Retrofuturist Flashback: Electric Spaceship, 1775


Greetings from Mercury! British Library/Robana via Getty Images

Today's a bit crazy in the old HowStuffWorks.com office, but I figured a slice of retrofuturism would do everyone some good.

Here we see a "traveler from the planet Mercury arriving on Earth in his wonderful new electric flying machine. It's a 1775 illustration from "The Philosopher Without Pretension or the Rare Man" by French author and polymath Louis Guillaume de la Folie.

Good luck finding an English translation, but according to the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, the book's frame story "contains an inner tale recounted by a former resident of Mercury, who describes his experience of space flight in an elaborate, newly invented ship, which he has crash-landed on Earth."

It is this ship we see in the above illustration, which allegedly the first description of a spaceship or airship powered by electricity. I love the design, though I struggle to understand the twin storming globes -- or the Mercury man's exposed midriff. Space fashions, I guess.


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.