Saturday, July 13, 2013

"Shipwreck of the Future"

This extraordinary futuristic drawing of a disaster is from the New-York Tribune of December 26, 1909. 


From Chronicling America, Library of Congress

The text above the drawing reads:

Liner Icarus in mid-ocean Dec. 26 1919, 3.10 pm. By wireless to The Tribune. A disastrous explosion (cause as yet unascertained) in our motor room at 5.12 this morning made it necessary to descend. Unfortunately, the waves were running high and our rudder was broken. Wind increased rapidly and our stern was battered till we threatened to sink. Other airships have come to our rescue as have some submarines and the freight steamer Lusitania, formerly used for passengers. All hands will be saved beyond a doubt, except those in the motor room which is now submerged.”

The likelihood of such an air “liner” as this actually being constructed may seem highly improbable from an engineering point of view although strangely enough something not too dissimilar featured at the most recent Paris Air Show. See here.

There is also a certain poignancy in that this fantasy drawing unwittingly presaged two enormous tragedies at sea that would happen long before 1919. Less than three years after the drawing was published the Titanic sank, in which all those in the submerged “motor room”, ie the engineers, really did perish and Lusitania did not survive either to become a “freight steamer” and was sunk by a German U-boat off Ireland in 1915, with an equally huge loss of life.

The artist was H.M. Pettit. He was born in Rock Island, Illinois, in 1867, and worked as an artist and designer in his home town before moving to New York City. His illustrations appeared in many of the famous magazines of the day, such as Frank Leslie's Weekly and Harper's Weekly. He was particularly known for bird's eye vista illustrations and imagining future skyscrapers and a cosmopolis such as that in Moses King's book King's Views of New York that showed the skies of the city full of dirigibles. Pettit went on to work on conceptual architectural images, and was commissioned for large industrial murals, train stations and educational establishments. He was also the official artist for the Chicago World's Fair in 1933-34. He was married twice and died in 1941.

Another example of Pettit's work – the burned out area of San Francisco after the Great Earthquake and Fire of 1906. [Frank Leslie's Weekly]