Designer Norman Bel Geddes (right) looks over an exhibit model.   More information

In this iconic Fair image, workmen stand amid the buildings of Futurama.   More information

Bel Geddes included 500,000 buildings and high-rises “as they may be in the future.”   More information

He designed dams, power plants, and   More information

… modern farms where “physics and chemistry have joined hands with the farmer in helpful friendship.”

Eugene Du Bois reports behind-the-scenes on the detail work of “animals and houses … sprinkled like plums in a pie.”    More information

Futurama introduced to many the idea of superhighway systems (Bel Geddes would soon write Magic Motorways).   More information

GM’s promotional film showed “highway engineering at its most spectacular,” in which

… a “safe distance between cars is maintained by automatic radio control.”

A multi-decked suspension bridge formed “the motor-traffic gateway to the city,” with a four-tiered approach.   More information

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Miss Futurama presents a “model 1960s car” in one of the “dresses of 1960 … made of glass, rubber, acetate, and rayon.”   More information

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More than 550 sound-chairs of Futurama moved on a Westinghouse conveyor system traveling at approximately 102 feet per minute.   More information

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Visitor H. Earl Hoover’s home movie shows night and day views as he moved through Futurama’s highways and horizons.

"Travel into the Future. What will we see?"

Up to 28,000 people a day took the 15-minute “carry-go-round” Futurama “sound and scene” ride.    More information

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Thousands waiting in line each day, said GM, “have an abundance of cool shade and ice-water.”    More information

Futurama: "Magic City of Progress"

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"All Eyes to the Future"

Driving with the Motorist of 1960

An "Endless Carry-Go-Round"

A "Greater and Better World of Tomorrow"

“Come tour the future with General Motors! A transcontinental flight over America in 1960! What will we see? What changes will transpire? This magic Aladdin-like flight through time and space is Norman Bel Geddes’ conception of the many wonders that may develop in the not-to-distant future.”
So began the dramatic Futurama ride through GM’s Highways and Horizons exhibit, the largest single exhibit at the Fair, and the most popular according to Gallup. Located on seven acres in the Transportation Zone, it was comprised of four structures on four corners of an imaginary street intersection “as it might appear in perhaps 1960.” Its aim was to inspire visitors with the need to “broaden the highways of research and science” in order to “begin to unfold the possibilities of the ‘World of Tomorrow’ and more rapidly move forward along the true HIGHWAYS TO NEW HORIZONS OF BETTER LIVING.”
Visitors on the “carry-go-round” Futurama traveled up, down, around, and through the “most lifelike and largest scale model ever constructed” — a 35,738 square foot diorama. Moving chairs with sound narration allowed people the experience of viewing, as if from low-flying airplanes, buildings joined by elevated pedestrian sidewalks. Below, the streets were full of motorcars, trucks, buses and taxicabs; “colorful and fantastic shop windows” lined the sidewalks.
The exhibit was designed by Norman Bel Geddes, a theatrical and industrial designer interested in metropolises of the future. GM called him “the man behind the spectacle.... Visionary ideas charge through his brain, his mind works in bold brush strokes. But not one tiny tree, not one small building, not one square inch of ‘plowed ground’ became a part of the Futurama until Geddes had approved it for form, color, realism, good-taste, human interest and dozens of other measuring standards.”
The architect was Albert Kahn.

“History shows that the progress of civilization has run parallel to the development of transportation,” said General Motors Chairman Alfred P. Sloan in his introduction to the Highways and Horizons Exhibit.
The Futurama audio guides set the scene: “This 1960 drama of highway and transportation progress is but a symbol of future progress in every activity, made possible by constant striving toward new and better horizons.... Who can say what new horizons lie before us if we but have the initiative and imagination to penetrate them – new economic horizons – new social horizons – new horizons in many fields, leading to new benefits for everyone, everywhere.”
Futurama extended for a third of a mile. In addition to half a million model buildings, there were more than 50,000 scale-model automobiles, many seen “in actual operation over the express Motorways with their traffic-control towers, speed lanes, multi-decked bridges and other such innovations.” Seven-lane highways in each direction were designed to accommodate vehicles moving 100 mph: “Here is highway engineering at its most spectacular. Traffic may move safely and easily without loss of speed. By means of the ramped loops, cars may make right and left turns at rates of speed up to 50 miles per hour. The turning off lanes are elevated and depressed. There is no interference from the straight ahead traffic in the higher speed lanes. The motorist of 1960 finds this intersection safe and efficient.”
Still, Futurama was designed, said GM, “not as a development of any particular highway plan or program, but rather to demonstrate, in a dramatic manner, the truth that the world, far from being finished, is hardly yet begun; that the job of building the world of tomorrow is one which will demand our best energies, our most fruitful imagination; and with it will come employment for untold millions.”

The Futurama experience was narrated by stage and radio artist Edgar Barrier and “individual voice-guides” who told a series of stories through “electrical sound projectors actuated by a twenty-ton robot“ or Polyrhetor, described as "twenty-tons-of-voice.”
The tour progressed from terraced fields to a water purification plant … a university … and an amusement park with shrieking children: “Here’s fun and merriment in this world of tomorrow.” Next came a steel town … a model airport … and a mountainside quarry. “High above the mountains and valleys below," riders were given "a bird’s-eye view of a paradise for vacationers. With the fast, safely-designed highways of 1960, the slogan ‘See America First’ has taken on new meaning and importance.”
After passing a monastery, slower lanes of the motorway wound through foothills; “the higher speed lanes tunnel, bridge and cling to the precipitous rock-faces.” Next came a resort town … a canal with locks … and a lake dam with hydroelectric power plants.
“But now we are arriving almost on top of the world – the world of 1960! The altitude is more than 10,000 feet. In the foreground … note the winter hotel lodge and mountain cabins.” Descending, an airport and oil refinery led to the “great metropolis” with its “modern and efficient city planning – breathtaking architecture – each city block a complete unit in itself."
“In a moment we will arrive," concluded the narrator, at a street intersection of the future with an apartment building, a department store, an automobile salon, and a GM auditorium at its corners. The visitor was invited to step onto a sidewalk of the “City of Progress” — “a pedestrian projected twenty years forward into the heart of a great city” to become “a part of this self-same scene in the World of Tomorrow – in the wonder world of 1960…. ALL EYES TO THE FUTURE.”
The script for Futurama was written by Frank Hartig, of the General Motors Department of Public Relations.

“By the end of the Futurama tour,” said General Motors, “the spectator has seen a close-up view of 90 blocks of a metropolis of the future.”
Fairgoers flocked to the exhibit, which Dr. George Gallup and the American Institute of Public Opinion found "far outranked all others in popularity." It perfectly embodied — and has become synonymous with — the Fair’s "World of Tomorrow" theme, which as Henry Jenkins has noted "encouraged people to look towards a brighter, better future, and which historically, has encouraged people to look backward … towards a future which never quite arrived in the form that we anticipated.”
Designer Norman Bel Geddes’s Futurama was prescient in many ways; some aspects were way off the mark. But it was unforgettable, and for many visitors — who received souvenir “I HAVE SEEN THE FUTURE” buttons — a lifetime highlight. As Futurama's voice-guide intoned, “Strange? Fantastic? Unbelievable? Remember this is the world of 1960.”
Four videos in this story are excerpts from "To New Horizons," (1940) Produced by Handy (Jam) Organization, Sponsored by General Motors Corporation. This public domain video was downloaded from the Prelinger Archives.

 

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