Airplanes, movies, guided missiles, submarines, the electric chair, air conditioning , the fax machine - in 1870
April 1, 2002 8:57 PM   Subscribe

Airplanes, movies, guided missiles, submarines, the electric chair, air conditioning , the fax machine - in 1870 " Alvin Toffler, John Naisbitt, Faith Popcorn: all of them famous prognosticators. Yet each comes off a piker when compared to the true master of industrial clairvoyance, Jules Verne."
posted by Voyageman (7 comments total)
what about submarines with air conditioning??
posted by Settle at 9:46 PM on April 1, 2002

You're probably thinking of the "subaqueous mesh portal" from the H.G. Wells short story, "Plunge to the Bottom of the Thames" (Birdswinkle's Monthly, February 1897).
posted by pracowity at 10:11 PM on April 1, 2002

The fax machine was invented in 1843. See
posted by richg at 1:18 AM on April 2, 2002

Don't get me wrong, Jules Verne could weave an incredible story, and the Time Machine hooked me on science fiction as a young boy. However, Verne was not prescient in the way other futurists have been, particularly Da Vinci. Powered airplanes, for example, were first successfully flown by the Wright Brothers in 1903, and gliders had been around for at least a few years. Movies have been around for a long time as well, with projection movies as we know them starting in 1895. Photography, of course, had been around much longer, and primitive moving pictures and been used for almost as long. Guided missiles are a little more modern, but Nazi Germany and the United States used them as early as 1942. Submarines, on the other hand, are much older, considered as early as 1578, and fourteen types of submarines were patented in England in the 1780s. The first "true" powered submarines were invented in the 1890s in the United States. The electric chair also has an interesting history. Edison tried to kill the developing Westinghouse company by demostrating the dangers of AC electricity compared to his invention, DC. Rather than kill off Westinghouse, Edison's electrocution of small animals prompted New York to develop the electric chair for use as "humane" capital punishment. The fax machine was mentioned above, and air conditioning was actually around in factories as early as 1888, and ready for use in homes and theatres by the late 1920s.

Verne's greatest contribution was not foreseeing great inventions, but rather, writing with an enthusiasm and optimism that fueled interest in science and progress.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 6:36 AM on April 2, 2002

nit: H.G. Wells wrote The Time Machine. His grandson destroyed it.
posted by billder at 8:22 AM on April 2, 2002

Billder, you're completely right. I must have seen pracowity's post above and that's what got me started thinking about the Time Machine. Other than that, I know what I'm talking about. I swear. No, really!
posted by monju_bosatsu at 9:30 AM on April 2, 2002

I think it's hard for us to appreciate at times, but Verne himself wrote during a period of enormous social upheaval as a result of and in concert with technological advances. But given this climate he still wrote with imagination and vision of many things that were still far distant dreams, and often uses them in small, simple ways dropped into his stories sideways, much as contemporary sf authors try hard to create 'seamless' worlds of imagination, shying away from the gee-whiz adventure-magazine style of half a century ago.

And whether or not some of these things were actually in a nascent inventive state or not, Verne included them as everyday items with which his characters were familiar; many of his characters were industrialists, engineers, scientists, or soldiers. The industrial world of the 19th century offered unprecedented opportunity for the 'garage inventor', and self-training in the world of textile mills or the railroads was probably more common than university backgrounds in physics and chemistry. (A little known fact: the US Army War College was once alleged to have produced more heads of railroads than any other educational institution.)

Of course, he's not to be compared directly with Toffler or Popcorn, because they concentrate on the direct social aspects of technological advance, rather than specific kinds of inventions. It's really a horrible choice of comparisons.
posted by dhartung at 11:51 AM on April 2, 2002

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