July 1965 Popular Electronics
Table of Contents
Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics. See articles
published October 1954 - April 1985. All copyrights are hereby acknowledged.
Maybe it's just because black and white photos don't offer the visual stimulus of
vivid color that we're used to seeing nowadays, but these images used to evoke a sense
of awe and wonder at displays featured at the
New York World's Fair don't quite hit the mark. Disney played a large role in the
building of the displays. Audiovisual and robotic technology were the main themes of
the event, and no doubt they were impressive at the time, although the recently posted
video of Boston Dynamics'
"Atlas" robot / humanoid running through a field puts General Electric's Progressland's
"Grandpa" to shame. Each will give you a different kind of nightmare. Note Elon Musk's
comment on "Atlas."
"The American Adventure" at Epcot Center
(Kirt Blattenberger photo)
Melanie and I went to Disney World / Epcot Center on our honeymoon in May of 1983 (it first opened in
Fall of 1982), and saw what was billed as first walking, talking humanoids where
(Samuel Clemens) and contemporaries paced onstage
and recounted his experiences ("The
Men in Black (MIB) fans will recall the alien shoot-down scene at
the abandoned 1964 New York World's Fair site.
Here is an interesting, though sad, series of during and after shots of the
1964 New York World's Fair, on the Disney Imagineering website.
Electronic Magic at the World's Fair
By Art Zuckerman
Behind the scenes at the Bell System exhibit is the tape deck which
provides sound for the displays. The 30 tapes give visitors stories ranging from how
the laser works to a history of communications.
Tape decks control mechanical figures at the IBM Pavilion. Pneumatically-operated
puppets, like the one shown below, act out playlets on computer logic complete with sound
effects, music, and dialogue.
Created by Walt Disney for GE's Progressland, "Grandpa" is but one
of the audioanimatronic figures at the fair. The Disney cast performs over 450 integrated
motions, and talks like real people.
Sights unseen for millions of years on earth are recreated in full
animation at the Ford Rotunda. Here, "living" creatures with nerves and muscles of pneumatic
and hydraulic components romp about.
Public and emergency services, such as locating a "lost" parent, are
important to the well-being of fair-goers. At the fair these services are linked together
in an ingenious communications network.
Tape systems and other electronic devices run everything from puppet shows to safety
The vast medley of imaginative pavilions, exhibits, and amusements at the New York
World's Fair should enchant even the most indifferent of fair-goers. For here you have
man at his technological best, showing his promise of things to come. And this promise,
to a large extent, hinges on many recent developments and applications of electronics.
For instance, complex stereophonic tape and electromechanical systems are used at
many pavilions to create mood-setting atmospheres. At other pavilions, tapes run life-like
mechanical figures that not only talk but mimic the most subtle of human expressions
and movements. Other facets of electronics, such as computers, color television, and
the like, are featured attractions at many pavilions.
Even more important, electronics supplies the nervous system that links the fair's
medical, fire, and police units, knitting them into an efficient, quick-acting group.
It also finds use in administrative and public service departments.
Rides Into The Future. One of the more exciting rides can be had
at General Motor's Futurama, where your personal magic carpet awaits to whisk you into
the future. Here visitors sit in individual contour seats with built-in stereophonic
speakers. These seats move along a track that alternately dips and climbs through the
two floors of the exhibition to the accompaniment of narration and music that sets the
scene for the futuristic tour.
The Futurama's sound system uses what looks like an offbeat tape recorder. But instead
of tape, its reels are loaded with 16-mm. film. The audio is recorded on four parallel
optical tracks. Divided into stereo pairs, these optical tracks have identical program
material but run in opposite directions to save rewinding. During one ride circuit, the
sound film runs left to right; on the next go-around, it reverses.
Cueing bars positioned along the track trip switches on the car to start the tape
playing. Microswitches built into the deck stop and reverse the mechanism upon completion
of the ride. These switches are tripped by little buttons set into each end of the sound
An almost identical system, except for the stereo feature, tells riders of advances
made in communications as they take an armchair ride on the upper floor of the Bell Telephone
Pavilion. Movies and stage sets tell the story with a three-dimensional effect, accompanied
by music and a talk.
Over at the United States Pavilion a different type of ride weaves its own stereo-visual
magic. Here visitors are wafted around the huge pavilion in mobile grandstands to a scene-setting
flow of stereo music and narrative. Adjustable speaker wings mounted on the seats are
fed by a cartridge-type tape deck built into the rear of each car.
The three cartridges in each deck, two for program material and one for special sound
effects, are keyed to projector clusters along the tracks. The tape operates at 7 1/2
ips. A clear "window" in the tape permits a photocell takeoff to stop the transport at
the end of each segment. A tape is restarted when a switch under the car hits a movable
cueing block along the track.
Tapes Run Shows. Supplying a sound track is only a small part of
the job done by tape at the World's Fair. It is also used to run a good many shows, making
it the biggest demonstration of automated entertainment this side of Disneyland.
For example, Bell Telephone's subterranean showrooms are packed with mechanical exhibits
equipped with telephones where a visitor may get a story ranging from how the laser works
to a history of communications. When a visitor picks up a phone, one of the 30 tape reels
located in a back room starts rolling. One track of the tape supplies the recitation;
the other is used in controlling display mechanisms. The display is tape-controlled like
a slide projector, but instead of making a slide change, the tape signal rotates a camshaft
which closes a series of switches. The tape recorders used are four-track machines modified
to play in both directions. Identical material is recorded on each pair of tracks.
Another sophisticated use of tape is made at the IBM Pavilion where small mechanical
figures act out playlets on computer logic with comment, dialogue, and music. And, as
you have probably already guessed, sound and control for these pneumatically-operated
puppets are provided by tape decks. One track of the tape carries the audio; one to three
other tracks are used to regulate the air compressor and the many intricate valves found
in the pneumatic system of each puppet. The tape is automatically re-wound at the end
of each performance by means of a photocell takeoff.
"Audioanimatronics." This is the jaw-breaking name given to Walt
Disney's fantastic creations that perform at various pavilions throughout the fair. Disney's
designers and technicians have created life-size "living" figures with nerves and muscles
of pneumatic and hydraulic tubes.
At the Pepsi-Cola-UNICEF Pavilion, visitors glide through canals serenaded by life-like
animated children singing in many languages. Sights unseen for millions of years are
recreated in full life-size animation as dinosaurs and cavemen fight for survival at
the Ford Pavilion. At General Electric's Progressland, Disney creations capable of over
450 integrated movements act out the story of changes brought about by electrical appliances.
But it is at the Illinois Pavilion that the awesome possibilities of Disney's creations
are more fully realized. Here the visitor watches as a life-like President Lincoln slowly
rises from his chair to deliver a speech. His expressions and movements seem quite human.
All these Disney creations draw their life from tape machines - instrumentation-type
decks worthy of a Cape Kennedy blockhouse. They race 1" tape along at 30 i.p.s., producing
both sound and control signals from 16 separate tracks. Each of these tracks is split
into four channels by a system very much like the multiplexing technique of FM stereo
broadcasting, producing two audio and two control channels. The frequency range of the
audio is limited to 8 kc., leaving plenty of room for the control signals.
The animated children at the Pepsi-Cola-UNICEF Pavilion move in rather simple patterns;
thus, they can be handled by simple on-off signals which control the opening and closing
of solenoid valves. But for the more complex creations such as those at the General Electric
and Illinois Pavilions, the intensity as well as the sequence of motion must be regulated.
Here, d.c. voltages are used, since they can minutely control the degree of opening in
servo valves, thus regulating the volume of air in the pneumatic circuits.
Emergency Communications. Like the small city that it is, the Flushing
Meadow extravaganza has its own police, fire, and medical departments. But unlike those
in most American cities, these services are linked together in an ingenious communications
Dotting the fairgrounds are public, push-button emergency telephones. The moment you
lift off the handset, a series of numbers lights up on an emergency switchboard. These
numbers automatically tell a dispatcher the location of your emergency phone, and the
nearest fire, medical, or police team. All you do to set the needed team in action is
tell the dispatcher what's wrong. His message is simultaneously carried to every mobile
unit and emergency service officer. If needed, the entire emergency force can be marshaled
for instant duty.
Officers in charge of special foot details carry walkie-talkies. If a fair official
must be reached away from his desk, the dispatcher merely throws a switch to activate
a tiny paging receiver carried in the man's pocket.
As part of this emergency service, the fair has an Atomedic Hospital ready for all
emergencies. In addition to being constantly watched by closed-circuit television, patients
are "plugged" into a computer so that any significant change in heartbeat, respiration,
or temperature automatically signals the nurse on duty. Part of the medical equipment
on hand is the "Pacemaker," an electronic cardiac stimulator and regulator which has
already saved several lives.
Posted May 17, 2018