In 1939 Radio-Craft magazine wrote a series of articles promising that they would build a home of the future in Teaneck, New Jersey. What fantastical, futuristic technology would they show off? Robot servants, newspapers printed by radiowaves, and glowing walls? Sadly, no. The tech of tomorrow in this house was old-fashioned radio — but with a sexy new spin: It would be in every room!
The magazine claimed that it was going to build a single-family home in Teaneck for $7,500 (about $128,000 adjusted for inflation). They actually billed it as an "Average American Home," but one that would be wired in every single room by a central radio control. The magazine worked with companies like RCA to equip the house, hoping to show Depression-wary Americans that the house of the future could be both affordable and include exciting new applications for one of their favorite pasttimes: listening to the radio.
The Federal Housing Administration was started in 1934 as a way to jump-start housing in the country in the midst of the Great Depression. Radio-Craft extolled the virtues of the new FHA plan to get Americans into homes. But they worried that their pet technology was being ignored during these tough times:
Thus we hear of air-conditioning, automatic oil burners, efficient insulation against heat and cold, metal-casement windows, real brick fireplaces, brass pipe plumbing, electric door chimes, automatic gas and electric ranges and others, but not one word of Radio — built-in radio.
As best I can tell, construction of the house was never actually completed. By the April issue they were blaming weather for delays, and by June their "completed home" suspiciously featured just one picture that wasn't a close-up shot of a radio.
Hugo Gernsback, sci-fi legend and publisher of Radio-Craft, was not known for doing anything understated in his magazines. If the image above was the best they could produce from this "model home" of the future, I have serious doubts that it was ever actually completed.
Interestingly, the central household radio control never really took off for the precise reason that they lay out in the June issue: families fight over what they want to listen to. If one single receiver is controlling the program or station that's heard in every room of the house, it doesn't seem terribly practical. If Father wants to listen to the latest news of fighting in Europe while Junior wants to tune into Amos 'n' Andy, what good is a single receiver that pipes into every room?
Images: Top two images scanned from the January 1939 issue of Radio-Craft magazine; Bottom image of the June 1939 issue of Radio-Craft from AmericanRadioHistory.com