Dr. Athelstan Spilhaus was Dean of the University of Minnesota Institute of Technology from 1948-1966, and then President of the Franklin Institute, 1966-69. He wrote “Our New Age” from its inception, in 1958, until 1973. The Sunday strip, appearing in 110 newspapers, went through three different illustrators: first Earl Cros, then E.C. Felton, and then Gene Fawcette (who did this example).
Eisenhower had appointed Spilhaus as the first US representative to UNESCO (1954-58), and was then named by JFK, in 1962, to direct the US exhibit at the 1962 World’s Fair (Seattle, when the iconic space needle was built, presumably with Spilhaus’s strong advocacy).
Senator Warren Magnuson (r) and Spilhaus (l) with a model of the Seattle Space Needle (ca. 1962)
When Spilhaus met President Kennedy, JFK told him, “The only science I ever learned was from your comic strip in the Boston Globe.”
“Our New Age” was a chief example of techno-utopian idealism. Not all of the strips were futuristic, but they all had that particular brand of optimism that characterized postwar American thinking about science and technology.
As Spilhaus tells it, he was inspired to start the comic strip in October of 1957 after the Soviets launched Sputnik into space. He was concerned that American kids were not showing enough interest in science and technology.
“Rather than fight my own kids reading the funnies, which is a stupid thing to do, I decided to put something good into the comics, something that was more fun and that might give a little subliminal education,” he said.