A to Z

This section explores an A-Z of the themes that reoccur throughout the images that we gathered for this project. 

T is for Transport

As Rebecca Solnit has shown, inventions such as the telephone, telegraph and the transcontinental railroad were instruments for ‘annihilating time and space’ in the latter decades of the nineteenth century.

The advent of the hot air balloon a century earlier had captured the imaginations of artists, for whom this technology served as a vehicle for representing both a new era of aviation and for satirising current affairs. In the spirit of this latter approach, George Cruikshank’s 1825 sketch ‘A scene in the face of “lofty projects”’ presents a chaotic scene of speculative folly, in which balloons can reach the moon, while the ‘Royal Humane Society for Catching Falling Persons’ looks out for misadventure. Meanwhile, the rise of the steam engine prompted Robert Seymour’s playful c.1830 caricature of walking, riding and flying by steam – their locomotion the product of a ‘strong infusion of Gunpowder tea’. Accompanying this sketch was another depicting ‘a few small inconveniences’ that might arise from this breakthrough – of puffing chimneys and careening vehicles belching plumes of smoke.

The transformations these transportation technologies wrought inspired visions of the future characterised by the acceleration of mobility, not only of people and goods, but also, information. Albert Robida’s ‘A busy neighbourhood’ is a sketch of animated city life, replete with criss-crossing telegraph lines and air-ships for urban commuters above the congested streets below. Pilots of winged vehicles in the year 2000, such as Jean Marc Cote’s ‘rural postman’, could ensure that farming communities received news and information more quickly, while their flight might catch the attention of the ‘aviation police (L’Agent Aviateur)’. Winged police also feature in the busy skies depicted above the Panama Canal in J.S. Pughe’s 1906 Puck sketch, where the advent of aviation looks set to render the canal obsolete.

Darker visions of the future imagined the military uses of airships. For George Griffith, airships – ‘a vision which no one who saw it forgot to the day of his death’ – offered the means to conquer the world in The Angel of the Revolution (1893). H.G. Wells envisioned not only the military role of airships in his War in the Air (1908), but also the ‘bridging’ of the English Channel by ‘great iron Eiffel Tower pillars carrying mono-rail cables’ that allowed the passage of ships below. Wheeled battleships could also ‘evad[e] an enemy’ by mounting a railway to emerge from the sea.

Cote’s commuters between Paris and Peking, meanwhile, could embark on an electric train, or even a whale-bus! In Robida’s novel, frictionless trains could shoot through tubes to their destination, while the company Hildebrands Deutscher Kakao advertised moving sidewalks, ideal for promenading. Recreation and play were not neglected in these visions – Cote envisioned the twenty-first century advent of ‘Auto-Patins a Roues’, or motorised roller-skates, despite their perils for the uninitiated, while water-borne penny-farthings and floating shoes could allow users to ‘dispens[e] with bridge and ferry’.  

‘Future Dictates of Fashion,’ in W. Cade Gall, The Strand Magazine, January, 1893.