I have seen the future…

by Dorothea

How the Futurama in 1939 created the vision of the future

photoThe iconic Trylon and Perisphere structures of the 1939 World Fair in Queens, New York

The theme of the 1939 World’s Fair in New York was “The World of Tomorrow.” One exhibit created by General Motors, called the “Futurama,” was an ride designed by Norman Bel Geddes that presented a possible model of the world 20 years into the future. It showed a utopian city of the future called “Democracity,” characterized by its automated highways and vast suburbs.

Futurama4  Visitors look down on the animated model of the city of the future.

In a stark white spherical building, people sat in high balconies looking down on a model cityscape of the future.  General Motors showed a 23 minute film called “New Horizons” about the country and cities as they envisaged them in 1960 (click to watch).


Sleek modern skyscrapers, intersecting highways, smooth and clean lines that have inspired most “visions” of the future from the “Jetsons” to the sets of Hollywood movies like “Bladerunner”.

WF2The Trylon and Perisphere structures seen from the top of the Empire State Building

How many times did I not bore my travel companions in the car to tears demanding an “automated” highway? The Futurama predicted it! Why did it not come true? The suffix -ama was a novelty too and has since become synonymous with all things futuristic. Wired Magazine devoted a whole article to this exhibit alone (click to read).


Why don’t modern city’s look like that? Hold on! One actually does: Brasilia, the fabulous futuristic capital of Brazil, conceived by the great architect Oscar Niemeyer.

BrasiliaBrasilia, capital of Brazil

The New York World Fair held such promise, it was also a blatant piece of propaganda by all countries that participated but even more so by the “show case” pavilions of the big American companies like GE, and Con Ed. Their Pavilions were made to dazzle and dream, look at ConEd’s fountain:

WF4Con Ed’s wall of fountains at night.

Why does the future not look like the future? Why do we pine for the “old”. I am in constant conflict between loving the old and longing for the new… The 1939 World Fair showcased American technical prowess and a utopian vision of the future, with grand ideas and great modern design. We never got it…

WF6The fairground seen from the air looks like a complicated motor…

I really think the visitors of the 1939 World Fair could say with confidence:

Future 2Pin given to visitors of the World Fair.