Firefighting, Flying and the Future


The Public Domain Review is showcasing a set of cards from the end of the 19th century which depict what life will be like in the year 2000.  The 100-year-old renderings attempt to capture the lives we are living today.

Not surprisingly, they portray a mechanized world.  Everything from war fighting to dry cleaning to poultry farming is done by machine and we are theoretically the better for it.  In the 1890’s the world was ablaze with the industrial age and perhaps it was easy to dream of a future where tasks, from the mundane to the exotic, would benefit from technology.

Many of the cards display a fascination with the dream of flight.   Aeronautical experimentation was occurring everywhere.  Lilienthal in Germany, Hargrave in England, Chanute and Herring in the US and others were testing manned-flight using gliders, kites and even steam-powered aircraft.

The Flying Firefighters hover like moths around a flame as they simultaneously apply water and effect a rescue under the direction of a watchful commander.  Curiously, the engine far below seems to be a steam-apparatus fueled by ordinary combustibles.  The mind can aspire, but only so far.

It’s hard not conclude that we are frozen in time, somewhere between the romance of the past and the fantasy of the future.  Personal flight is a dream unfulfilled.  We still use combustion to go hither and yon, and still largely rely on water under pressure to vanquish the enemy.  And firefighters still retain their legendary stature as heroes and takers of risk.

It’s tempting to imagine our card for 2100.  Will we hover valiantly before the flame or be rendered arcane and relegated to history?

Only time will tell.



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