One of my interview subjects for a Popular Science article recently joked that appearing in the magazine was the kiss of death, since, he said, the mag is mostly about crackpot schemes that never come to anything.
I mentioned that to PopSci photographer extraordinaire John Carnett, who’s been working for the mag a lot longer than I have. He strenuously disputed my interviewee’s claim. In fact, he said, PopSci has done a great job of breaking stories of new technologies and covering their development over the course of decades.
I decided to find out for myself and buy up a stack of back issues on eBay. The May 1947, 75th anniversary issue seemed like a good place to start, since it’s a look back as well as forward. There are a few wild ideas in here, to be sure, but I was amazed at how much of it’s on track.
Like this artist’s concept of a future rocketship in the cover story. Looks uncannily like a certain privately built craft that made headlines last year, doesn’t it? And this prediction in the same story, by Harland Manchester:
“Tiny radio receivers and transmitters, with circuits printed instead of wired (see p. 101), will be as common in pockets as fountain pens, with great savings in time, gasoline and shoe leather. In short, everyone may soon become accessible to everyone else….”
The only way Manchester missed the mark in that bold claim was in predicting the longevity of fountain pens! But there’s an ad for a pen that “writes on a miniature sphere” on page 53.
And, holy shit, here’s a story called “Camera Coughs Out Finished Prints” about an invention by one Edwin H. Land, president of something called the Polaroid Corporation, that not only takes photographs, but develops them in one minute as well. “A model of his camera has been designed for large-scale production,” reads a caption, “but plans for it are undisclosed.”
Okay, so the story called “Businessman’s Radio Fits in a Briefcase” is pretty funny, but it’s a project for readers that has to use existing technology.
Now I can’t wait to see what other PopSci predictions have come true over the years. I just hope my wife doesn’t notice how my initial “just a few” eBay purchases kinda sorta got away from me at some point between the July 1897 issue and, oh my God, all these 1960’s issues with space stories actually written by Dr. Wernher von Braun….