BY ANNIE CRENSHAW
The focus of the Futurama exhibit at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York was transportation. After all, Futurama was the brain child of General Motors, and corporate sponsorship was the foundation of the exhibit.
The exhibit’s designer, Norman Bel Geddes, envisioned the road network of 1960 with 14-lane superhighways crisscrossing the nation.
That really WAS unbelievable in 1939. But we can easily picture it or experience it for ourselves on a trip to a “big city.” Try driving on I-75 through Atlanta, where traffic can spread out to 15 lanes. Or, go a little further north and take a drive on Ontario’s King’s Highway 401, with 18 lanes.
Those transportation features make the four-lane and two-lane routes through and around Greenville a less monumental part of our local landscape. Which we appreciate, naturally.
Would we WANT our county seat town to be as stressful to navigate through as those “future come true” places? Not in 1939, not in 1960, and not today!
World’s Fair goers who braved the Futurama waiting line – which could be as much as a mile long – would eventually be sitting on an automated train with 552 seats.
Each seat had a built-in speaker through which a narrator explained how this “Wonderworld of 1960” worked with a transcontinental network of intricately designed highways.
In the future world of 1960, vehicles on the “Magic Motorways” could move at speeds as high as 100 miles an hour. Radio beams would be built into the cars to control the distance between vehicles, ensuring safety and eliminating congestion.
Lane-centering and lane-change/blind-spot assist systems would prevent crashes and fender-benders. Highways of the future (alias 1960) would be almost accident-free.
Does this sound familiar? Shades of the future coming true today!
Of course we all know that many automobiles are now offered with features like “In-Lane Repositioning” and “Lane Change Assist,” exactly as Norman Bel Geddes designed and predicted nearly 85 years ago.
Your vehicle can control the distance between you and the next vehicle, or warn you of an impending collision, to prevent such an accident.
And, back-up cameras are becoming standard automotive equipment.
The ultimate technology is the driverless car.
Is there anyone who HASN’T seen a news article or advertisement about “autonomous vehicle technology”? That’s the technology of an assisted-driving or self-driving automobile.
A self-driving car, also known as an autonomous, driverless or robotic car, is a car capable of traveling without human input.
The pros and cons of such transportation are being debated this very minute. That, along with the increasing use of A.I. – or Artificial Intelligence, for those among our readers who aren’t “into” acronyms. We’re headed so fast into tomorrow, we’re not sure where we’re going!
The predicted cities of the future (as designers in 1939 saw them) would not only have automobiles that practically drove themselves, but would also have traffic moving on different levels – the lowest for service, such as pulling into parking lots and fueling stations, and the highest for “through” traffic moving at very high speeds.
Although the magic motorways shown in the Futurama exhibit in 1939 were beyond the technological and financial means of the day, they definitely helped acquaint the public with the concept of interstate highways.
That vision of the future was actually going to reach Butler County in 1962.
Learn more about Butler County history with membership in The Butler County Historical & Genealogical Society, P. O. Box 561, Greenville, AL 36037. Read more about Butler County’s Beginnings here – http://sites.rootsweb.com/~albchgs/, and, look for BCHGS on Facebook.