From 1958 to 1962, illustrator and futurist Arthur Radebaugh thrilled newspaper readers with his weekly syndicated visions of the future, in a Sunday strip enticingly called “Closer Than We Think”.
Radebaugh was a commercial illustrator in Detroit when he began experimenting with imagery—fantastical skyscrapers and futuristic, streamlined cars—that he later described as “halfway between science fiction and designs for modern living.” Radebaugh’s career took a downward turn in the mid-1950s, as photography began to usurp illustrations in the advertising world. But he found a new outlet for his visions when he began illustrating a syndicated Sunday comic strip, “Closer Than We Think,” which debuted on January 12, 1958—just months after the Soviet Union launched Sputnik—with a portrayal of a “Satellite Space Station.”
Week after week, he enthralled readers with depictions of daily life enhanced by futuristic technology: mailmen making their daily rounds via jet packs, schoolrooms with push-button desks, tireless robots working in warehouses. “Closer Than We Think” ran for five years in newspapers across the United States and Canada, reaching about 19 million readers at its peak.
When Radebaugh died in a veterans hospital in 1974, his work had been largely forgotten—eclipsed by the techno-utopian spectacles of “The Jetsons” and Walt Disney’s Tomorrowland. But more than two decades later, Todd Kimmell, the director of the Lost Highways Archives and Research Library, acquired photos of Radebaugh’s portfolio that had been stashed in the collection of a retiring photographer and began reviving interest in his work.
1. Solar-Powered Cars
Cars have made tremendous strides in fuel efficiency over the past half century. But we’re still waiting for this sunray sedan — a solar-powered car that was promised from no less an authority than a vice president at Chrysler.
2. Glass Domed Houses
People of the 1950s and ’60s seemed to be obsessed with protecting their homes from the weather. Even if it meant literally living in a bubble, like this suburban utopia, which was protected from the elements by a giant, glass dome.
3. Super-sized Crops
How does one begin to eat a cob of corn as big as a school bus? That question wasn’t answered in this 1962 edition of the comic strip. But just think of the huge popcorn it would produce!
4. Robot Warehouses
If you’ve seen the inside of an Amazon warehouse recently, you know that the futuristic robot warehouse is kind of here. But sadly, they’re not quite as cool looking as these robo-helpers from Closer Than We Think.
5. Push-Button Education
As the Baby Boomers started to go to school in the 1950s America’s educators were faced with the crisis of overcrowding. One solution they envisioned for the computer-filled future? More automation, including push-button desks to keep betters tabs on kids.