Footage of Flappers from 1929 Restored & Colorized with AI

The flapper is the Roaring 20s’ enduring emblem – a liberated, young woman with bobbed hair, rolled down stockings, and a public thirst for cocktails.

(My grandmother longed to be one, and succeeded, as best one could in Cairo, Illinois, only to marry an older man at the age of 17, and give birth to my father a few months before the stock market crashed, bringing the frivolity of the decade to an abrupt halt.)

Our abiding affection for the flapper is stoked on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Jazz Age novella, The Great Gatsby, and its many stage and screen adaptations, with their depictions of wild parties featuring guests like Miss Baedecker (“When she’s had five or six cocktails she always starts screaming like that”) and Lucille (“I never care what I do, so I always have a good time.”)

The vintage fashion blog Glamour Daze’s newly colorized footage of a 1929  fashion show in Buffalo, New York, at the top of this post, presents a vastly more sedate image than Fitzgerald, or Ethel Hays, whose single-panel daily cartoon Flapper Fanny was wildly popular with both young women and men of the time.



The scene it presents seems more wholesome than one might have found in New York City, with what Fitzgerald dubbed its “wild promise of all the mystery and the beauty in the world”. The models seem more eager amateurs than runway professionals, though lined up jauntily on a wall, all exhibit “nice stems.”

My young grandmother would have gone ga ga for the cloche hats, tea dresses, bathing suits, lounging pajamas, golf and tennis ensembles, and evening gowns, though the Deep Exemplar-based Video Colorization process seems to have stained some models’ skin and teeth by mistake.

The original black and white footage is part of the University of South Carolina’s Fox Movietone News collection, whose other fashion-related clips from 1929 include presentations featuring Washington debutantes and college coeds.

Added sound brings the period to life with nary a mention of the Charleston or gin, though if you want a feel for 20s fashion, check out the collection’s non-silent Movietone clip devoted to the latest in 1929 swimwearthis is a modernistic beach ensemble of rayon jersey with diagonal stripes and a sun back cut

It’s the cat’s pajamas. As is this playlist of hits from 1929.

Explore Glamour Daze’s guide to 1920s fashion history here.

Watch the original black and white footage of the Buffalo, New York fashion show here.

Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

How People Imagined in 1948 What Cars Would Look Like in the Future

With a few exceptions, car design of the last two decades has been stuck in a rut, with a sameness on the outside—-aerodynamic, sleek, rounded—-hiding the advancements under the hood and in the control panel. That’s why it’s always a hoot to check out mock designs from the past, especially when they are being used to forecast the future.

This short 1948 film from Popular Mechanics shows three possible cars of the future, all of which for various reasons, never really caught on. But films like this offer a tantalizing thought-—what if they had? It’s a tiny glimpse of an alternative reality, and we all seem to be loving that multiverse vibe these days.

The first is the Davis Divan, which is perfect for parallel parking with its single front tire and tight maneuverability. It certainly looks cool but I will disagree with the narrator: no amount of space-age oomph is going to make changing a tire an “exhilarating experience.” The Divan was built by the Davis Motorcar Company of Van Nuys, CA, designed by used-car salesman Gary Davis, and included ideas taken from the aeronautical industry. This film appearance was part of a major publicity push from 1947-1949, but in the end only 13 Divans were produced, and a dozen survive. Not so the company, which was sued into liquidation after it failed to deliver product.

The second has an even stranger history. If this is a “car from the future”, then the filmmakers neglected to note it’s actually from 1935. The Hoppe & Streur Streamliner prototype was designed and built by Allyn Streur and Allen Hoppe as part of Consolidated Aircraft San Diego, and based on a Chrysler 66 chassis. It seated five people. If it looks like flimsy metal on top of a skeletal frame, then you’ve guessed correctly.

You can see how Southern California’s aerospace industry has started to influence everything after the war, which accounts for the airplane obsession with these autos, especially what comes next. The final selection is Gordon Buehrig’s TACSO prototype from 1948. Several of the controls in the driver’s seat imitate those found in the cockpit of a plane, and the four wheels are covered in fiberglass directional fenders. Not noted in the film: the car had “a transparent roof that could be removed to let the wind in,” a feature way ahead of its time. But it would have been too expensive to mass produce (AutoBlog figures one of these would have cost the equivalent of $80,000 back in the day) so the one in the video is the only one in existence.

As people are still trying (and failing) to successfully parallel park, safe to say none of these predictions came true. Partly, that’s sad. On the other hand, next time you hear some doom-n-gloom prediction of our current moment, think on this video and how thankfully wrong they were.

Related Content:

Nikola Tesla’s Predictions for the 21st Century: The Rise of Smart Phones & Wireless, The Demise of Coffee & More (1926/35)

How Previous Decades Predicted the Future: The 21st Century as Imagined in the 1900s, 1950s, 1980s, and Other Eras

Buckminster Fuller, Isaac Asimov & Other Futurists Make Predictions About the 21st Century in 1967: What They Got Right & Wrong

Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the Notes from the Shed podcast and is the producer of KCRW’s Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, and/or watch his films here.

How Thomas Edison & Henry Ford Envisioned a Low-Priced Electric Vehicle in 1914, Almost Changing the Direction of Automobile History

Few inventions have come to define twenty-first century mobility as much as the electric car. As reported at EVBox by Joseph D. Simpson and Wesley van Barlingen, the number of electric vehicles on the road has exploded from “negligible” in 2010 to “as many as 10 million” by the end of 2021. Electric vehicle manufacturer Tesla “is the most valuable automotive company on the planet,” worth “an estimated $1 trillion.” That company takes its name from inventor and alternating-current pioneer Nikola Tesla, but it was under the influence of Tesla’s rival Thomas Edison that the electric car went through much of its early evolution.

“At about the time Ford Motor Co. was founded in 1903, Edison had made inroads with battery technology and started offering nickel-iron batteries for several uses, including automobiles,” writes Wired‘s Dan Strohl. At the turn of the 20th century, the vehicles on American roads ran on three different kinds of power: 40 percent used steam, almost as many used electricity, and round 20 percent used gasoline.

Never hesitant to promote his own technologies, Edison declared that “electricity is the thing,” with its lack of “whirring and grinding gears with their numerous levers to confuse,” of “that almost terrifying uncertain throb and whirr of the powerful combustion engine,” of a “water-circulating system to get out of order,” of “dangerous and evil-smelling gasoline.”

As BBC Future Planet’s Allison Hirschlag tells it, “Edison claimed the nickel-iron battery was incredibly resilient, and could be charged twice as fast as lead-acid batteries.” He even had a deal in place with Ford Motors to produce this purportedly more efficient electric vehicle.” Alas, “by the time Edison had a more refined prototype” — one that could be driven from Scotland to London — “electric vehicles were on the way out in favor of fossil-fuel-powered vehicles that could go longer distances before needing to refuel or recharge.” It didn’t help, as Simpson and van Barlingen add, that “after the discovery of oil in Texas, gasoline became cheap and readily available for many, while electricity only remained available in cities.” As a result, electric vehicles had “almost completely disappeared from the market” by the mid-nineteen-thirties.

By the mid-twenty-thirties, however, electric vehicles will quite possibly dominate the market, and 200 years after their invention at that. “It is said that the first electric vehicle was displayed at an industry conference in 1835 by a British inventor by the name of Robert Anderson,” write Simpson and van Barlingen. The twentieth century century saw its development set back by the slow development of battery technology, combined with the sudden development of gasoline-related technologies and infrastructure. But economic, environmental, and political factors have converged to make it seem as if electricity is, indeed, the thing after all, and cars powered by it are positioned to come roaring — or at least humming — back.

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A Harrowing Test Drive of Buckminster Fuller’s 1933 Dymaxion Car: Art That Is Scary to Ride

The World’s Fastest Solar Car

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

100-Year-Old Music Recordings Can Now Be Heard for the First Time, Thanks to New Digital Technology

If you were listening to recorded music around the turn of the twentieth century, you listened to it on cylinders. Not that anyone alive today was listening to recorded music back then, and much of it has since been lost. Invented by Alexander Graham Bell (better known for his work on an even more popular device known as the telephone), the recording cylinder marked a considerable improvement on Thomas Edison’s earlier tinfoil phonograph. Never hesitant to capitalize on an innovation — no matter who did the innovating — Edison then began marketing cylinders of his own, soon turning his own name into the format’s most popular and recognizable brand.

“Edison set up coin-operated phonograph machines that would play pre-recorded wax cylinders in train stations, hotel lobbies, and other public places throughout the United States,” writes Atlas Obscura’s Sarah Durn. They also became the medium choice for hobbyists. “One of the most famous is Lionel Mapleson,” says Jennifer Vanasco in an NPR story from earlier this month.

“He recorded his family,” but “he was also the librarian for the Metropolitan Opera. And in the early 1900s, he recorded dozens of rehearsals and performances. Listening to his work is the only way you can hear pre-World War I opera singers with a full orchestra”: German soprano Frieda Hempel, singing “Evviva la Francia!” above.

The “Mapleson Cylinders” constitute just part of the New York Public Library’s collection of about 2,700 recordings in that format. “Only a small portion of those cylinders, around 175, have ever been digitized,” writes Durn. “The vast majority of the cylinders have never even been played in the generations since the library acquired them.” Most have become too fragile to withstand the needles of traditional players. Enter Endpoint Audio Labs’ $50,000 Cylinder and Dictabelt Machine, which uses a combination of needle and laser to read and digitize even already-damaged cylinders without harm. Only seven of Endpoint’s machines exist in the world, one of them a recent acquisition of the NYPL’s, which will now be able to play many of its cylinders for the first time in more than a century.

Some of these cylinders are unlabeled, their contents unknown. Curator Jessica Wood, as Velasco says, is hoping to “hear a birthday party or something that tells us more about the social history at the time, even someone shouting their name and explaining they’re testing the machine, which is a pretty common thing to hear on these recordings.” She knows that the NYPL’s collection has “about eight cylinders from Portugal, which may be some of the oldest recordings ever made in the country,” as well as “five Argentinian cylinders that have preserved the sound of century-old tango music.” In the event, from the first cylinder she puts on for NPR’s microphone issue familiar words: “Hello, my baby. Hello, my honey. Hello, my ragtime gal.” This listening experience perhaps felt like something less than time travel. But then, were you really to go back to 1899, what song would you be more likely to hear?

via Atlas Obscura

Related content:

Download 10,000 of the First Recordings of Music Ever Made, Courtesy of the UCSB Cylinder Audio Archive

Optical Scanning Technology Lets Researchers Recover Lost Indigenous Languages from Old Wax Cylinder Recordings

Hear Singers from the Metropolitan Opera Record Their Voices on Traditional Wax Cylinders

A Beer Bottle Gets Turned Into a 19th Century Edison Cylinder and Plays Fine Music

400,000+ Sound Recordings Made Before 1923 Have Entered the Public Domain

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

How Did Roman Aqueducts Work?: The Most Impressive Achievement of Ancient Rome’s Infrastructure, Explained

At its peak, ancient Rome enjoyed a variety of comforts that, once lost, would take centuries to recover. This process, of course, constitutes much of the story of Western civilization. Though some knowledge didn’t survive in any useful form, some of it remained lastingly embodied. The mighty ruins of Roman aqueducts, for example, continued to stand all across the former Empire. Together they once constituted a vast water-delivery system, one of whose construction and operation it took humanity quite some time to regain a functional understanding. Today, you can learn about both in the video from ancient-history Youtuber Garrett Ryan just above.

“Greek engineers began building aqueducts as early as the sixth century BC,” says Ryan. “A stone-line channel carried spring water to archaic Athens, and Samos was served by an aqueduct that plunged through a tunnel more than one kilometer long.”

These systems developed throughout the Hellenistic era, and their Roman successors made use of “arches and hydraulic concrete, but above all it was the sheer number and scale that set them apart.” Most Roman cities had “networks of wells and cisterns” to supply drinking water; aqueducts, in large part, came as “luxuries, designed to supply baths, ornate fountains, and the houses of the élite.” Man’s taste for luxury has inspired no few of his great works.

The task of building Rome’s aqueducts was, in essence, the task of building “an artificial river flowing downhill from source to city” — over great distances using no power but gravity, and thus on a descending slope of about five to ten feet per mile. This precision engineering was made possible by the use of tools like the dioptra and chorobates, as well as an enormous amount of manpower. Roman aqueducts ran mostly underground, but more impressively in the elevated channels that have become landmarks today. “The most spectacular example is undoubtedly the Pont du Gard, located just outside Nîmes,” says Ryan, and TV traveler Rick Steves visits it in the clip above. What once served as infrastructure for the well-watered mansions of the wealthy and connected now makes for a fine picnicking spot.

Related content:

Roman Architecture: A Free Online Course from Yale University

A Virtual Tour of Ancient Rome, Circa 320 CE: Explore Stunning Recreations of The Forum, Colosseum and Other Monuments

A Huge Scale Model Showing Ancient Rome at Its Architectural Peak (Built Between 1933 and 1937)

The Roads of Ancient Rome Visualized in the Style of Modern Subway Maps

How Did the Romans Make Concrete That Lasts Longer Than Modern Concrete? The Mystery Finally Solved

Everything You Wanted to Know About the L.A. Aqueduct That Made Roman Polanski’s Chinatown Famous: A New UCLA Archive

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Why Algorithms Are Called Algorithms, and How It All Goes Back to the Medieval Persian Mathematician Muhammad al-Khwarizmi

In recent decades, a medieval Persian word has come to prominence in English and other major world languages. Many of use it on a daily basis, often while regarding the concept to which it refers as essentially mysterious. The word is algorithm, whose roots go back to the ninth century in modern-day Greater Iran. There lived a polymath by the name of Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi, whom we now remember for his achievements in geography, astronomy, and mathematics. In that last field, he was the first to define the principles of “reducing” and “balancing” equations, a subject all of us came to know in school as algebra (a name itself descended from the Arabic al-jabr, or “completion”).

Today, a good few of us have come to resent algorithms even more than algebra. This is perhaps because algorithms are most popularly associated with the deep, unseen workings of the internet, a system with ever increasing influence over the things we do, the information we receive, and even the people with whom we associate.

Provided sufficient data about us and the lives we lead, so we’re given to understand, these algorithms can make better decisions for us than we can make for ourselves. But what exactly are they? You can get one answer from “Why Algorithms Are Called Algorithms,” the BBC Ideas video at the top of the post.

For Western civilization, al-Khwarizmi’s most important book was Concerning the Hindu Art of Reckoning, which was translated into Latin three centuries after its composition. Al-Khwarizmi’s Latinized name “Algoritmi” gave rise to the word algorismus, which at first referred to the decimal number system and much later came to mean “a set of step-by-step rules for solving a problem.” It was Enigma codebreaker Alan Turing who “worked out how, in theory, a machine could follow algorithmic instructions and solve complex mathematics. This was the birth of the computer age.” Now, much further into the computer age, algorithms “are helping us to get from A to B, driving internet searches, making recommendations of things for us to buy, watch, or share.”

The algorithm giveth, but the algorithm also taketh away — or so it sometimes feels as we make our way deeper into the twenty-first century. In the other BBC Ideas video just above, Jon Stroud makes an investigation into both the nature and the current uses of this mathematical concept. The essential job of an algorithm, as the experts explain to him, is that of processing data, these days often in large quantities and of various kinds, and increasingly with the aid of sophisticated machine-learning processes. In making or influencing choices humans would once have handled themselves, algorithms do present a risk of “de-skilling” as we come to rely on their services. We all occasionally feel gratitude for the blessings those services send our way, just as we all occasionally blame them for our dissatisfactions — making the algorithm, in other words, into a thoroughly modern deity.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Why Dutch & Japanese Cities Are Insanely Well Designed (and American Cities Are Terribly Designed)

Pity the United States of America: despite its economic, cultural, and military dominance of so much of the world, it struggles to build cities that measure up with the capitals of Europe and Asia. The likes of New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago offer abundant urban life to enjoy, but also equally abundant problems. Apart from the crime rates for which American cities have become fairly or unfairly notorious, there’s also the matter of urban design. Simply put, they don’t feel as if they were built very well, which any American will feel after returning from a trip to Amsterdam or Tokyo — or after watching the videos on those cities by Danish Youtuber OBF.

In Amsterdam, OBF says, “commuters will use their bikes to get to and enter transit stations, where they simply park their bikes in these enormous bike-parking garages. Then they’ll travel on either a bus, tram, or train to their final destination, but most of the time, the fastest and most convenient option is simply taking the bike to the final destination.”

Near-impossible to imagine in the United States, this prevalence of cycling is a reality in not just the Dutch capital but also in other cities across the country, which boasts 32,000 kilometers of bike lanes in total. And those count as only one of the infrastructural glories covered in OBF’s video “Why the Netherlands Is Insanely Well Designed.”

Tokyo, too, has its fair share of cyclists. Whenever I’m over there, I take note of all the well-dressed moms biking their young children to school in the morning, who cut figures in the starkest possible contrast to their American equivalents. But what really underlies the Japanese capital’s distinctively intense urbanism, literally as well as figuratively, is its network of subway trains. OBF takes the precision-engineered efficiency and the impeccable maintenance of this system as his main subject in “Why Tokyo Is Insanely Well Designed.” But enough about good city design; what accounts for bad city design, especially in a rich country like the U.S.?

OMF has an answer in one word: parking. Philadelphia, for example, supplies its 1.6 million people with 2.2 million parking spaces. The consequent deformation of the city’s built environment, clearly visible in aerial footage, both symbolizes and perpetuates the hegemony of the automobile. That same condition once afflicted the European and Asian cities that have since designed their way out of it and then some. While “some people might think it’s nearly impossible to implement these methods into other countries,” says OBF, they “can be replicated any place in the world if the people and leadership are willing to collaborate and listen to one another, and invest in infrastructure that is people-, environment-, and future-centered.” As an American living in a non-American city, I hereby invite him to come have a ride on the Seoul Metro.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

How Previous Decades Predicted the Future: The 21st Century as Imagined in the 1900s, 1950s, 1980s, and Other Eras

All of us alive today perceive recent history as a series of decades. There exists, as far as we know, no quality of reality dictating that everything must recognizably change every ten years. But throughout the 21st century, it seems to have been thus: even if we weren’t alive at the time, we can tell at a glance the cultural artifacts of the nineteen-thirties from the nineteen-forties, for example, or those of the nineteen-eighties from the nineteen-nineties. Each decade has its own distinct fashions, which arose from its distinct worldview; that worldview arose from a vision of the future; and that vision of the future arose from changes in technology.

Back in the nineteen-tens, says history Youtuber Hochelaga in the video above, “the invention of the first airplane opened massive potential in transportation, and sparked the imagination of the public.” The development of aviation encouraged predictions that one day “the world would go airborne; people would take to the skies in their very own personal airships and gliders.” Popular artists dreamed of  a kind of “steampunk genre: a future vision and aesthetic, but stuck in victorian technologies like steam power and industrial machinery, as well as goggles and top hats.” By the twenties, this optimistic vision would be displaced by darker but more stylish ones, such as the Art-Deco dystopia of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis.

It was the nineteen-fifties, specifically the triumphant and abundant American nineteen-fifties, that introduced the idea that “the future will be one of convenience and luxury.” As the Space Race progressed, this notional world of picture-phones and flying cars evolved into the one of interstellar freeways, robot maids, and Googie architecture exemplified by The Jetsons. But as far as personal technology was concerned, the real world had seen nothing yet. The rapid popularization of the personal computer in the eighties brought with it a vast expansion of ideas of what computers could do. According to the Terminator films, we were supposed to have an artificially intelligent defense network that attained self-awareness by 1997 — though our having blown past the deadline is probably for the best.

Here in the twenty-first century — an impossibly distant future in most of the decades discussed here — very few elements of these futures have been fully realized. For that matter, few of the technologies we actually do use in our everyday lives were accurately predicted in the twentieth century. (Imagine how social media would have looked on a color postcard from 1915.) “Each present moment imagines a future with themselves clearly in it, taking advantage of the newest technology of the day to its furthest limits,” says Hochelaga. In other words, each of these decades regards the future as an extreme version of itself. In this view, how many of us today think of the future as dull, grim, and even nonexistent tells us nothing about what will actually happen in decades ahead. It does, however, tell us a great deal about the twenty-twenties.

Related content:

Jules Verne Accurately Predicts What the 20th Century Will Look Like in His Lost Novel, Paris in the Twentieth Century (1863)

How French Artists in 1899 Envisioned Life in the Year 2000: Drawing the Future

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1930s Fashion Designers Predict How People Would Dress in the Year 2000

Arthur C. Clarke Predicts the Future in 1964 … and Kind of Nails It

Walter Cronkite Imagines the Home of the 21st Century … Back in 1967

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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