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    The Future Is Still Now: Inside Westinghouse's Time Capsule 1

    Written by

    Brian Anderson

    Features Editor

    Westinghouse Time Capsules 1 and 2 capstone at Flushing Meadows Park (via Flickr / Gary Dunaier) 

    Seventy-four years ago today, the New York City World's Fair of 1939 opened its doors to the masses. It was the second largest World's Fair on American soil, second only to St. Louis's Louisiana Purchase Exposition of 1904, and the first global expo to be based on--wait for it--the Future. Its opening slogan? "Dawn of a New Day."

    Some 44 million people toured the fair grounds and exhibits at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park over two seasons, marvelling at everything from a very Jetsons-y car-based city plan by GM to Vermeer's The Milkmaid to Smell-O-Vision, from striking color photography to flourescent lighting to streamlined pencil sharpeners to Voder, the speech synthesizer brainchild of Bell Labs. The future was then.   

    But the Fair's most hotly-billed spectacle--and what over time would prove its boldest, bravest, most lasting legacy--was buried deep undergroud, far out of sight. And it remains there to this day, 50 feet below the surface of the Earth. The Westinghouse Time Capsule 1, as it's known, is not to be disturbed until 6939 AD.

    It was the first "time capsule," though by no means the first time capsule. For millenia, humans have been stowing away equally previous and mundane shit to be commemoratively reopened and reanalyzed at some point down the line. But it was the Westinghouse Electric Corporation that coined the term "time capsule" for its ambitious underground World's Fair venture. (This was after scrapping an alternate term, "time bomb".)

    Thanks to some serious engineering and foresight, Westinghouse's capsule, a second iteration of which would be buried nearby for the 1964 New York's World Fair, was built to last. Made of Cupaloy, a unique non-ferrous alloy made specifically for the project, it's said Westinghouse's Time Capsule 1 will withstand the creep of corrosion above and beyond 5,000 years. 

    Each item went through a grueling evaluation by the US National Bureau of Standards to be sure the entire contents of the bullet-shaped, 90-inch long capsule (see sketch at right) would hold up until that fateful unearthing in 6939. All told, the thing weighed in at 800 pounds and includes but is not limited to:

    • One pack of Camel cigarettes
    • $1 in change
    • Various issues of LIFE magazine
    • Microfilm rolls containing roughly millions of words from a dictionary, almanac, and a Sears Roebuck catalog
    • 75 types of metals, fabrics, and plastics
    • Seeds (tobacco, cotton, flax, rice...)

    Time will tell whether homo sapiens will have any need for smokes and coins 5,000 years down the grand arrow of time. The thought of some Future Man smoking a butt is pretty chill, I guess. If anything, the seed bank is Time Capsule 1's most valuable asset. 

    Nevermind that time capsule reveals are typically awkward let downs. In an age where brick-and-mortar time capsules seem to be going the way of history, vastly outpaced by a new crop of giant cultural caches and projects like the Internet Archive and the Long Now Foundation's 10,000 Year Clock, Westinghouse's Time Capsule 1 was, and always will be, the future. All in good time.  

    Reach Brian at brian@motherboard.tv. @thebanderson