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Transport of the Future - 1890s Style

Updated: Feb 3, 2022

Miscellaneous Musings

Transport of the Future – 1890s Style

I recently bought an 1895 journal titled Le Monde Moderne at a vide grenier in France. I’d spotted some Alphonse Mucha illustrations to a short story by Jules Claretie, author, playwright, and director of the Théâtre-Français, and thought that was reason enough to spend one Euro.

On further inspection I made what I thought was a rare discovery, the fantastical illustrations of Albert Robida.

Albert Robida 1848 - 1926

An article titled La Locomotion Future by Robida and with his illustrations, depicted transport of the future, mostly operated by electricity. I think the rider on the “electric” bike here is putting paid to steam locomotives with his spear.

One illustration shows an electricity filling station, recognisable to passing electric powered vehicles by an outsize electric light bulb on top of its canopy. A more complicated filling station is depicted in another illustration

On further research I find that Robida is a cult figure in France. He was multi-talented as a printmaker, illustrator, caricaturist and novelist. He has even been called the founding father of science fiction art. An Association des Amis à Albert Robida exists, and an exhibition of his work took place earlier this year in the Antoine Vivenel Centre in the northern French town of Compiègne, the town of his birth. The museum boasts 60,000 drawings by of his drawings in its collection.

One of his most famous novels, Le Vingtième Siecle: La Vie Electrique, predicts a somewhat chaotic life in the twentieth century, but also features technological inventions that bear some resemblance to those that exist in the world today. Foremost amongst these was his ‘téléphonoscope’ – although he did not come up with this term, he foresaw it as a flat screen television display that was capable of projecting the latest plays, and news 24 hours a day.

Later in the novel the protagonist, Philox Lorris, is describing his work on two projects, a vaccine aimed at giving a boost to ones health, and a biological weapon. When demonstrating these to a roomful of dignitaries in the hope of gaining their support, his assistant unfortunately releases some of the biological weapon’s toxicity into the room, resulting in all the occupants becoming ill, including Lorris himself. He has the brainwave of trying the vaccine as an antidote. He recovers soon afterwards, and recommends it all those affected by the biological toxin. Needless to say they all recovered, and his vaccine became a national success!


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