I admit that’s not quite true. If you really want to trace the history of people going to a show where technology was displayed, you have to go to the truly amazing World’s Fairs and Expositions of the 19th century. People came from all over the planet to see electricity in action and some, like the Chicago Exposition of 1893 were absolutely legendary. But these shows really focused on the impact of technology on industry, not necessarily on how tech would change for the average person. If you want to look at the first “consumer electronics” show where regular folks got to see their own futures, you really need to look at Motorama.
Motorama started in 1953 as an evolution of the General Motors exhibit at the New York Auto Show. The latest GM cars traveled to several cities all across the country and along with them traveled displays of the latest technology coming in “the future.”
Tucked in with the turbine cars and other tech that never arrived were things like seat belts, antilock brakes, automatic climate control, and several other things that we take for granted today. Even more interesting was a 1956 prediction that a TV screen mounted in your car would help you navigate from place to place… with the help of a uniformed officer giving you voice directions through the car’s speakers. I guess it’s just too much to think that those wacky 20th century folks could get GPS perfectly right.
To get a real taste of what Motorama was about, check out this film (yes you can find anything on YouTube.) It was produced for and shown at Motorama and despite the poor quality of the transfer you really get a feel for the tech of the time.
I especially like the “futuristic” freeway interchanges where you didn’t even have to stop before getting on the elevated highways. In 1956, most people had never seen what we today call a highway. Their idea of traffic was a stop sign. One can only wonder what they’d think of the traffic around CES this week.