Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

Retrofuturist Flashback: 19th Century Television

Behold the circa telephonoscope, circa 1883. Hulton Archive/Getty
Behold the circa telephonoscope, circa 1883. Hulton Archive/Getty

Let's enjoy another image from French writer, illustrator, caricaturist and overall sci-fi forefather Albert Robida (1848-1926). Here we behold Robida's vision of the telephonoscope, which featured into his trilogy of futuristic novels. He even foresaw the use of such ubiquitous, social technology in 24-hour news coverage, teleconferencing, live theater and live battlefield reports.

Here's a bit from Bruce Sterling's excellent Smithsonian write-up on Robida that sums his work up perfectly:

Robida was a satirist whose intent was to provoke an uneasy, rueful chuckle. He illustrated many pamphlets and novels (some his own) about the 20th century: the future uses of electricity, flying machines, the emancipation of women and other far-out prospects. These subjects seemed hilarious to Robida, but since they predict our past rather than his future, for us, today, they possess an uncanny beauty. Through accepting the embarrassing qualities of the future, Robida's sly lampoons became brutally accurate. They hit the 20th century like a pie in the face.
circa 1883: 19th century prophesies for the 20th century from a book by Albert Robida, one of which appears to be predicting television. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

About the Author: Robert Lamb is a senior writer and host at HowStuffWorks, where he co-hosts Stuff to Blow Your Mind. An avid science enthusiast, he boasts a deep love for monsters and a hankering for electronic music.

More to Explore