Retrofuturist Flashback: 1829 Steampunk Satire


Even in 1829, steampunk was kind of silly. SSPL/Getty

Think of it as reverse-steampunk if you will.

Instead of re-imagining an outrageous future from the affected vantage point of 19th century Europe, we see here a satirical take on our steam-driven future from the actual vantage point of 1829 England.

Titled "March of Intellect, Lord how this world improves as we grow older," the piece takes a satirical and skeptical shot at the future of steam power. We see a crazy world of fantastic flying machines, castles in the air, a vacuum tube public transportation system, a "servant suspending apparatus" and undersea tunnels.

What a ridiculous vision of the future, right?

But of course now we have flying machines and undersea tunnels. One day we might even get that vacuum tube train. Castles in the sky might be a bit more far-fetched, but we DO have a space station. So take that, British political cartoonist William Heath (1795-1840) (AKA Paul Pry). You might have been having a laugh at all the technological progress but, as with Albert Robida, we see that it behooves a futurist to have one's tongue placed firmly in cheek.

Now let's take a closer look at that train.

Detail.
SSPL/Getty

About the Author: Robert Lamb spent his childhood reading books and staring into the woods — first in Newfoundland, Canada and then in rural Tennessee. There was also a long stretch in which he was terrified of alien abduction. He earned a degree in creative writing. He taught high school and then attended journalism school. He wrote for the smallest of small-town newspapers before finally becoming a full-time science writer and podcaster. He’s currently a senior writer at HowStuffWorks and has co-hosted the science podcast Stuff to Blow Your Mind since its inception in 2010. In his spare time, he enjoys traveling with his wife Bonnie, discussing dinosaurs with his son Bastian and crafting the occasional work of fiction.