Photographs from 1920s Chicago

From The Atlantic:

Chicago was not at its finest at the turn of the 20th century. Heading into the roaring ’20s, the city played host to some of the most infamous criminals. Crime was abundant—which gave photographers from the Chicago Tribune plenty of chances to take striking shots.

The Tribune‘s new collection, titled Gangsters & Grifters, features a collection of photos of Chicago’s most colorful characters in said time period. The book goes far beyond the Capones and the Dillingers; even two of its editors, Marianne Mather and Erin Mystkowski of the Tribune‘s current photo department, were surprised at how much they learned in the compilation process.

“For me, I grew up in Chicago,” Mather said. “Seeing the history come to life of the city I grew up in has been a lot of fun. And I also think it broadened my perspective on what was happening in that time period.”

Mobile screens vs. windscreens

It seems pretty obvious that a lot of people would rather look at their smartphone screen than look out of their windscreen, and so it follows that as technology allows it the next generation will quite happily forfeit the whole idea of driving altogether. Perhaps hitting the open road will one day be reserved for weekend pursuits on private land.

From Futurist:

The self-driving car will, I think, have a profound impact on the future of transportation. It is well known that young people in the U.S. have demonstrated a declining interest in driving and in auto ownership. Given a choice between a smart phone or a car, they will chose the phone. Millennials have contributed greatly to the global move to urban areas, where alternate transportation from transit to walking to Uber is more readily available. This generation notes that time spent commuting alone is generally time wasted, and would prefer to transport themselves in a way that enables continued productivity. Driverless cars, capable of at least taking over while a car is on the highway or freeway, will enable people to turn to their phones and their tablets and to continue working or to engage in socializing. Will this lead to more cars in the commute, and a return to a desire to own a car? Perhaps.

How American highways got their numbers

From CityLab:

The government stayed out of the highway business at first, but rising car ownership (over registered by 1930) and inconsistent road maintenance from trail to trail quickly changed that. In fact, some trail promoters failed to keep their roads in good condition on purpose, under the assumption that the Feds had plans to turn their route into a national highway.As the Federal Highway Authority explains, businesses along these routes typically paid dues to the trail associations, which meant routes weren’t always laid out to give drivers the quickest route, but instead to collect the most dues. There were over 250 such routes established by the mid-1920s.

As the Federal Highway Authority explains, businesses along these routes typically paid dues to the trail associations, which meant routes weren’t always laid out to give drivers the quickest route, but instead to collect the most dues. There were over 250 such routes established by the mid-1920s. […]

In 1925, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHO) asked the Secretary of Agriculture to work with states to replace all trail names with a unified highway numbering system. Most of the trail associations disapproved, but after negotiations over which routes got which numbers (for the most part, north-south routes got odd numbers, and east-west routes even numbers), the new system became official a year later. Reduced to nothing but a number and often dependent on government assistance for upkeep, the booster organizations behind the trails quickly became irrelevant.

Ever since then, an iconic black and white shield (modified slightly over the years) has been telling drivers where they are and where they’re going in the simplest way possible. Thirty years later, of course, the Interstate Highway System debuted, meaning not only a whole new set of numbered roads, but much better ones too.

An American Automobile Association map of the country’s many automobile trails in 1918. (Library of Congress)

A 1926 map of the final version of the approved United States Numbered Highway System. (Wikimedia Commons)

How the Victorians invented the future

From Aeon:

It was only around the beginning of the 1800s, as new attitudes towards progress, shaped by the relationship between technology and society, started coming together, that people started thinking about the future as a different place, or an undiscovered country – an idea that seems so familiar to us now that we often forget how peculiar it actually is.

The new technology of electricity seemed to be made for futuristic speculation. At exhibition halls in London, such as the Adelaide Gallery or the Royal Polytechnic Institution, early Victorians could marvel at electrical engines that promised to transform travel. Inventors boasted that ‘half a barrel of blue vitriol [copper sulphate] and a hogshead or two of water, would send a ship from New York to Liverpool’. People went to these places to see the future made out of the present: when Edgar Allen Poe in 1844 set out to fool the New York Sun’s readers that a balloon flight had just made it across the Atlantic, he made sure to tell them that the equipment used had been ‘put in action at the Adelaide Gallery’.

Bringing the future home, Alfred Smee, then surgeon to the Bank of England, told readers of his Elements of Electro-Metallurgy (1841) how they would ‘enter a room by a door having finger plates of the most costly device, made by the agency of the electric fluid’. The walls would be ‘covered with engravings, printed from plates originally etched by galvanism’, and at dinner ‘the plates may have devices given by electrotype engravings, and his salt spoons gilt by the galvanic fluid’. It was becoming impossible to talk about electricity at all without talking about the future.

Read the rest here.

Fred Lyon’s photography of mid-20th Century San Francisco

From Boing Boing:

In the 1940s and 1950s, photographer Fred Lyon, now 89, magnificently captured the enticing noir decadence of San Francisco’s Barbary Coast and the majesty of the rest of the city. Known as “San Francisco’s Brassai,” Lyon’s work can be seen on his site and in a new monograph, San Francisco, Portrait of a City: 1940-1960.