This collection of antique photographs illustrates how people throughout history have endeavored to imagine what the future may hold for them and how their visions of the future have either come true or not happened.

From our vantage point in the present day, many of these predictions appear to be quite hilarious, even though some people were able to make fairly accurate predictions.

A book by T.R. Hinchliffe in the 1960s titled Retro-Futurism is credited with being the first publication to use “retrofuturism.” “an early optimism that focused on the past and was anchored in the nineteenth century, an early-twentieth-century ‘golden age’ that continued long into the 1960s’ Space Age,” this is how futurism is described when it is in its more popular form. Futurism is also sometimes referred to as futurology.

An artist’s depiction of the future was painted in 1930.


First and foremost, retrofuturism is founded on the following analysis of “the future,” but these concepts are subject to constant evolution. According to Guffey, retrofuturism is “a recent neologism,” but it “builds on futurists’ fevered visions of space colonies with flying cars, robotic servants, and interstellar travel on display there.” Retrofuturism emerged as a more skeptical reaction to these dreams, whereas futurists took their promise for granted.

In the 1970s, when technological advancement was increasing quickly, it began to take the form it has today. This time was marked by significant and speedy advances in technological development, from the introduction of the personal computer to the production of the first baby born from a test tube.

However, an increasing number of members of the general public started to question whether or not applied science would fulfill its previous promise — namely, that life would surely become better as a result of advances in technology.

A navigation system as imagined in the 1950s

Many commentators, in the wake of the devastation caused by the Vietnam War, environmental destruction, and the energy crisis, began calling into question the value of applied science.

But they also wondered about the scientific positivism displayed by preceding generations, sometimes in awe and confusion.

In the 1960s and 1970s, retrofuturism “seeped into scholarly and popular culture,” influencing both George Lucas’s Star Wars and the paintings of pop artist Kenny Scharf.

In their analysis of the optimistic futurism of the early 20th century, historians Joe Corn and Brian Horrigan remind us that retrofuturism is “a history of an idea, or a system of ideas—an ideology.” It should be obvious that the future does not exist apart from believing in or imagining it.

The food delivery of the future was imagined in the 1940s.

The future as seen from the past and the past as seen from the future are both aspects of retrofuturism, which incorporates two themes that overlap and can be summarized as “the future as seen from the past and the past as seen from the future.”

The first trend, known as “retrofuturism proper,” is directly inspired by the imagined future that existed in the minds of writers, artists, and filmmakers before 1960. During this period, these people attempted to predict the future by publishing serious projections of existing technology (for example, in magazines like Science and Invention) or writing science fiction novels and stories.

These modified and updated depictions of the future offer a wistful, alternative view of what the future might have been like had it turned out differently from what it actually will be.

The second trend, futuristic retro, is the opposite of the first. It begins with the appeal of older art styles, clothing, and more. Then it grafts contemporary or futuristic technologies onto it, resulting in a mixture of past, present, and future elements.

This second trend has produced an array of successful versions, the most significant of which is steampunk. Steampunk is a word that can refer to either the reprojection of futuristic technology into an alternate Victorian age or the application of neo-Victorian styles to modern technology.

Via television, a newspaper. “One day, you might be able to get your daily newspaper’s front page this way.

Self-driving cars of the future, the 1960s.

“Ship’s Cat” By Keith Spangle.

The future of phones, 1956.

James Bond receives a “text” via his smartwatch in the Spy Who Loved Me. 1977.

1970s futuristic concept for jetliner air travel.

The future classroom is seen in Japanese culture. Strangely, they used tiny robots to tap misbehaving pupils on the head. 1969.

VR made by NASA in 1989.

Artoo-Deco, an art deco droid from author/maker Kurt Zimmerman.

How NASA imagined life in space. More at “Space colonies of the future as imagined by NASA in the 1970s“.

1950s fashions as predicted on the Life Magazine cover in 1914.

1981 vision of suburbia after there’s no more room left for suburbs.

Shopping from home as imagined in the 1940s.

Bruce Mccall’s The Family’s Future Road Trip.

Car of the future imagined and created by Ian Roussel.

The Soviet vision of the future in the 1930s.

Futuristic Netherlands, drawn in 1970.

A Seiko smartwatch from 1984.

The 2020 Olympics… not 100% accurate. From “The Usborne Book of the Future: A Trip in Time to the Year 2000 and Beyond”, 1979.

Monsanto House of the Future, 1957.

Is this the worst space suit design ever?

This was an actual space suit Grumman Aircraft Corp tried to sell to NASA in 1962.

Teenagers of the 21st century.

The nuke-proof underground city below Manhattan, 1969. (Created by Oscar Newman).

The Air Curtain Entrance, 1956.

Radio Hat, 1949.

Farming in the 21st century, 1958.

Vacations on the Moon (unknown year and creator).

The bright side of atomic energy.

An express ocean liner in the year 2000, as imagined in 1931.

Strolling on the water. More at “Futuristic postcards: Life in the year 2000, 1900“.

Giant pinball rail, 1946.

A flying, driverless car, 1960.

(Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons / Pinterest / Flickr / Reddit via Bored Panda).

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