This Is Futurama

excerpted from wired.com:

1939: The New York World’s Fair opens in Flushing Meadow Park. It will give visitors a glimpse of “the world of tomorrow” and shape industrial design, pop culture and the way the future would envision the future.

The fair ran two seasons, from 1939 to 1940. The most memorable exhibit was the General Motors Pavilion, and the most memorable feature in the General Motors Pavilion was a ride called the Futurama. People stood in line for hours to ride it and experience the exciting possibilities of life in the distant future — the year 1960.

The Futurama ride carried fair visitors past tiny, realistic landscapes while a narrator described the world of tomorrow. The effect was like catching a glimpse of the future from the window of an airplane. As you might expect from a ride sponsored by GM, the focus was on what roadways and transportation might look like in 20 years.

The 1939 Futurama had two other factors that compounded the fascination: first, a promise of personal car ownership (and after the Great Depression that sounded pretty good), and second, a grand vision of the future. Up until the Futurama, manufacturers had exhibited at fairs to show how they made their products. Then the Futurama came along and said, Here is how the future will feel. The 1939 audience wasn’t used to having a company selling optimism, and it made their hearts sing.

The Futurama wasn’t so much about the cars GM intended to build. Visitors were told about certain features these future cars might have — such as radio controls that help them maintain proper distance from each other — but the vehicles themselves were so tiny that they could barely be distinguished.

What the Futurama ride was really selling was a highway system — a taxpayer-funded highway system. In E. L. Doctorow’s World’s Fair, a family exits the ride, and the father says, ‘General Motors is telling us what they expect from us: We must build them the highways so they can sell us the cars.’”

At the end of the first Futurama exhibit, fair visitors were given a pin. At the end of the second, it was a pocket tab, but the simple message was the same: I HAVE SEEN THE FUTURE.

The Futurama returned for the 1964 World's Fair, also in Flushing Meadows. It didn't have the same sociological impact, but the space colonization-themed motorized dioramas were truly wondrous:

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