Remember how George Jetson and Jane, his wife, spoke on videophones and it seemed so impossibly futuristic? If you don’t recall this fictional innovation, see it in action during this clip.
But not so long ago, the idea of having video and voice integrated into one device seemed more like science fiction than science fact.
We found one such early, prototypical device for sale, and it is coincidentally from the same era as the first episodes of “The Jetsons” – today’s remarkable find is this Western Electric / Bell System 1965 Picturephone w/Display, Desk & Power Unit:
This unusual device was both ahead of and behind the times. The concept of sending both video and voice over the same analog phone line was revolutionary, and the folks at Bell Labs thought it would be a huge success. Unfortunately, the technology never took off, even after repeated investment and innovation to the tune of $500 million dollars over the course of 15 years. The public’s acceptance of the Picturephone was extremely limited.
Part of the reason is the size of the device itself, and the fact that you had to have a Picturephone at each end. Think of it as a high-tech (and high-priced) version of two cans and a string.
Here is a typical advertisement for the Picturephone, in case you can’t visualize how it would be used:
The listing also includes these interesting facts about the Picturephone:
“1) According to the calculations of telecommunications author Stephen J.Maudsley, he reports the cost of a video telephone in the 1960s was nearly $500,000. 2) The first Picturephone test system was built in 1956 and it was crude – it transmitted an image only once every two seconds. But by 1964 a complete experimental system, the “Mod 1,” had been developed. To test it, the public was invited to place calls between special exhibits at Disneyland and the New York World’s Fair. A three-minute Picturephone call from Washington to New York City cost $16. The most expensive connection, between New York City and Chicago, cost $27 for three minutes.”
If a three-minute call for $16 sounds a bit steep, it becomes exorbitant when you convert it into 2013 dollars; each three-minute call would be over $118. In hindsight, it is pretty obvious why the concept was not readily accepted…
This Picturephone is from 1965. It is incredible to contemplate how far we have come in such a relatively short period of time (less than 50 years), from something that was exclusively built to send voice and pictures over analog wires, to the digital, wireless router, “facetime” technology of today.
It got us thinking about other items that used to be considered science fiction, but are now available. If you appreciate that kind of thing, take a look at this great article on BuzzFeed, called 27 Science Fictions That Became Science Facts In 2012. Two of my favorites from that article: Microsoft patents what can only be called a Holodeck (of Star Trek fame), and a 3-D Printer Creates Full-Size Houses in One Session. Take a look:
Imagine being able to use a 3-D printer to create a car, or better yet, a flying car.
The future so bright, you gotta wear (3-D) shades!
Thanks to eBay seller ilmabell for listing such a cool item. We’d like to acknowledge that this rare item came from the seller’s father, and that this was a prize possession. We hope this unique piece of history finds its way into the hands of a collector that appreciates its true worth.