Time Capsules: Westinghouse Time Capsules

How much cooler was industry in days of yore? I mean apart from hazardous working conditions and child labour and all that. Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Company put together two time capsules, one in 1939 and one in 1964. The list of contents makes for fascinating reading, but I especially fancy the category descriptions: “Pertaining to the Grooming and Vanity of Women” (there is another similar category for men, fortunately), “Materials of Our Day” and “How Information is Disseminated Amongst Us”. There are a lot of newsreels and microfilm, and even some type! (Handset: Goudy Village No. 2 in 14 point; Linotype: 8 point Caslon).

The 1964 capsule includes materials that show our progress since 1939, including “Atomic Energy” (radiation badge and handheld monitor, samples of Carbon 14 and Fermi reactor graphite), antibiotics, synthetic fibres, a computer memory unit, a plastic heart valve, birth control pills, stuff relating to space exploration, and so forth.

Both were created for New York World Fairs, and are buried about 50 feet below the site of the said fairs (Flushing Meadows Park). The first capsule was made from an alloy called Cupaloy (99.4% copper, 0.4% chromium & 0.1% silver). The inside is lined with glass and the air inside replace with nitrogen. Cupaloy is expected to resist corrosion for 5,000 years, which is fortunate as that is the time period it is expected to remain buried. Westinghouse intended the both capsules to be opened in 6,939, 5,000 years after the first capsule was buried. I don’t think the samples of rubber will last that long, but you never know.

The second capsule is made from a stainless steel alloy called Kromarc 55, manufactured by US Steel. (52.60% iron, 21.24% nickel, 15.43% chromium, 8.20% manganese, 2.15% molybdenum, 0.22% silicon, 0.05% carbon, 0.013% phosphorus, 0.012% sulfur). It was again lined with glass but this time filled with argon.

To ensure the time capsules are not forgotten, a “book of record” was sent to museums, monasteries and libraries worldwide (about 3,000 copies in all, printed on “permanent” paper). The book contains instructions for locating the time capsules, including a way of calculating its location from astronomical data. (There is also a seven-ton granite monument marking the spot).

Anyway, a science fiction story set in some future post-apocalyptic dystopia in which a group set off to find the fabled cache of 20th-century treasure and knowledge could be good fun. Assuming the protagonists are successful, would they be disappointed with the contents? Would one of them faint after getting a snootful of argon? Does the story end with them gazing uncomprehendingly at a golf ball, tranquillizer pills and a women’s hat circa 1938, to the strains of the Beatle’s “It’s Been a Hard Day’s Night”?

Here is an amusingly earnest video about the first time capsule. I want to make a video like this for Materiality’s time capsule, including the bit where the gentleman puts the coat over the older woman’s shoulders.

By the way, I haven’t yet referenced this excellent list of the “Top Ten Incredible Time Capsules” by Jamie Frater of Listverse. It makes for interesting reading.

The 1938 capsule ready to be lowered into its TOMB. (Image from Wikipedia)

The 1938 capsule ready to be lowered into its TOMB. (Image from Wikipedia)