Bodies and Structures 2.0: Deep-Mapping Modern East Asian History

The Trottoir Roulant in Western Media

The image of a triple-decker, trackless train car powered by a steam engine is most likely an imagination of the trottoir roulant, or plateform mobile, a moving walkway that circled the exposition grounds. The verbal description—the cost of riding, and the height of the deck—most closely match descriptions of this device. Lacking other points of reference for a novel mode of mass transit, the illustrator apparently projected it onto the figure of the train.

Both in Paris, and the United States, the 1900 Exposition Universelle was a sensation well before it began. As early as 1897, extensive descriptions of the planned event, detailing its construction, funding, layout and other minutiae appeared in both popular and popular science Anglophone and Francophone media. During the Exposition itself, Erkki Huhtamo notes that Trottoir-inspired products included pamphlets, board games, postcards, comic strips, novels, and plays (Huhtamo, 2013).

Elsewhere, the advertising in the frontispiece of a weekly pamphlet on the exposition that featured the plateform mobile offered Parisian women the opportunity to smell cosmopolitan—Parfumerie Rigaud offered consumers the chance to smell modern, to smell like an actress, to look youthful or to smell exotic with “Kananga Osaka” perfumes, soaps and facial powders.

To sum up, we have an image of the future, produced two years before the event it depicts. This image offers a vicarious experience of attending a world expo, arguably a vicarious experience of cosmopolitanism in itself. The image was part of an industry of depictions of the expo, which traded in other forms of sensual cosmopolitanism. Finally, the image is entirely inaccurate, but then again, it appears that even photographic evidence of the attraction was regularly staged or doctored. Indeed, one of the most iconic images of the moving walkway to come out of the exposition itself was a doctored image. The woman in this image falling over in a failed attempt to board or disembark from one of the moving platforms, has been essentially photoshopped in.

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