Futuristic headlines here in the year 2018 might make you ask “why?” But back in the 1950s, illustrators in Detroit were asking “why not?” And perhaps nothing demonstrates that thinking better than this comic strip from 1958 by Arthur Radebaugh.
The design of this taxi for the future is patently absurd. It has room enough to seat six passengers comfortably but appears to look like a tank. The taxi driver is perched up top so that they can see over the other cars ahead, not unlike Radebaugh’s vision for cop cars in 1958. And that’s to say nothing of the three-wheeled design, which is notoriously tippy if we’ve learned anything from history.
Here is the text that accompanied this comic from the August 31, 1958 edition of Closer Than We Think in newspapers around the country:
Here’s a startling concept for the taxicab of tomorrow—a vehicle of enlarged seating capacity and great manoeuvrability, designed to allow the driver to move more easily through heavy traffic.
The diamond-shape arrangement of the wheels would put the driving wheels at the center and the steering wheel at front, so that the vehicle could swing around on its own length. The driver would sit a level above his passengers, as in the hansom cabs of old, permitting him to look over other cars into the traffic ahead. This particular model would conveniently seat six passengers, with plenty of room for getting in and out—a feature greatly valued by driver and patron alike.
Arthur Radebaugh, the illustrator of this drawing and a native of Michigan, cut his teeth doing ads for the big auto makers at midcentury. And it’s clear from his drawings that he loved to imagine what the cars of the future might look like.
Even though his taxicab of tomorrow seems entirely unnecessary, it sure is neat to look at. But that goes for most futurism of the 1950s and 60s, I suppose. George Jetson’s methods may not have been sound (the guy even managed to get in traffic jams way up the air), but he sure knew how to make things look cool from a design standpoint.
Today, we’ve gone in the opposite direction with Uber and Lyft, trading in specialised taxi cars for just any old car driver on the street. The future is surprisingly bland. And it doesn’t even come with things like health insurance.