Tomorrow marks the 50th anniversary of The Jetsons' first appearance on television. While the futuristic cartoon was first broadcast in 1962 and the initial run lasted just one 24-episode season, The Jetsons remains a significant vision of the technologically optimistic future. Retrofuturistic historian Matt Novak at Paleofuture digs into the show's past and explains why it's still an important model for the future.

Until its revival in the 1980s, a mere 24 episodes of The Jetsons existed. Novak has some theories as to why (notably that, although it was ABC's first color program, most people saw the show in black and white, as in the promo up top), but he also focuses on the context in which the show was made:

And though it was "just a cartoon" with all the sight gags and parody you'd expect, it was based on very real expectations for the future. As author Danny Graydon notes in The Jetsons: The Official Cartoon Guide, the artists drew inspiration from futurist books of the time, including the 1962 book 1975: And the Changes to Come, by Arnold B. Barach (who envisioned such breakthroughs as ultrasonic dishwashers and instant language translators). The designers also drew heavily from the Googie aesthetic of southern California (where the Hanna-Barbera studios were located)-a style that perhaps best represented postwar consumer culture promises of freedom and modernity.

The years leading up to "The Jetsons" premiere in September 1962 were a mix of techo-utopianism and Cold War fears. The launch of Sputnik by the Soviets in 1957 created great anxiety in an American public that already had been whipped up into a frenzy about the Communist threat. In February 1962 John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth, but less than a year earlier the Bay of Pigs fiasco raised tensions between the superpowers to a dangerous level. Americans seemed equally optimistic and terrified for the future.

He also addresses some of the lasting effects of the series, such as how many people who grew up watching the show continue to ask "Where's my jetpack?" and how The Jetsons' technological optimism colors our view of technology and politics today.

Give Novak's piece a read this weekend, and when you head to work this week, you might sigh that you're not traveling by flying car.

50 Years of the Jetsons: Why The Show Still Matters [Paleofuture via MetaFilter]