A time capsule
is a historic cache
of goods and/or information, usually intended as
a method of communication
in the future. Time capsules are sometimes created and buried
during celebrations such as a World Fair
laying for a building, or at
other events. The phrase "time capsule" has been in use since about
Time capsules can be classified into two types:
. Intentional time
capsules are placed on purpose and are usually intended to be
opened at a particular future date. Unintentional time capsules are
usually archaeological in nature. Discoveries of cultural significance are
often found in standard archaeological digs as well as those from
volcanic eruptions such as Pompeii and Vesuvius.
The concept of time capsules is not recent. The Epic of Gilgamesh, among humanity's
earliest literary works, begins with instructions on how to find a
box of copper inside a foundation stone in the great walls of
Uruk - in the box is Gilgamesh's tale, written on a
There were other time capsules 5,000
years ago as vaults of artifacts hidden inside the walls of
Mesopotamian cities. Egyptian and other ancient
tombs are effectively time capsules as well.
What is now thought of as a "time capsule" has more recent origins.
In 1937, during preparations for the 1939 New York World's Fair
was suggested to bury a "time bomb" for 5,000 years (until
6939)—the less inflammatory name of "time capsule" was suggested,
and the name has stuck since. The 1939 New York World's Fair time
capsule was created by Westinghouse as part of their exhibit, It
was 90" long, with an interior diameter of 6.5 inches, and weighed
800 pounds. Westinghouse named the copper, chromium and
silver alloy "Cupaloy", claiming
it had the same strength as mild steel.
everyday items such as a spool of thread and doll, a Book of Record
(description of the capsule and its
creators), a vial of staple food crop seeds, a microscope and a
15-minute RKO Pathe Pictures
newsreel. Microfilm spools condensed the contents of a Sears
Roebuck catalog, dictionary, almanac, and other texts. This first
modern time capsule was followed in 1965 by a second capsule at the
same site, but 10 feet to the north of the original. Both capsules are
buried 50 feet below Flushing Meadows Park, site of the Fair. Both the 1939 and 1965
Time Capsules are meant to be opened in 6939.
recently, in 1985, Westinghouse created a smaller, Plexiglas shell
to be buried beneath the New York Marriott Marquis hotel, in the
heart of New York's theater district. However, this time capsule
was never put in place.
The Crypt of Civilization
(1936) at Oglethorpe
, scheduled to be opened in 8113, is generally
regarded to be the first successful implementation of a modern time
capsule, although it was not called a time capsule at the time.
George Edward Pendray
responsible for coining the term "time capsule."
During the socialist period in the USSR, many time capsules were
buried with messages to the people who would live in the future
New Zealand developed a time capsule project called "Millennium
Vault" for the turn of the 20th-century century. The project
developers buried it beneath a pyramid.
Currently, four time capsules are "buried" in space. The two
and the two Voyager Golden Records
attached to spacecraft for the possible benefit of spacefarers in
the distant future. A fifth time capsule, the KEO
satellite, will be launched in 2009 or 2010,
carrying individual messages from Earth's inhabitants addressed to
earthlings around the year 52,000, when KEO will return to
Time Capsule Society
was created to maintain a global database
of all existing time capsules.
Construction of a time capsule
The International Time Capsule Society provides tips for building a
- Select a retrieval date
- Choose an "archivist" or director
- Select a container
- Find a secure indoor location, not "buried"
- Secure items for time storage.
- Have a solemn "sealing ceremony"
- Don't forget the capsule's existence
- Inform the International Time Capsule Society of your completed
time capsule project.
According to time capsule historian William Jarvis, most
intentional time capsules usually do not provide much useful
historical information: they are typically filled with "useless
junk", new and pristine in condition, that tells little about the
people of the time. Many time capsules today contain only artifacts
of limited value to future historians. Historians suggest that
items which describe the daily lives of the people who created
them, such as personal notes, pictures, and documents, would
greatly increase the value of the time capsule to future
If time capsules have a museum-like goal of preserving the culture
of a particular time and place for study, they fulfill this goal
very poorly in that they, by definition, are kept sealed for a
particular length of time. Subsequent generations between the
launch date and the target date will have no direct access to the
artifacts and therefore these generations are prevented from
learning from the contents directly. Therefore, time capsules can
be seen, in respect to their usefulness to historians, as poorly
Historians also concede that there are many preservation
issues surrounding the
selection of the media to transmit this information to the future.
Some of these issues include the obsolescence of technology and the
deterioration of electronic and magnetic storage media, and
possible language problems if the capsule is dug up in the distant
future. Many buried time capsules are lost, as interest in them
fades and the exact location is forgotten, or are destroyed within
a few years by groundwater. A proposed deep time capsule, The
addresses many of these issues.
- William Jarvis (2002)
- New York Times, August 19, 1938, page 21
- William Jarvis (2002)
- William Jarvis (2002). Time Capsules: A Cultural
History. ISBN 0-7864-1261-5
- Janet Reinhold (1993, 2000). A Sampling of Time Capsule
Contents. ISBN 1-891406-30-2