A Visual History of the Future: DVD Extras

Future Fragments

Our favorite images that didn't make it into the main series

4 min read

Hand holding a small anatomical figure
“Your health will be better since doctors can now use the voice of the atom.” Union Carbide and Carbon Corporation, 1955.
A Visual History of the Future logo depicting a paintbrush and a snowglobe

Read the previous installment: “The Future We Were Promised


While doing the research for “A Visual History of the Future,” we collected a huge amount of incredible material. Most of it didn’t make it into the final series–but we still wanted to share some of these images. We’ve got extras from each installment, plus a bonus look at the future from Soviet and Japanese artists (more of which can be seen here).

If you haven’t read “A Visual History of the Future,” these images offer a taste of the areas it covers. The main series page gives an overview of each episode, or if you want to time-travel back to the beginning, head to our first episode. And if you want to see even more of our research images, nearly 900 of them are collected on the series Pinterest board.


The Beginning of the Future

Most futurist images were concerned with technology, but Otho Cushing‘s satirical cover for Life envisages the (skimpy) fashions of the future. With colorful tattoos and ladies smoking pipes, he insightfully anticipates both women’s emancipation and the rise of the hipster.

Scantily-clad, tattooed people in an art gallery
“Weren’t they funny?” Otho Cushing, Life, December 10, 1914.

Toy companies and cigarette manufacturers promoted products using images of the future, so the German chocolate company Hildebrands followed in that grand tradition with their weather-controlling machine.

Weather-controlling machine
“Weather Machine in the Year 2000.” Hildebrands.

An extremely early–and theatrical–take on home entertainment: “Compliments of Maher & Grosh Cutlery Co.”

At-home film projection
“Concert and Opera at Home.” Maher & Grosh Cutlery Co., late 1800s.

Albert Robida may have been the first to visualize the concept of television–and the future of entertainment for the discerning gentleman–in this image from 1869.

Man watching a projection of women dancing
“Le Theatre chez soi par le Telephonoscope.” Albert Robida, 1869.

Winsor McCay created the groundbreaking comic strip “Little Nemo” and pioneered hand-drawn animation in “Gertie the Dinosaur.” He also lent his considerable talents to depicting the future. Below are images from an editorial strip he produced during the 1920s titled “Sermons on Paper.”

A flying aircraft with wings galore dwarfs the cruise ship below.

Flying ship with stacked wings
“You Will See This Ship.” Winsor McCay, “Sermons on Paper.”

McKay’s eye for scale–and exaggeration–is on display in this image of future cities.

Futuristic city with buildings stacked on top of one another
“Men Will Live on Mountain Tops.” Winsor McCay, “Sermons on Paper.”

His tongue is often firmly in his cheek, employing his unique humor to produce this wonderful traffic-jam-beating method.

Commuters literally hanging onto straps as they're pulled along above cars stuck in traffic
“Safety First For The Pedestrian Straphanger.” Winsor McCay, “Sermons on Paper.”

Finally, a more disturbing look at a less hopeful future, echoing imagery of a nuclear blast or other catastrophic incident.

Aftermath of an explosion
“You May Live to See This.” Winsor McCay, “Sermons on Paper.”

How Ad Men Invented The Future

As well as illustrating ads for Bohn, Arthur Radebaugh produced a series of images for the National Motor Bearing Co. that focused on the industrial and manufacturing future–with some stylish and industrious robots.

Robot in a warehouse
“When rolling robots handle our warehousing”¦” Arthur Radebaugh, National Motor Bearing Co., Inc. advertisement, 1953.

Radebaugh’s tunneling machine predates the atomic machine shown in “Magic Highway U.S.A.” by five years.

Machine meant to melt holes for tunnels
“When mole-like machines “‘melt’ tunnels through mountains”¦” Arthur Radebaugh, National Motor Bearing Co., Inc. advertisement, 1953.

When it came to advertising, it wasn’t just the obvious heavy industrial manufacturers that wanted a slice of the future; groups like the paper industry wanted in, too. When flying to work in your personal helicopter is a daily event, you’re going to need a pretty incredible letterhead on great paper to impress the average commuter.

Businessman on a personal flying vehicle, reading a memo
“Will your present letterhead impress this commuter?” Hammermill Bond, advertisement in The Saturday Evening Post, 1960.

Fact, Fiction, and the Future

Flying cars were never far from the mind of the average futurist. When this sedan made the cover of Popular Mechanics, it was only a decade away.

Flying car on the cover of Popular Mechanics
“Hiller’s Arial Sedan–Your Flying Car for 1967.” Popular Mechanics, 1957.

Big engineering projects don’t come much bigger than this: draining the North Sea to reclaim submerged land.

Map of the North Sea
“North Sea Drainage Project to Increase Area of Europe.” Modern Mechanics, 1930.

Engineering projects also work for war and defence. Nikola Tesla’s idea for a “death ray,” or, more appropriately, a death wall, is covered in this 1934 issue of Popular Mechanics.

Drawing of an "invisible dust curtain" that blocks airplanes during battle
“”‘Invisible Dust’ Curtain to Halt War Planes.” Popular Mechanics, 1934.

The positive power of the atom is sold to the public in this 1956 advertisement from Union Carbide.

A hand holding the atomic symbol in front of a bright cityscape
“A pound of fuel to light Chicago.” Union Carbide, 1956.

And the destructive flipside of the atom is covered in this 1962 issue of Life.

Cutout illustration of an atomic bomb shelter beneath a city street
“The Drive For Mass Shelters.” Life, January 1962.

Arthur Radebaugh and his “Closer Than We Think” series featured heavily throughout our series, and the following pair of images are some of his original artwork, courtesy of the Ohio State University Library. Radebaugh’s life and work is covered in detail in this excellent documentary from Clindar Films, if you have the opportunity to watch it.

Comic strip depicting disposable clothing
“Throw Away Clothes.” Arthur Radebaugh, “Closer Than We Think.”
Comic strip depicting a robot maid
“Throw Away Clothes.” Arthur Radebaugh, “Closer Than We Think.”

We’ve also discussed Syd Mead’s influence on futuristic design, but this image of a “the four-legged, gyro-balanced, walking cargo vehicle” in particular stood out as”¦ familiar.

Speculative illustration of a walking cargo vehicle in the snow
Syd Mead for U.S. Steel, 1969.

Joe Johnston, the art director on The Empire Strikes Back, confirmed that these advertisements influenced the design of the film’s AT-AT walkers.


Animating the Future

Donald Duck didn’t make it into “Animating the Future.” But in a 1930s Disney short, “Modern Inventions,” he visits a “Museum of Modern Marvels” where he meets this robot butler.

Donald Ducka and a robot
“Modern Inventions.” Walt Disney, 1937.

This sequence from “Our Friend the Atom” frames atomic power positively, showing how an atomic reactor works.

atomic reactor
atomic reactor
atomic reactor
“Our Friend the Atom,” produced by Ward Kimball for Walt Disney’s Disneyland, 1956.

This storyboard image from “Magic Highway U.S.A.” features a sequence about the Monsanto House of the Future, an attraction at Disneyland’s Tomorrowland in 1957.

Storyboard depicting the "Monsanto House of the Future"
Storyboard for “Magic Highway U.S.A.” Walt Disney’s Disneyland, 1958. Via Paleofuture.

Architects of the Future

In the 1970s, the Otis Elevator Company produced a series of advertisements that showcased illustrator John Berkey’s highly detailed, intricate, and futuristic city designs.

Vertically-built city
“Our future is a vertical marketplace.” John Berkey, Otis Elevator Company.
Stadium inside an elevated glass dome
“Our future is an elevated “‘people center.'” John Berkey, Otis Elevator Company.

In 1930, an idea for a multistory skyscraper shows how the car was beginning to dominate how future cities would be shaped.

Parking garage with many levels
“Wie Bringe Ich Meinen Kraftwagen Unter?” Illustriere Zeitung, 1930.

An idea reminiscent of Hugh Ferris’s skyscrapers on a bridge, except this time the skyscapers are the bridge.

Skyscraper bridge with a ship passing underneath
“Skyscraper bridge.” Popular Mechanics, May 1928.

Beyond Western Futures

Of course, the United States wasn’t the only country with its eye on the future. The U.S.S.R.’s equivalent of Popular Mechanics, Technology for Youth, had spectacular covers and ideas. Flying cars were a global preoccupation.

People in a flying vehicle
Technology for Youth, 1949.

The iconic structure on this cover is the planned-yet-never-built Palace of the Soviets, which would have been the largest structure in the world at the time.

Futuristic city with a large statue in the foreground
Technology for Youth, 1952.

The U.S.S.R. even had his own Hugh Ferris, Yakov Chernikhov, who mixed gothic sensibilities with grand futurist vision.

Spires on a futuristic building
Spires and bridges
Futuristic bridge

And finally, this magazine cover from Japan looked familiar, and then I remembered the Chinese Transit Elevated Bus concept that generated excitement a few years ago. It’s never moved beyond the theoretical–maybe we’ll see it again in another 70 years?

Cover of the Japanese publication
A Japanese publication, “The Practical Science for Boys and Girls.” 1949.

Read the previous installment: “The Future We Were Promised

A Visual History of the Future logo depicting a paintbrush and a snowglobe

How We Get To Next was a magazine that explored the future of science, technology, and culture from 2014 to 2019. A Visual History of the Future is a five-part series on the way artists’ visions of the future shaped the world we now know.