1954 Home Computer Hoax

Outline:
Caption accompanying a widely circulated image claims that the picture depicts how scientists in 1954 imagined a home computer set-up would look in 2004.




Brief Analysis:
The claims in the caption are false. The picture does not depict a 1954 prediction of how a home computer might look in 2004. In fact, the picture was an entry in a Fark.com Photoshop contest that used a Smithsonian exhibit photograph depicting a full-scale mock-up of a typical nuclear-powered submarine’s maneuvering room as a source image.

Example:
Subject: 1954 computer prediction1954 Home Computer Hoax





Detailed Analysis:
The caption accompanying the above image claims that it depicts how scientists in 1954 imagined a home computer might look like in 2004. The image has now been circulating for well over a decade,  first via email and forum posts, and, in later years, via social media. Some versions assert that the image was included in a 1954 edition of “Popular Mechanics”.

The text below the image states:

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.

In fact, no such “Home Computer” model was ever created. Nor was the image published in any 1954 edition of “Popular Mechanics”. The image is the end result of some clever manipulation of a real photograph that depicts a full-scale mock-up of a typical nuclear-powered submarine’s maneuvering room:

1954 Home Computer Hoax Source Image

The mock-up was part of a Smithsonian exhibit and carried the following explanation:

Washington, D.C., Apr. 10, 2000 — A full-scale mock-up of a typical nuclear-powered submarine’s maneuvering room in which the ship’s engineers control the power plant and electrical and steam systems. U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class Tim Altevogt.

The manipulated “home computer” image was, in fact, an entry in a Photoshop competition organised by Fark.com. The entry was submitted by a Fark user posting under the name lukket.

The image has been accepted as legitimate by many people and has generated a lot of sometimes amusing debate. Some have postulated that the large wheel in the picture was intended to fulfil the function of the modern-day mouse. Others have pondered if a FORTRAN based system with a teletype interface would really be that “easy to use”.

Editor’s note:
The images entered in the old Fark competition discussed in this article are no longer available on the site. The competition was launched back in 2004 and, not surprisingly, many of the entries posted are now listed on the site as “too old to be available”. 




Last updated: November 17, 2016
First published: May 11, 2005
By Brett M. Christensen
About Hoax-Slayer

References
Fast Attacks and Boomers: Submarines in the Cold War
Fark – Photoshop this mock-up of a submarine’s maneuvering Room
Fark Profile – lukket