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Visions Of The Future
Sam North

The second stage: 1890-1914 The acceleration of progress.
The visionaries. Norman Angells, H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, Edison, Tesla, Westinghouse, Marconi, Bell, Bismark,Lenin. Keynes, Engels.

The extraordinary leap of progress and introduction of wholly new inventions from 1880 to 1914 has yet to be surpassed. From the world-wide phenonema of the growth of the super-city, came accelerated information exchange. The entire sociopolitical, economic make-up for the Western world was transformed by a host of inventions that met with a society extraordinarily well-disposed to accept them. The automobile, the electric light,the telephone,the flying machine, the airship, the typewriter, the fast steamship, the modern newspaper, not just popular photography for the masses, but cinema, the phonograph, colour magazines, mass paperbacks and the transformation of the high street towards labelled products, uniform in size and quality, product identity and the birth of modern advertising. The humble beginnings of store chains such as Marks and Spencer and Woolworths and the big department stores such as Libertys (influenced by the USA) and Macy’s in New York.

With this explosion of new ways of doing things, came some adverse reactions - the man with the red flag going before the car, the development of sophisticated weapons, the concentration camp and modern warfare strategy (Boer War). There were set backs, financial crashes, but equally, the invention of the suburbs, road planning, mass tourism (Cooks Tours) rapid urban transit, child labour laws, schooling for the young, the growth of civil employment, the invention of the elevator and vertical steel construction (instead of Iron) transformed the way people lived. (These two items in particular were essential to enable buildings to go above twelve floors). It is a fact that in 1911 by arrangement with Cook’s Tour you could travel from London to ports such as Grimsby or Liverpool and take steamers anywhere on the Globe with precious few restrictions, a certain elegance and be confident that you would arrive on time and be cared for all the way. Most of the world was accessible, the sum of £11 could get you to India and back or £4.4s a tour of the Norwegian Fjords. Victorian middle-classes certainly took to travel in a big way and this was the time of building the big resorts such as Blackpool and Skegness, where there would be five star hotels as well as boarding houses for the less well off. Leisure became an industry for the first time.

In America is was profitable for Henry Flagler to open vast 1000 room hotels in St Augustine and later Miami for just two weeks to a month of the year at Christmas. The wealthy and merely well off would come on his railroads from New York and Chicago to escape the winter chills -spawning a whole new industry in itself as some stayed to buy homes in a real estate ‘Utopia’.

New diseases took hold as mass urbanism grew, but with it, a desire to improve and plan for the next century. People had hope, plans, prosperity was spreading wealth to a growing bourgeois middle class who in turn demanded more theatre, cinemas, convenience, cures for ills, sanitation, law and order and above all craved stability.

Visionaries of this time saw a trouble free fantastic future of world peace, the promise of controlled, disease free societies. Trade fairs and world fairs reflected an enormous hope. In the 1890’s Tesla displayed the worlds first robot (radio controlled) at the Chicago fair and this caught the public imagination. Electricity would be able to transform the world and cure everything. Robots became an obsession - later reflected in another society in another world that would be soon to arrive.

Tensions.
H.G.Wells correctly identified that that with prosperity came rivalry and Germany and Great Britain could not co-exist whilst one lusted after a different vision. Those who predicted war were considered ‘warmongers’ and discredited. The novelist Norman Angell caught the anti-war mood with his hugely influential book ‘The Great Illusion ’ in 1910. His argument then, often repeated now in Euroland, was that as the European economies were so integrated, war between any of the powerful nations was impossible.

* The Boer War had a huge influence on planing for the next war. 8000 men died from battle wounds, but 16000 from disease. Volunteers in huge numbers were disqualified because they were not fit due to malnutrition.
Ironically, thus began a campaign for school meals, health visiting, and school medical services, to ensure there would be healthier soldiers for the next war. *Source Stephen Taylor. MD M.P.

Indicator
H.G. Wells The World Set Free: A Story of mankind. Wells predicts that man would eventually solve the problem of how to build a bomb so powerful it could wipe out an entire city - or even a civilisation - published 1914. Reading it inspired one Hungarian physicist, named Leo Szilard, who is credited to be the first scientist to conceive and believe it was possible to make an atomic bomb. Patented in 1936 with the go ahead of the British Navy (once the Army had rejected the idea as a ‘nonsense’) and would form the basics for the first atomic bomb used in war on August 6th 1945 on Hiroshima in Japan, killing 70,000 people.

© Sam North 2000
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1890-1914 1919-1923 1924-1939 1939-1946
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