Monsanto’s oddly prescient vision for a plastic future, as expressed in 1957

March 17, 2014
March 17, 2014

Monsanto is the world’s biggest producer of genetically modified seeds and genomics. It also sells a bunch of other products, including weed killers, and “precision agriculture” solutions that use big data and other analytical techniques to help farmers maximize crop yields.

But it was a very different corporate beast in the 1950s. Nearly three decades before the company invented the world’s first genetically modified plant, it was heavily involved in chemicals. In 1957, it was pushing plastics “as the newest and most challenging category of building materials.” That year it sponsored an exhibit at Disneyland, the “Monsanto House of the Future,” a home made almost entirely out of plastics. (The famous scene about plastics in the film The Graduate didn’t come for another 10 years.)

We stumbled across the company’s vision for the future because Monsanto is in the news again today. Crop-planting season in the northern hemisphere is almost upon us, and this weekend France banned the company’s genetically modified maize product, MON810, due to environmental and health concerns. There is an intense debate currently underway in Europe about genetically modified food products, which for the most part are completely banned. New Scientist magazine has described current regulations on the Continent as “draconian.”

At any rate, 1950s era Monsanto (which bears pretty much no resemblance to the corporate entity that uses the name today) predicted microwave cooking technology, and climate control systems that resemble modern air conditioning units. And in the video below, electric toothbrushes and  razors, “push-button phones,” and closed-circuit televisions are mentioned.

Alas, as Wired pointed out a few years ago,  the House of the Future structure was demolished just 10 years after it opened in 1967.  Some of the predictions for the future it housed were remarkably prescient. Whether conventional thinking about GM crops proves similarly accurate remains to be seen.

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