Typewriters, Underwater Hotels And Picture Phones: The Future, As Seen From 1964

Play associated audio

The 1964 World's Fair showcased jet packs and new miracles of science. There was an entire house made from Formica. You could wipe it clean with a sponge!

The people who put the fair together tried to imagine how the future would look. Here are a few predictions, and how they actually turned out.

1. We had picture phones back then?

Vito Turso was at the fair when he used one of the first picture phones. Back then, he was a boy selling pizza at the fair. He says the picture phone was one of his favorite exhibits.

"To walk into this room and have a conversation through what was like a small television — it was incredible," Turso said. "The lines to use the picture phone were unending."

But the picture phone was expensive back then — and it took decades before the technology became affordable. Also, it turns out, people don't always want to see the person they're talking with. Even now, in the era of Skype and Facetime, people mostly just want to talk on the phone, without seeing the person on the other end.

2. The fair basically missed the computer and the Internet.

IBM had an exhibit at the fair. But it focused mostly on the Selectric Typewriter, according to Larry Samuel, who wrote a book about the fair.

Samuel says while the exhibit did include computers, they just seemed like machines for adding numbers together. "At the time, it really was just a business machine," Samuel says.

The fancy new electric typewriter seemed like a bigger deal.

3. Why don't we have underwater hotels?

Futurama was a ride at the fair that took you past dioramas of what the future might look like. One showcased an underwater hotel.

Alas, there aren't many underwater hotels open today. But there is the Jules Undersea Lodge in Key Largo, Fla. It isn't fancy. It's at the bottom of a lagoon, and you have to scuba or swim down to it. There's no stove (but there is a microwave).

Neil Monney, who developed the place, said he has tried to build a fancier underwater hotel. But investors are hard to find. The World's Fair brought together futurists and the diorama-makers. But they didn't invite bankers.

A fantasy utopia

The fair presented a Utopian vision of the future, where technology and science could solve problems. But, Samuel says, even back then people didn't quite believe it. President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated a few months before the fair opened; there were civil rights protests; the Vietnam War was happening; and the economic optimism of the 1950s was fading.

People went to the fair, Samuel says, because it was a fantasy.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

Lawsuit Will Decide Who Owns 'Star Trek' Language Klingon

Paramount Pictures holds the copyright to Klingon, spoken by some characters in "Star Trek." The Language Creation Society is arguing Klingon is a real language, and is therefore not copyrightable.
NPR

Germany's Beer Purity Law Is 500 Years Old. Is It Past Its Sell-By Date?

For centuries, German law has stipulated that beer can only be made from four ingredients. But as Germany embraces craft beer, some believe the law impedes good brewing.
WAMU 88.5

The Politics Hour - April 29, 2016

Kojo reviews Maryland's primary results and what they mean for the region and November's elections. The Supreme Court hears arguments in the case of Virginia's former governor. And a major funder of youth programs in the District is bankrupt.

NPR

Join Us At Noon Today For An #AirbnbWhileBlack Twitter Chat

Today, Code Switch's Gene Demby and Hidden Brain's Shankar Vedantam will be leading a Twitter chat to discuss what it's like to be a person of color participating in the sharing economy.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.