to “Futurama!”

  1. Where this vision has backfired in the UK its still working nicely in America, however its the very reason we are having the problems we have today with over consumption of resources and polution.
    This pending problem was not forseen originally just as in todays world people cannot see the benefits of living a more sustainable lifestyle over the one we have become accustomed too.
    Financial greed is preventing the implementation of sustainable infrastructures meant to save the human species from extinction. This is the same formulae that built the GM empire that has recently collapsed and been felt world wide. Todays petro chemical industry built on the back of the motor car and farming industry is so vast its fighting attempts at every level to maintain the status quo. Its stock holders and employees are only interested in profit of a known product (oil) not some unknown such as wave/tidal /wind/or solar power.
    This greed for financial gain will be the final undoing of mankind.

  2. Like for any well thought visions, it would have worked better if everyone followed it. It is the problem with GM's Futurama, it assumed a totally ordered society where efficiency is king. It nearly annihilates the human factor I would say (notice that no human is present in the video, only efficient roads and cities). It also contradicts itself sometimes, like when it says that a city as planned by GM would be with fresh air…

  3. Rob Birchall

    How can I watch the YouTube video? it’s saying it is set to private, any way I can contact the owner to ask for permission?