For two decades, kids across America tuned in to watch The Jetsons on a Saturday morning. With its space-age technology and intergalactic travel, the world portrayed on the cartoon inspired countless people to look to the stars. And it managed to predict the future with a startling degree of accuracy.
Over the course of 24 episodes, the original series of The Jetsons followed the eponymous family as they went about their lives in the 2060s. Though it was a slow starter at first, the show went on to become one of America’s best-loved cartoons. Today, there are few adults of that generation in the U.S. who don’t remember tuning in to the adventures of George, Jane, Judy and Elroy on TV.
When the series first aired in the 1960s, the world inhabited by the Jetson family represented a strange and distant future. But now, we are closer to the time of Orbit City than we are to the era in which it was conceived. With the 2060s now just four decades away, how many of the cartoon’s predictions look set to come true? And are any of them already a reality?
We’ll discover quite how accurate The Jetsons was a little later, but first let’s learn a little more about the show’s producers. Interestingly, Hanna Barbera Productions had already dabbled in comical depictions of distant eras before making the futuristic animation. Two years before launching The Jetsons, the company had premiered The Flintstones – an animated sitcom exploring life in the Stone Age. And when the latter had proven to be a success, the studio then decided to branch out.
Searching for a counterpoint to the low-tech world of their Stone-Age heroes, the studio developed The Jetsons. Set 100 years in the future, it followed a family of four as they went about their daily lives in a place known as Orbit City. And the first episode aired on ABC in September 1962.
Despite the futuristic location, however, the premise of The Jetsons is a familiar one. George, the patriarch of the family, works for Cosmo Spacely at Spacely’s Space Sprockets. There, he performs the presumably vital task of operating the Referential Universal Digital Indicator and often comes into conflict with his boss.
Meanwhile, George’s wife Jane is a housewife who enjoys following fashion and acquiring the latest gadgets for the family’s apartment. Their 15-year-old daughter Judy is a pupil at Orbit High School, while six-year-old Elroy spends his days at Little Dipper School. And while Judy likes talking to boys and confessing to her diary, her brother prefers science and math.
But while the Jetsons themselves might have been typical of a 1960s sitcom, the world which they inhabited was not. For starters, all the buildings of Orbit City were set high above the surface of the Earth and mounted on columns stretching up into the atmosphere. In fact, the architecture was designed to mimic the futuristic Googie style – a movement popular in America in the 1960s.
Typically, episodes follow the activities of the Jetson family as they go about their day-to-day lives. Often, the futuristic setting is the source of jokes – like when one of the family’s elaborate gadgets breaks down. But at other times, the humor comes from more recognizable sources – such as George’s relationship with his overbearing boss.
When The Jetsons first aired, it was the first color program ever to be broadcast on ABC. But the vast majority of homes were only equipped with black-and-white sets at the time. Indeed, it would be another ten years before even half of all American households were able to watch color TV.
So many viewers were forced to view the colorful world of The Jetsons in disappointing black-and-white. And even though the cartoon occupied a prime-time slot, it did not draw the viewing figures that Hanna-Barbera had hoped. As such, it was canceled after its first season – with the last episode airing in March 1963.
Fortunately, that was far from the end of the family from Orbit City. Soon after the show was cancelled, ABC began repeating episodes every Saturday morning. It would later move to CBS and NBC – retaining the same slot over the course of several decades. As a result, The Jetsons became an integral part of pop culture for generations.
Then in 1985 Hanna-Barbera decided that the time was ripe to return to The Jetsons. And over the course of two years, a further 51 episodes were made. Eventually, the show stopped production for a second time in November 1987 – although it would return three years later in a different form.
In July 1990 Hanna-Barbera released Jetsons: The Movie – an animated musical designed to serve as the finale to the long-running series. Then for nearly three decades the futuristic family seemed to have finally been put to sleep. But in 2017 they returned in two bizarre new takes that expanded the world of Orbit City.
In February that year Warner Bros. Animation released The Jetsons & WWE: Robo-WrestleMania! – a collaboration with WWE Studios. A straight-to-video movie, it followed the unlikely adventures of a modern-day wrestler transported to the Jetsons’ world.
That same year, DC Comics released a series of publications that reimagined old Hanna-Barbera favorites. And alongside Scooby Apocalypse and Wacky Raceland, there was The Jetsons – a new, dystopian interpretation of the original cartoon.
Over the years, many fans of The Jetsons have wondered exactly how these people ended up living in their colonies above the Earth. Did some mass disaster necessitate moving the population into the skies? In the cartoons, there are a few fleeting references that suggest this might have been the case. But the DC comics imagined a far more detailed origin story for Orbit City.
In the version of The Jetsons told by DC, a meteor hits planet Earth and it causes environmental chaos across the globe. However, as the resultant earthquakes and floods destroy society, an elite few manage to escape. And while the few survivors pass the time on these pre-prepared space stations, the world is rebuilt as a futuristic city-state above the clouds.
Back when The Jetsons was originally aired, the idea of global destruction would have likely been deemed too bleak for family TV. But today – as the world’s richest construct bunkers to escape to in the event of an apocalypse – it seems all too real. Interestingly, this climate of selfishness and environmental destruction is not the only thing that the cartoon has predicted over the years.
One of the most iconic pieces of Orbit City tech, for example, are the flying cars. And while we’ve yet to raise our streets above the clouds, some companies are working hard on making this vision of the future a reality. And in 2017 the Slovakian company AeroMobile announced that it would be taking pre-orders for its automobile-airplane hybrid.
Shockingly, however, many of the inventions depicted in The Jetsons are already here. Take jet packs, for example; throughout the series, these portable propulsion devices make numerous appearances – helping the protagonists to travel around Orbit City at speed. But while they must have seemed like a futuristic fiction at the time, they are a thrilling reality today.
We haven’t quite reached the point where people are using jet packs on their daily commute. However, it’s now relatively easy for your average millionaire to get their hands on this mind-blowing form of transportation. And for those on a tighter budget, devices known as flyboards recreate a similar experience over water.
But it isn’t just the outside lives of the Jetsons that are filled with futuristic tech. At their apartment, a robotic assistant known as Rosie takes care of all the household chores in the show. And at the time, her sweeping and cleaning must have seemed like a dream to overworked housewives across the country.
Today, however, robotic household assistants are commonplace. In 2002 the American tech company iRobot launched Roomba – an automated vacuum cleaner capable of navigating and cleaning spaces without human intervention. Furthermore, the company’s CEO Colin Angle said that around one fifth of the world’s vacuum cleaners are now robots.
In fact, The Jetsons predicted many technologies that are now considered commonplace. When the show first aired – and throughout the height of its popularity – many viewers watched the action on bulky CRT television sets. But on screen, the homes and businesses of Orbit City were equipped with something far more streamlined.
The Jetsons and their neighbors watched flat screens – a technology that would not become widespread until the 1990s. And while the innovation was technically developed in 1964, many science-fiction programs did not pick up on its potential for world domination. Over at Hanna-Barbera, however, they accurately predicted just how popular these televisions would become.
Interestingly, this wasn’t the only piece of screen-related technology that The Jetsons helped predict. When they aren’t glued to the television, the inhabitants of Orbit City can often be seen communicating via video chat – just like the Skype meetings of today. And sometimes, this video conferencing is conducted through a device that appears strikingly similar to a modern smart watch.
On several occasions George’s boss Cosmo is seen berating his employee on the show via a screen mounted on his wrist. And that’s not the only example of wearable tech that appeared in The Jetsons and became reality decades down the line. In the 1980s reboot, for example, the patriarch of the family can be seen dressed in a pair of intelligent shoes.
But were smart shoes just an example of futuristic fiction? Fast forward to the 21st century, and a designer from Spain has developed a pair of ballet shoes designed to track the movement of dancers. With this technology, it’s hoped, users will be able to improve their performance and even instruct others on routines.
In fact, from the opening scenes of The Jetsons, the cartoon is packed full of references to the technology that is all around us today. In the credits, for example, Judy and Elroy are shown arriving at school in automated pods which strongly resemble today’s drones. And while this hasn’t become a mode of human transport just yet, this development may not be far behind.
The amount of 21st century tech that appears in The Jetsons is truly staggering. At Christmas, for example, George, Jane and the kids are seen on the show gathering around a holographic tree to exchange gifts. Now, decades later, the same technology allows musicians to perform concerts in front of thousands of people.
Meanwhile, the Jetsons’ diet is pretty far removed from that of the average 1960s household – although it’s not that different from many food crazes of today. Take, the pills that the family sometimes swallow in the place of solid meals. In the future, Hanna-Barbera predicted, we wouldn’t need meat or vegetables to provide nutrition.
And the producers were right; today, there are a number of products that allow you to consume all of the nutrients required to survive without having to eat actual food. And although they currently come in shake form – rather than a convenient pill – the essence of the invention is very much the same.
The Jetsons don’t always consume pills for dinner, however. They sometimes use a replicator to produce classic dishes such as pizza and fried chicken. And while modern technology has yet to reach such dizzying heights, 3D printers already exist which can create edible delicacies out of base ingredients.
In the world of The Jetsons, there have also been some impressive advancements in medical science. In one episode, for example, George is unwell and his doctor takes an interesting approach to diagnosing the condition. By getting his patient to swallow a camera disguised as a pill, he is able to take a closer look at the issue.
In 2001 an identical device known as a PillCam was approved by the FDA. Using a combination of optical and imaging technology, this innovation is also designed to be swallowed. And once deployed, it allows doctors to get an inside look at the small intestine.
For many viewers, however, the most appealing aspect of The Jetsons was the futuristic clothes. Indeed, there were many teenage girls who coveted Judy’s crop top and flared skirt at the time. Fast forward to today, and designers are using synthetic fabrics such as neoprene to recreate this striking look.
Elsewhere, The Jetsons apparently predicted some of the nanotechnology that is developing today – with George’s vehicle capable of shrinking to a portable size. Many of the cartoon’s predictions about day-to-day tech turned out to be eerily accurate. But it is perhaps the show’s portrayal about society itself that remains the most chilling today.
Thanks to DC comics, we now know that the world of The Jetsons was actually something of a dystopia. While the Earth was destroyed, it seems, wealthy and influential families such as the Jetsons survived – at a staggering humanitarian cost. Although this scenario has not yet come to pass, many believe that it could be exactly where our world is headed.
Thankfully, however, The Jetsons also foretold a future with utopian elements as well. For example, George’s job occupies him for just two hours a week – freeing up plenty of time to spend with family and friends. And as more and more people are waking up to the benefits of a reduced working week, this is one prediction that many hope will come true.