Philco Predicta - "TV Today from the World of Tomorrow" - As Imagined Back in 1958


The Predicta Line

The Predicta is one of the most recognizable industrial designs of the 20th Century. Featuring a separate swivel display, it was marketed by Philco (Philadelphia Storage Battery Company) as the technology of tomorrow.

Predicta Engineering Team

Here's a rare picture of Philco design engineers Henry Gosweiler and Catherine Winkler working at Philco on Predicta early designs sometime in the 1950s.



Photo of Severin Jonassen, who worked on the Predicta Tandem, the TV that connected with its screen using an umbilical cord design.




Predicta - The Edsel of Radio?

Like Ford did with Edsel in mid 50s, the Philco company advertised heavily in the summer of 1958. But by 1962, Philco filed bankruptcy. Did Predicta failure have something to do with this? Ironically, Philco was acquired by Ford Motor Company in 1966. As part of Philco liquidation, the remaining Predictas were off loaded to a motel chain.



Philco Predicta TV commercials were aired during the the Miss America pageant TV show in September of 1958. Here's a photo Mary Ann Mobley, Miss America of 1959 pictured with Herbert Gosweiler, the manager of appearance design of the Predicta TV project.



With only the semi-automated manufacturing and analog electronic technologies of the day, the end product is so prehistoric by today's standards as to be comical. However, it is this naivete coupled its unbridled imagination, and honest risk taking, that makes the Predicta so endearing and unforgettable.

Recently, the Predicta has found resurging interest among collectors of radio and TV, 50s and mid-century modern Americana, and iconic industrial design. Not just limited to private collectors, Predicta TVs and radios are on permanent display at the Smithsonian and Cooper-Hewitt.





The detached screen suspended above the base chassis creates the feeling that the TV is watching you, like with an unblinking cycloptic eye. Coming from a time when Cold War authoritarian dystopia was all the fear, this design seems to warn us of becoming victims of our own technology.


How Accurate Was Predicta's Prediction?

Predicta line of radios and clock radios can be made suitable for modern use with very little modification. For example, you can listen to AM stations without modification to the original because they still broadcast like they did back in the late 50s. Add FM and Bluetooth and it's more or less functional for everyday use. Clock and alarm functions are pretty reliable too. Those capabilities haven't changed much over 60 years. Predicta TVs, on the other hand, require far more modifications to play cable or stream wirelessly. The internals would need to be gutted if you wanted to watch anything in color.




Visually, the design has so much in common with modern PC desktops like Apple's G4 iMac. Remarkably, there are more similarities than differences even after 60 years! Only as far as looks go.



 Here's a Philco Predicta in white:


Today Versus "World of Tomorrow" as Imagined in 1958

Let's just say Predicta 's prediction wasn't exactly on the money. From a features and capabilities perspective, the two could not be farther apart. Not even in the same ballpark. The equivalent amount of technology that fits inside an iMac today, wouldn't even fit inside a building back in 1958! If you were to go back to Gosweiler, Winkler and Jonassen back in 1958 and try to explain what the today's iMac can do compared to the Predicta, their pens would explode in their pocket protectors!

No doubt, technology has advanced by leaps and bounds since their day.

Put another way by Gordon Moore co-founder of Intel, one of the world's largest manufacturers of computer central processor units (CPUs), who predicted the number of transistors on a computer chip would double every year. “If the automobile industry moved this fast, your car would move at a million miles per hour and it would get 50,000 miles per gallon,” said Moore.

I wonder how our "World of Tomorrow" will look like in the year 2080?




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