1920s Gaming and the 1939 World's Fair
May 6, 2012 12:52 PM   Subscribe

"A maverick theater and industrial designer, Norman Bel Geddes is best remembered for creating the undisputed hit of the 1939 New York World’s Fair. Mounted in the midst of the Great Depression, the Fair focused on America’s promise of a utopian tomorrow. Geddes’s Futurama, a piece of “immersion theater,” took six hundred visitors at a time on a swooping, simulated airplane ride across America circa 1960." "The City of Tomorrow, a model of Manhattan that Geddes created, in 1937, to promote Shell Oil Company’s new “motor-digestible” gasoline, is often cited as [Futurama's inspiration.] But Futurama’s beginnings actually harken back much further, to the meticulous, insanely detailed private games he created in the 1920s and early ’30s for the amusement of his friends." posted by zamboni (15 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
Amazing article. I can't believe I've never heard of either of these earlier games before. They sound remarkable. I wish that there was some comment on whatever became of them.
posted by meinvt at 1:24 PM on May 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

I like this guy!
posted by sfts2 at 1:45 PM on May 6, 2012

Oh man. Futurama. If you haven't seen the video yet, check them out.

You know what my entire favorite part of visiting Disney World was? The future diorama's in the Space Mountain ride and World of Tomorrow. I actually suffered through the roller coaster ride as a child just for the future diorama you got to watch as you shuffled in line waiting to get on. I didn't know why they had to ruin such a cool display with a roller coaster at the end.
posted by mrzarquon at 1:46 PM on May 6, 2012 [3 favorites]

His War Game ended up costing him "thirteen thousand dollars out of pocket". Sounds about right for a good 40K or Flames of War tabletop force nowadays.
posted by sudasana at 1:50 PM on May 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

But what about his photographs of babies dressed up like fruit and animals, vegetables and fairies; said images churned into saccharine greeting cards and calendars? What about his line of designer clothing? While celebrating this man's legacy we can not forget the horrors he unleashed upon the public.
posted by komara at 2:00 PM on May 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

For more early 20th century war gaming, see H.G. Wells's Little Wars. I'll bet Bel Geddes owned a copy.
posted by Faint of Butt at 2:03 PM on May 6, 2012

The BelieverMag link ("But Futurama's beginnings ...") is amazing.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:11 PM on May 6, 2012

And he's the father of Barbara Bel Geddes.
posted by Ideefixe at 2:19 PM on May 6, 2012

Totally, where are these rulebooks now?

When I was last in Las Vegas, one of the casinos had a little animatronic racehorse that sounds a little like the Nutshell, but not nearly as elaborate.

Also found while looking, a report sheet from the Yellow Army.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 3:45 PM on May 6, 2012

And he's the father of Barbara Bel Geddes

Yes, a friend of mine at Art school in the UK wrote to her while at the height of her Dallas fame for help on a dissertation on Bel Geddes. After a few weeks wait he got a nine page letter back from her rich with info and annectode. Nice Lady.
posted by marvin at 5:00 PM on May 6, 2012 [3 favorites]

Bel Geddes loved him some automobiles. Magic Motorways is a dreamy paean to a utopian future that depended only on inexhaustible energy, resources and liebemsraum, and, oh yeah even then it was still doomed. But his childlike enthusiasm is entirely of its era and not at all without charm, even once you acknowledge its contribution to a generation of appalling planning failures and feasting on seed corn that continues even today.
posted by George_Spiggott at 5:38 PM on May 6, 2012

Totally, where are these rulebooks now?

As mentioned in the second link, the Ransom Center at UT holds Bel Geddes’s professional archive, personal files, and library, including Job No. 56, War Games, 1926-1945.
posted by zamboni at 5:51 PM on May 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

That was a great article that I'll be sharing with my fellow board game nerds. Thanks!
posted by meows at 8:16 PM on May 6, 2012

Only tangentially related, I was just reading some interesting scholarly stuff about how the aggressive program of World's Fairs in the 30s, culminating in this sort of orgasmic World's Fair, was a major corporate/industrial/governmental strategy to offset the pyschological effects of the lingering Depression.
posted by Miko at 8:25 PM on May 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

A patent search for 'Norman Bel Geddes' is interesting. His mind ran away with the dish and the spoon, but he still jumped over the moon.
posted by twoleftfeet at 11:53 PM on May 6, 2012

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