These Vintage Ideas of the Future Were Actually Pretty Impressive

These Vintage Ideas of the Future Were Actually Pretty Impressive

Shannon Quinn - December 15, 2022

The art of Futurism began when industry was quickly moving humanity forward with progress. Machinery helped productivity during the industrial revolution and people began to imagine how new inventions could possibly make the future better. This created the idea of a future utopia, which was depicted by many artists throughout history. This sparked people’s imaginations, and contributed to the creation of science fiction. Here at History Collection, we have compiled some of the most interesting images of Retrofuturism.

These Vintage Ideas of the Future Were Actually Pretty Impressive
A retrofuturistic illustration of women video chatting with their kids. Credit: Rare Historical Photos

A Retro Idea of Video Chat From 1930

In this vintage artwork, we see two women calling their children from futuristic devices. There is a box that the woman is holding over her shoulder, which is attached by a wire to the mouthpiece and screen. She’s also wearing wired headphones. This isn’t too far off from the fact that we can now FaceTime our friends and family from our smartphones. However, they had no way of predicting that all of the mechanism would be condensed into such a small handheld device. And, of course, the concept of wireless BlueTooth headphones like AirPods would have seemed like pure sorcery.

These Vintage Ideas of the Future Were Actually Pretty Impressive
A vintage concept invention of a screen showing a slide of a road map. Credit: Rare Historical Photos

The Future of Navigation

In this concept art, we see a screen mounted to someone’s dashboard of their car. There is a photo slide similar to the ViewFinder toys that were invented in the 1960’s. It’s actually quite a clever idea to think that this screen could project a map to help with hands-free navigation. However, there would be a few flaws to this. The map is so small, could the driver really benefit from the image on the screen? Obviously, this concept is incredibly similar to GPS machines that we mount in our cars. A stand-alone GPS was popular in the early 2000’s, but it was quickly replaced by Google Maps on our smartphones.

These Vintage Ideas of the Future Were Actually Pretty Impressive
An illustration from 1900 predicting how performances would be viewed in the year 2000. Credit: Rare Historical Photos

Performances Would Be Projected on the Wall So You Could Watch Opera From Home

In a lot of ways, this prediction depicted on a German postcard from 1900 was spot-on for what life would be like in the year 2000. The image shows a camera recording a live performance of an opera singer, while people can watch it from the comfort of their own homes. Of course, there are some things that don’t quite add up. Instead of watching on a TV screen, they are all gathered around a projection. Without speakers, they each have to hold their ear to a speaker like the ones used for the telephone. This combined technology that already existed at the time, and put it together to propose a new invention that never came to pass.

These Vintage Ideas of the Future Were Actually Pretty Impressive
Concept art of a future food delivery service. Credit: Rare Historical Photos

Retro Idea of a Hot Meal Delivery Service

In this image, we see the concept of a truck that pulls up to your door and cooks a hot meal for you. One of the workers boxed up the food and is walking it to your front door. This is reminiscent of two separate real modern day marvels- the food truck, and meal delivery services like GrubHub and Uber Eats. The very first food truck in history was the Oscar Meyer Wienermobile, which was created in 1936. As you can imagine, they sold Oscar Meyer wieners. The Wienermobile toured the United States selling hot dogs at schools, orphanages, parades, and hospitals.

These Vintage Ideas of the Future Were Actually Pretty Impressive
Concept art of a couple reading the newspaper from their television screen. Credit: Rare Historical Photos

Retrofuturism Imagined Newspapers on a Screen

This advertisement says, “Can it be done? Television Newspaper. Some day you may be able to receive the front page of your morning newspaper this way- Fully printed and shown on the screen of a television set. Can it be done?” Yes, it can! Today, we have our computers, tablets, and phones to read the news on. We can even see scans of vintage newspapers and view them exactly like they were depicted in this artwork. Technically, you can put it on your TV screen, too. But would you really want to?

These Vintage Ideas of the Future Were Actually Pretty Impressive
The retro concept of a self-driving car. Credit: Rare Historical Photos

Self-Driving Cars Mean Fun For The Whole Family

This vintage image shows the concept of a self-driving car. Since there is no driver, the entire family can relax and play a board game together while they wait to arrive at their destination. Today, Tesla has claimed that they would come up with the world’s first functional self-driving car. However, people are still required to stay in the driver’s seat when using their AutoPilot function, because of safety precautions. In 2022, there is now a class action lawsuit against Tesla for promising fully self-driving vehicles, and not delivering on their promise. We’re not sure if this will ever come to pass, but at least we’ve made some progress towards making it real.

These Vintage Ideas of the Future Were Actually Pretty Impressive
A vintage prediction of what new phones would look like. Credit: Rare Historical Photos

Retrofuturistic Phone Designs Weren’t Too Far Off

This illustration shows a concept of what telephones would look like in the future. The future concept for a phone was an all-in-one device where the numbers were attached to the headset. It’s accurate, because there are plenty of telephones out there that ended up looking very similar to this. In retrospect, it’s not very novel, because the phone is still corded. Whoever illustrated this could have never imagined where we are today with smartphone technology.

These Vintage Ideas of the Future Were Actually Pretty Impressive
The concept for a future elementary school in Japan. Credit: Rare Historical Photos

Elementary School Classrooms Monitored By Robots

In this illustration from Japan, we see the concept that one day in the future, teachers would no longer be present in the classroom. Robots are circling the room bopping the kids on the head whenever they act up. This seems very distracting for the kids, but it does away with the need for the teacher to do it herself. On each desk, we see a small computer that the kids are working from. And along the back wall, there is a much larger retro computer system. In a lot of ways, this is similar to Zoom homeschooling that happened during the pandemic… Minus the robots, of course.

These Vintage Ideas of the Future Were Actually Pretty Impressive
The VR headset made by NASA. Credit: Rare Historical Photos

Virtual Reality Headset Created By NASA in The 1980’s

Recently, there has been a lot of talk about the Metaverse. Mark Zuckerberg has predicted that virtual reality is going to be a huge part of everyday life in the future. But this idea is nothing new. This is a VR headset and gloves made by Nasa in 1989 called the Ames Virtual Environment Workstation. If you would like to see a video of this headset being used by NASA, click here. In this video, you can see how primitive the VR technology still was at that time.

These Vintage Ideas of the Future Were Actually Pretty Impressive
NASA concept image of a space colony. Credit: Rare Historical Photos

In The 1970’s, NASA Predicted Life in Future Space Colonies

The art that was made by NASA in the 1970’s looks like something straight out of a Sci-Fi film. This idea was popularized in the 1979 Mobile Suit Gundam anime, where people were living in these space colonies. In 2019, Jeff Bezos announced that his space company Blue Origin was developing a moon lander that could move cargo. His ultimate goal is to start a space colony on the moon. Even though he is one of the richest men in the world, that task may be more difficult than anyone can imagine.

These Vintage Ideas of the Future Were Actually Pretty Impressive
“Ship’s Cat” By Keith Spangle. Credit: Rare Vintage Photos

Cats Are Coming to the Space Colonies Too

In the last image, we saw the 1970’s illustration of NASA’s concept of a space colony. This is a painting called “Ship’s Cat” by Keith Spangle. If human beings really did start colonies to space, they would obviously want to bring their pets with them. This photo shows a cat staring out the window at a far-off planet and moon. On the windowsill, we see a plate filled with seashells. This would be a precious novelty antique left over from Earth. And of course, they’re drinking a glass of wine…Because if you were trapped in space, drinking will probably happen.

These Vintage Ideas of the Future Were Actually Pretty Impressive
It was predicted that people would walk around half-naked. Credit: Rare Historical Photos

Life Magazine Predicted Future Fashion

This is a magazine cover of Life Magazine from 1914. They predicted what people would be wearing in 1950. There is a caption under the illustration saying, “Weren’t they funny?” Clearly, they predicted that in the future, people would be wearing less clothing and showing more skin. In some ways, that’s true. Women do wear short dresses. However, the man wearing the loincloth with shapes painted all over his body looks like someone who just went to Coachella. Again- Maybe accurate?

These Vintage Ideas of the Future Were Actually Pretty Impressive
The concept of shopping from home via FaceTime. Credit: Rare Historical Photos

Future Home Shopping, As Imagined in 1940

Back in 1940, this was an artist’s prediction of shopping from home. This was years before most people owned a television. In some ways, this prediction gets a few things right. Yes, we can shop for things on a screen. But we’re not actually communicating with a salesperson. The Home Shopping Network and QVC did not come around until the 1980’s. By then, stay-at-home moms could watch daytime TV and make a phone call to place an order. Now, we have online shopping. There is even an app called WhatNot that gives people the ability to have live online auctions and sell whatever they like.

These Vintage Ideas of the Future Were Actually Pretty Impressive
This depiction of a future road trip isn’t accurate, because it’s too distracting. Credit: Rare Historical Photos

Family Road Trip of the Future

This illustration was made by an artist named Bruce Mccall, who was famous for designing covers for the New Yorker. There is so much going on in this image, and you can find something new every time you look at it. There are multiple screens in the car, and the kids are preoccupied with video games and playing the keyboard. Even the pets have something to keep them occupied. The giant screen in Tesla vehicles are the only thing that even remotely looks like this. However, all of this stimulation would be very distracting to the driver. Even though all of this is technically possible to build into a car, safety protocols would prevent anyone from doing so.

These Vintage Ideas of the Future Were Actually Pretty Impressive
This book predicted that we would be having the Olympics on the moon by 2020. Credit: Rare Historical Photos

A Prediction of the 2020 Olympics

The year 2020 has come and gone. Instead of living in a space colony and having the Olympics on the moon, the entire world was panicking as we fell into a global pandemic. But back in 1979, a book called The Usborne Book of the Future: A Trip in Time to the Year 2000 and Beyond predicted we would have the Olympics in space. The illustrations include some hilarious concepts, like the Olympic torch being protected by a glass globe. There is also an event called “The Lunar high jump”, which is 14 meters in the air. We also see a drone camera flying around with the words “World News” written on the side. A future like this may never come to pass, because of how outrageously expensive a space colony on the moon would be.

These Vintage Ideas of the Future Were Actually Pretty Impressive
Man Amplifiers were an invention made in Cornell in the 1960’s. Credit: Cybernetic Zoo

Man Amplifiers Would Give Men Super Human Strength

This photograph came from a vintage issue of Popular Science magazine. The invention was called “man amplifiers”. The caption on the photo says, “Superman suit is modeled by the author at Cornell Aeronautical Lab in Buffalo, NY. Joints will be powered to multiply the wearer’s strength as structure follows his movements.” This looks like something out of a Sci-Fi movie, for sure. And the concept of a suit that could give you super-human strength has carried on in fiction for years. (Think- Iron Man.) There were multiple pieces of concept art created of these Man Amplifiers, and the Cornell Lab worked on it from 1962 to 1966. If you want to see a video of their experiments, click here.

These Vintage Ideas of the Future Were Actually Pretty Impressive
Phone in Pocket in Future news article. Credit: Reddit

The Pocket Phone Was Completely Accurate

This photograph comes from the Mansfield News-Journal in 1963. The title of the article says, “You’ll Be Able to Carry Phone In Pocket In Future”. The article goes on to explain the concept of a cellphone that was already in its developmental stages. Many of you may have been alive to remember car phones in the 1980’s, which were some of the first mobile devices to hit the market. Then we moved onto flip phones, which look remarkably similar to the phone in the photo above. Of course, they would have never been able to predict how advanced smartphones have become.

These Vintage Ideas of the Future Were Actually Pretty Impressive
A futuristic pod concept drawn by Syd Mead. Credit: Reddit

These Personal Pods From 1979 Would Have Been Great During the Pandemic

This concept art was made by an artist named Syd Mead. He is a professional “visual futurist” who was worked on movies like Blade Runner, Star Trek, Tron, and much more. In this image, we see people walking around with personal pods. They also turn into a vehicle, which looks like a one-wheeled segway. These pods may have come in handy during the Pandemic, when people were trying to protect themselves from the Covid virus. If you look closely, you can see that one of the people is even wearing patterned leggings. At least that part is accurate!

These Vintage Ideas of the Future Were Actually Pretty Impressive
A vintage ad from British Rail. Credit: Reddit

This Ad Makes London Look Like a Retro Dystopia

In this vintage ad from British Rail, they show concept art of what London would look like if it didn’t have such a great public transportation system. Highways were stacked on top of one another, which is a common sight we see in the United States. The ad says, “There is an alternative to commuting by rail. But could we live with it? Every working day 400,000 people travel in and out of London by British Rail. But there is an alternative. Like Los Angeles, we could rely entirely on roads instead…”

These Vintage Ideas of the Future Were Actually Pretty Impressive
Farming in the 21st century, 1958. Credit: Rare Historical Photos

Retro Future Farming Machines Fully Automated the Harvest

It says, “Closer than we think. Farm automatic. Much of Old MacDonald‘s farm can be run by radio-controlled push buttons. A floating tower will oversee a swarm of robot implements and tractors operated by electronic command. All it will take is the harness of four elements of today’s technology: a helicopter for the control tower, a set of components like those which already regular operations from remote points in oil fields or on railroads, and radio signals like these used to control home garage doors, and the machines themselves, made responsive to the control signals.”

These Vintage Ideas of the Future Were Actually Pretty Impressive
Illustrated created by an unknown Japanese artist. Credit: Rare Historical Photos

One Day, Families Will Take Vacations on the Moon

This is a vintage illustration from Japan depicting a family taking a vacation on the moon. Everyone is there- parents, kids, and even the dog are all wearing space suits while they travel in a circular moon vehicle. This is actually not too far off from reality today. The dearMoon Project was started by a Japanese billionaire named Yusaku Maezawa. He plans to use a SpaceX Starship for the journey. The idea is to take a 6-day trip around the moon by 2023.

These Vintage Ideas of the Future Were Actually Pretty Impressive
Strolling on the water postcard. Credit: Rare Historical Photos

Vintage Postcard Predicted We Would Walk on Water By the Year 2000

This German postcard appears to be from the Victorian era Germany. In the photo, we can see people walking on water. Some of them are held up by large balloons, while another man propels himself forward on a unicycle boat. This concept may be because of the claim that Jesus could walk on water. As if one day, the rest of mankind might be able to achieve it. Today, the closest thing we have to this image is paddle boarding. Instead of pedaling on a water wheel, paddle boarders simply have to balance themselves on the water and use their oar to glide across a lake.

These Vintage Ideas of the Future Were Actually Pretty Impressive
A vintage image of a home with a glass encased pool. Credit: Rare Historical Photos

Feeling Hot in the Dead of Winter

In the 1960’s, an artist predicted that backyards would one day be covered in a glass dome. People can enjoy their swimming pool all year long, because they are protected from the elements. This is not actually very far-fetched at all, because indoor pools have been around since 1828 in England. It’s also reminiscent of a heated glass greenhouse. However, we don’t see this exact design existing today. And it may never happen, because it would be incredibly expensive to build the structure and keep it heated in the winter time.

These Vintage Ideas of the Future Were Actually Pretty Impressive
A 1930’s concept of a train that is powered by a propeller. Credit: Reddit

Small Propeller Train Cars in Japan

This image comes from Japan in 1936, and it depicts a train going incredibly fast. In the image, you can see that it’s powered by a propeller, similar to an airplane. This prediction is actually pretty accurate, because the first Bullet Train came to Japan in 1964. The rest of the world hasn’t caught up with Japan yet, and our trains are incredibly slow compared to the Bullet Train. Clearly, this was a thought in the zeitgeist of Japanese culture for a long time. And they made it a priority when it came to new inventions.

These Vintage Ideas of the Future Were Actually Pretty Impressive
Hilton once announced that they would have a hotel on the moon. Credit: BBC

Hilton Once Proposed That They Would Have a Hotel on the Moon

In 1967, Conrad Hilton announced tot he Wall Street Journal that he plans to create a space hotel on the moon. He insisted that he would be able to see a Hilton hotel on the moon during his lifetime. They even sent out a reservation request form, in order to see who was interested in renting a room. Hundreds of people wrote back saying that they were interested. On the form, you can see “After 1973 arrival”, meaning that they estimated that they would reach their goal in just 6 years. This was incredibly ambitious, considering that the first moon landing did not happen until 1969. Obviously, this plan never came to pass, because we haven’t built any buildings on the moon yet.

These Vintage Ideas of the Future Were Actually Pretty Impressive
An artist’s concept of a vacation resort on the moon. Credit: Reddit

This Space Resort Shows People Swimming on the Moon

Similar to the previous images involving the Lunar Hotel, this picture is an artist’s depiction of a vacation resort on the moon. Guests get an amazing view of the Earth off in the distance, as well as a moon mountain behind the hotel. The one glaring issue is that this would never happen, because people need oxygen to breathe. When this was posted on Reddit, some people gave it the benefit of the doubt. They say that it’s plausible because the glass dome must be covering the area, and it’s just too far away for us to see.

These Vintage Ideas of the Future Were Actually Pretty Impressive
A retro concept product of a portable TV. Credit: Reddit

Portable TV Concept From 1967

People have been imagining watching TV on the go for decades. However, scientists had some trouble trying to figure out how to bring the mechanical elements of a television on the road. This concept was created in 1967. It’s a helmet that completely covers someone’s head, and it needs to balance all of that heavy gear on their shoulders. On Reddit, the top comment joked, “We’ll call it Meta.” Obviously, this invention never came to pass. There would be no need for it today, because we have smartphones, tablets, and laptops that allow us to watch TV on the go.

These Vintage Ideas of the Future Were Actually Pretty Impressive
Concept art of a giant screen in a stadium. Credit: Reddit

Giant Curved Screen In a Stadium

This image says, “Giant curved TV screens surrounding one huge hall will picture world-wide news events.” It appeared in Popular Science Magazine in December 1955. For sports fans out there, you already know that many stadiums around the world really do look like this. The only difference is that the screen may not be as large. Today, there may been flatscreen TV’s hanging on the walls of train stations or grand halls, because they play the news often, just like this art suggests. So for the most part, this prediction has come true.

These Vintage Ideas of the Future Were Actually Pretty Impressive
Space explorers opening the door to a foreign horizon. Credit: Reddit

Space Explorers Staring at the Horizon

This is a painting by a German futurist named Klaus Bürgle in 1965. It was painted for Das Neue Universum, a young readers book anthology with stories from science, research, and entertainment. It ran from 1880 to 2002. In this image, we see two astronauts opening the door to a space ship seeing a red planet in the sky. If you look closely, it also looks like there is a city on the horizon. Why didn’t they land closer to the civilization? We may never know the answer to the secrets of the painting, because the artist passed away in 2015.

These Vintage Ideas of the Future Were Actually Pretty Impressive
City under the Sea by Klaus Bürgle. Credit: Flickr

A City Under the Sea

Here is yet another painting by Klaus Bürgle. This time, he imagined that humans would begin building a civilization under the sea. Today, there are actually quite a few underwater hotels out there. So it wasn’t too far off from the truth. However, we can see that his imagination took him to a place where there was an entire city in the ocean. This would probably never happen, because it would be very expensive and dangerous. Most people don’t want to live under water.

These Vintage Ideas of the Future Were Actually Pretty Impressive
Actors at Tomorrowland in 1960, and Tomorrowland at night. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Tomorrowland at Disneyland Is a Futurist Theme Park

The entire concept of Disneyland’s Tomorrowland was Futurist at its time. The park first opened in 1955, and it featured a lot of futurist concepts like space ships, astronauts, and space stations. The park is still popular today, because it’s an iconic part of Disneyland. In 2015, Disney came out with a movie called Tomorrowland that featured many of the same themes that we see in the movie. However, the movie flopped in the box office because it was not as popular as Disney may have expected it to be.

These Vintage Ideas of the Future Were Actually Pretty Impressive
Hugo Gernsback and his TV goggles. Credit: Reddit

“Teleyeglasses” Envisioned Television Goggles

This image shows an inventor named Hugo Gernsback demonstrating his television goggles, also known as “teleyeglasses” in 1963 for Life Magazine. Some of his other inventions were an electric hair brush/comb and a battery-powered handheld illuminated mirror. He has been dubbed “the man who invented science fiction” because he founded a publication called Amazing Stories Magazine. This proposed invention makes so much more sense than the massive headset that was made four years later in 1967. In a lot of ways, these goggles are reminiscent of a modern VR headset, except for the antennas on the top.

These Vintage Ideas of the Future Were Actually Pretty Impressive
An issue of Popular Mechanics from 1915. Credit: Popular Mechanics Magazine

Armored Pushcarts to Protect Soldiers on the Battlefield

This issue of Popular Mechanics from 1915 suggests putting soldiers in armored push carts while they are on the battlefield. On Reddit, quite a few people joked about how inefficient this would actually be. One of the top comments says, “For use on those famous flat obstruction free WW1 no-mans land.” Another said, “Lovely well maintained lawns. Just right for those small castor wheels.” Harsh, but true. No army would ever use this, because they are like bringing your own coffin to the battlefield. There is a good reason why these push carts were never actually invented.

These Vintage Ideas of the Future Were Actually Pretty Impressive
The Sega VR headset from the 1990s. Credit: Reddit

Sega VR: The Headset That Never Was

Yet another company to come out with a vintage VR headset was Sega in the 1990’s. It was planned to be an add-on accessory to the Sega Genesis. And for a while, they were confident that it would be released, because it was shown at several trade shows and expositions. But this would never come to fruition, because the company ran into too many technical issues. On Reddit, one of the top comments said, “I want the alternate timeline where Sega invents the Metaverse, not Facebook.” Same.

These Vintage Ideas of the Future Were Actually Pretty Impressive
A retrofuturist depiction of a flying car. Credit: Reddit

When Will We Finally Get Flying Cars?

This next illustration looks like something straight out of The Jetsons. We will probably never get flying cars, because they would be too expensive for the average person. On Reddit, people were arguing over the safety of this vehicle design. Many people argue it would never work because of the poor visibility underneath the aircraft.

How did we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

Retro future predictions that show how people from the past imagined the future, 1900s-1970s. Rare Historical Photos.

Man Amplifier Cornell Lab 1962-1966. AllAboutImages. YouTube

RetroFuturism. Reddit.