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Entries in monorails (13)


Construction Begins on the Space Needle (1961)

Fifty years ago today construction began on the Space Needle in Seattle. Just a year later, the 605 foot (185 meter) tower, which featured a revolving restaurant and observation deck, would be the crown jewel of the 1962 Seattle World's Fair. Dubbed the Century 21 Exposition, the Fair planners were eager to showcase American ingenuity with eyes firmly fixed on the future. The space race had begun in 1957 with the Soviet launch of Sputnik, so it only made sense that Americans would want the Space Needle to become a prominent symbol for the new Space Age.

The ad below appeared in the February, 1962 issue of Holiday magazine.

It's April 21, 1962, in Seattle... World's Fair time! The curtain's going up on the 21st Century... and on the most exciting preview ever seen. This is Seattle's spectacular Space-Age World's Fair, where the epic of man's journey into the next 100 years will unfold for you. What's ahead? How will man live? What will he see? Look at cities in the year 2000, see homes whose walls are jets of air, where cordless appliances work for you, cars ride without wheels, TV wrist telephones speed everyday communications. Time and distance wll disappear in the gigantic, pillar-less Coliseum Century 21, jutting eleven stories up from the heart of the fair. You'll soar past the moon into outer galaxies -- no space suit, no gravity, in the $9 million complex of the United States Science Pavilion. You will discover the secrets of the future in these six gleaming buildings rising above lighted fountains and courtyard pools. But it's not all the story of man's great tomorrows. Much of this $80 million show will be a glittering world of today. Dine atop the towering 60-story Space Needle which revolves to view Mt. Rainier, the Olympic and Cascade Ranges. Stroll Boulevards of the World filled with the sights and sounds of foreign lands. Thrill to the Monorail as it whisks you the mile from downtown Seattle in 95 seconds.




"Factory" Farms of the Future (1961)

Remember when the term "factory farm" was synonymous with a positive way to produce food? Neither do I.

But this April 9, 1961 edition of Closer Than We Think (which appeared in the Chicago Tribune) treats the phrase as a part of humanity's natural progression in the advancement of science. I imagine what a different world we'd be living in if "FACTORY FARMED!" were plastered on food packaging rather than "ORGANIC!" or "ALL-NATURAL!" That world somehow seems just as plausible given a few historical and societal tweaks. Those giant tomatoes could have been pulled directly from John Elfreth Watkin's December, 1900 piece for the Ladies' Home Journal. And those monorail tank cars are certainly reminiscent of the high-speed freightways used to transport food in the 1958 Disneyland TV episode Magic Highway, U.S.A.

The full text of the strip appears below.

Agriculture in the world of tomorrow will be so mechanized that farms will actually resemble factories. Crops and livestock will be raised on regular schedules under uniform and carefully controlled conditions.

"Sensors," those automatic control devices for today's wonder machines, will be adapted to the requirements of precisions agriculture. They will take the place of human judgement in deciding and reacting to soil conditions, crop maturity, moisture levels, weather forecasting, feeding needs, etc. Bendix researcher W. E. Kock has reported that instruments to do this already exist or will soon be developed.

A special thanks to Tom Z. yet again for being an invaluable resource for the Closer Than We Think series.

Previously on Paleo-Future:


Toroidal Space Colony of the Future (1982)

This image appears in the 1982 book Walt Disney's Epcot Center: Creating the New World of Tomorrow. One thing I find curious about the illustration is that it appears to be of a toroidal (or circular) space station, but you can see what looks like sailboats in the water. My simplistic (child-like, really) understanding of toroidal space colonies leads me to believe that they spin to simulate gravity. But how could there be anything resembling wind within them? Someone smarter than myself, please enlighten us all.

Previously on Paleo-Future:


U.S. Senate Monorail (1912)

1912 Senate Monorail (Library of Congress)

From 1912-61 tunnels below the U.S. Senate building were filled with monorail cars carrying senators on the "shortest and most exclusive railway in the world.” A short history about the monorail system appears on the website and is excerpted below.

I'm fascinated with early ideas of what "the monorail" was to become and even more fascinated with the transportation systems that (as in this case) were actually tried. These black and white photographs can be found at the Library of Congress in high-resolution formats. The color image below comes from

1912 Construction of the Monorail (Library of Congress)

The U.S. Senate website goes into detail about the monorail system:

The distance between the old Senate Office Building and the Capitol was only a fifth of a mile, but senators needed to traverse it multiple times on a typical legislative day. Had the Capitol been a skyscraper, elevators would have whisked members from their offices on different floors to the chamber. Instead, the office building and Capitol were linked by a horizontal elevator: a subway. Initially, transportation in the subway tunnel was provided by battery-powered yellow Studebaker coaches. Ten passengers could ride in each car, facing each other on benches. The buses ran along a concrete roadway at a maximum speed of 12 miles an hour. Rather than turn around at each terminus, they backed up for the return trip. Running backwards made them more difficult to steer, raising fears that someday the two cars might collide in the curved tunnel. In 1912 the Senate authorized installation of a double-line electric monorail system that ran on fixed tracks. Built by the Columbia Construction Company, the trains held up to 18 passengers each, in rows of wicker seats. Senators received priority in boarding the cars, and the front seats were reserved for them at all times. One operator commented that he never waited for other passengers when there was a senator aboard, “unless it’s the Vice President.” Senators summoned the trains by ringing a bell three times (the same signal also alerted elevator operators). During Senate votes, the trains would shuttle back and forth furiously, a one-way trip taking 45 seconds. Each car made an average of 225 trips per day when the Senate was in session. The press dubbed this Senate subway the “shortest and most exclusive railway in the world.”

After the subway was extended to the new office building, a new tunnel and rail system was constructed for the original office building. The first subway tunnel was converted into storage space, offices and facilities for the Senate Recording Studio. The old cars made their last run in 1961, and were captured on film by the Hollywood movie Advise and Consent, shot during the trains’ final weeks in service. The new cars featured upholstered seats and a plastic shield to protect passengers’ hair from becoming windblown. Not everyone appreciated the improved services. Arkansas Senator J. William Fulbright lamented the closing of the old line, which he described as “soothing to jangled nerves.” Senator Fulbright argued that the quaint old cars had put senators “in a friendly and amiable frame of mind as they arrive to do battle over the nation’s business.”

Image of a monorail car from

1912 Senate Monorail (Library of Congress)

Previously on Paleo-Future:


The Gyroscope Monorail System (1912)

August 15, 1912 Fort Wayne Sentinel (Fort Wayne, IN)

The August 15, 1912 Fort Wayne Sentinel (Fort Wayne, IN) ran a short piece about how the gyroscope monorail system was the mass transit wave of the future. An excerpt as well as the full article appear below:

On the left, a common scene when the gyroscope monorail system comes into general use. It looks dangerous,  but is perfectly safe. On the right, above, monorail system in operation in Prussia, more than eight miles long and mostly overhanging the river Wupper. Each car carries fifty passengers, weighs fourteen tons and is suspended from a single rail. Below, sketch of monorail system planned to connect Liverpool and Manchester, England, with cars running 120 miles an hour.

Previously on Paleo-Future:


Aerial Mono-Flyer of the Future (1918)

The August, 1918 cover of Hugo Gernsback's Electrical Experimenter magazine featured the "aerial mono-flyer of the future."

This monorail seems like only a modest improvement in safety over the 1930's sightseeing death-trap known as the sky toboggan. But the mono-flyer is assuredly a less safe concept than the monorail of William H. Boyes, built around 1911.

This image was found in the book Out of Time: Designs for the Twentieth-Century Future. According to the book, Gernsback introduced Electrical Experimenter in 1915 and changed the name of the magazine to Science and Invention in 1920.

Read More:
William H. Boyes Monorail (1911)
Amphibian Monorail (Popular Science, 1934)
Sky Toboggan (1935)


William H. Boyes Monorail (1911)

This image of the William H. Boyes monorail is from 1911 and can be found in the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Online Catalog. The Monorail Society has a description of the monorail which appears below.

This test track was built and demonstrated in 1911 in the tideflats of Seattle, Washington. The rails were made of wood and track cost was estimated to be around $3,000 per mile. A bargain! The Seattle Times commented at the time that "the time may come when these wooden monorail lines, like high fences, will go straggling across country, carrying their burden of cars that will develop a speed of about 20 miles per hour." Like so many inventions, lack of financial backing prevented further development.

See also:
X-20 Monorail Toy (1962)
Frederick & Nelson Ad (1962)
Closer Than We Think! Monoline Express (1961)
Amphibian Monorail (Popular Science, 1934)
Monorails at Disneyland (1959 and 1960)
Like Earth, Only in Space . . . and with monorails (1989)
600 Miles An Hour (1901)