Popular Mechanics: 1954 Mock-Up of 'Home Computer'
Netlore Archive: Forwarded image from a 1954 issue of Popular Mechanics supposedly shows the RAND Corporation's conception of what a home computer would look like in the future.
Description: Viral image / Hoax
Circulating since: Oct. 2004
Status: Fake / False (see details below)
Email contributed by B. Dunlop, Nov. 23, 2004:
Subject: FW: 1954 Popular Mechanics
In 1954, Popular Mechanics showed its readers what a home computer might look like this year (2004).
Analysis: Albeit significantly doctored, what you're actually looking at in the image above is a full-scale mock-up of the maneuvering room of a U.S. nuclear submarine, not someone's conception of a "home computer" as envisioned in 1954
The original picture, snapped by an unknown photographer at a 2000-2003 Smithsonian Institution exhibit called "Fast Attacks and Boomers: Submarines of the Cold War," was fodder for a Fark.com Photoshop contest that ran in September 2004. The altered image above, with a fictitious caption written for the occasion, comprised one entry in that contest.
The caption reads:
Scientists from the RAND corporation have created this model to illustrate how a "Home Computer" could look like in the year 2004. However, the needed technology will not be economically feasible for the average home. Also the scientists readily admit that the computer will require not yet invented technology to actually work, but 50 years from now scientific progress is expected to solve these problems. With teletype interface and the FORTRAN language, the computer will be easy to use.
Which is just silly, if you think about it. Why would engineers waste their valuable time building a mock-up of a home computer that no average person could afford? Nor is there anything "easy to use" about a teletype interface or the FORTRAN programming language.
Given that even the smallest functioning computers in the 1950s were big enough to fill a master bedroom, no one at the time could have envisioned them becoming home appliances. Remington Rand's UNIVAC I, the very first commercial computer made in the United States, weighed 29,000 pounds and occupied over 350 square feet of floor space. Like other computer models of the time, it didn't have a video monitor, let alone a steering wheel.
Update: Popular Mechanics published its own debunking of the falsified photo in the Dec. 2004 issue: "Fictitious '54 Home Computer"
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Sources and further reading:
Unstoppable Rise of the Home Computer
BBC News, 9 February 2004
Wikipedia article on Remington Rand's first commercial computer
Fast Attacks and Boomers: Submarines of the Cold War
Smithosonian Institution Website
Photoshop this Mock-Up of a Submarine's Maneuvering Room
Remnants of the 2004 Fark.com Photoshop contest
Last updated: 11/15/12