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Highways by Automation (1958)

The August 3, 1958 Chicago Tribune ran this Closer Than We Think! strip, demostrating the automatic highway construction of the future. Something very similar to this appears in the May 14, 1958 Disneyland TV episode Magic Highway, U.S.A..

Tomorrow's turnpikes will "flow" out of giant machines like magic ribbons across the countryside. The basic equipment is already in existence; only a few improvements are needed.

The forward section of such a road-builder would be a variant of the new jungle-smashing LeTourneau "tree-crusher" combined with a grader. The middle section would pour concrete in a never-ending flow, with the rear portion leveling the still soft pavement. A line of freight helicopters would be on hand to feed the behemoth with the material necessary to keep it moving across any type of country.

See also:
Disney's Magic Highway, U.S.A. (1958)
Closer Than We Think! (1958-1963)

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Reader Comments (16)

"Tear down the rainforest to build a six-lane freeway? How could we go wrong?" I just love the utter can-do ballsiness of it all.

August 16, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterBenjamin

I still wonder why we don't have something like this. I can understand that road repair and road building in urban and suburban areas would require workers to prevent damaging existing infrastructure, but for rural highways such a machine seems like it would be a fantastic tool. Maybe we've already built all the roads that such a machine could handle, though.

August 16, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterGordon


We don't have something like this because road building is a form of pork spending. Why would you build a machine that would do the work of hundreds of human workers, when those human workers vote?

August 16, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

The cost of helicopter delivery of heavy raw materials like concrete would be impractical for all but the most extreme locations.

All-in-one machines already exist for tunneling underground, but that kind of construction is so expensive peak efficiency doesn't matter.

Highway construction, on the other hand, is a competitive business, more so now than in the late 1950s when this article appeared.

Above ground, building a road goes in steps that have varying needs. An all-in-one machine would be less efficient.

E.g. on flat terrain earthwork may only require a few grading machines and go very quickly, but paving moves more slowly, therefore it either needs more time or more machines. The fast-moving grading machines can go do other jobs, while the slow-moving paving machines finish up. Moreover, with separate machines the contractor can assign more or less resources to complete by a required date.

Put simply: an efficient business might want more paving machines than grading machines.

So, unless you're building a road like in "Thunderbirds" i.e. on the side of a mountain, in a lightning storm, just above a nuclear powerplant, you don't need a machine like this to do it. ;-)

August 16, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterRon

Nice blog! I've seen a link at "Blogs of note" and (although I'm Spanish and my English is very poor) I've liked it a lot. I'll even bookmark it after posting this.

August 16, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterBloguitar

Hmmmm, does that thing build bridges? We need a new one in Minneapolis....

August 16, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMissy


August 16, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

Actually I think I saw one of those back up in Canada a few months ago. They're great.

August 16, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew

What we really need is vaccuum tubes. I forget where I saw it but some guy did a study on how much energy and time we would save with city wide and even country wide vaccuum tubes for people and freight.

I vote for Vaccuum Tubes!

no I don't suck

August 16, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMike Benton

damnit I spelled it wrong more than once.... wth

August 16, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMike Benton

Nice blogs. It is interesting to read articles about the future and seeing if they pan out or not.

August 17, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterS. Scott Craft

Anything is Possible!

August 17, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterAndy

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August 18, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

Clearly not the "greenest" way to build roads.

August 19, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterEric

E.g. on flat terrain earthwork may only require a few grading machines and go very quickly, but paving moves more slowly, therefore it either needs more time or more machines.

Actually site prep takes at least ten times as long as actual paving. This doesn't change your main point about the all-in-one device being crazily inefficient.

September 10, 2007 | Unregistered Commenterjohnny phenothiazine

Jungles, who needs jungles? Air, who needs air? What we need is roads! I agree with Benjamin at the top.

January 6, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

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