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Volume 0459
Edgar Rice Burroughs: The Prophet

Predictions and Images
of Future Innovations and Inventions

The Fantastic Inventions and Prophesies
Gleaned from the
Barsoomian Novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs

Compiled by Bill Hillman


Edgar Rice Burroughs (l875-l950) is known as the Grandfather of American Science Fiction. He predicted the invention of radar, sonar, television, teletype, the radio compass, the automatic pilot, homing devices on bombs and torpedoes, genetic cloning, living organ transplants, antigravity propulsion and many other concepts deemed totally fantastic in his time. His soaring imagination, coupled with the sure instinct of a master storyteller, assures him a position of honor among American writers of the twentieth century.
    -- George T. McWhorter -- Curator, Burroughs Memorial Collection / Editor: BURROUGHS BULLETIN 
Edgar Rice Burroughs (1875-1950) was one of the great pioneers of modern Science Fiction, being one of the first writers to consistently popularize extrapolations of the then-current science of the early Twentieth Century. Much of his best SF occurred on the planet Barsoom, the wonderful alternate Mars created by his fertile imagination. Astronomically, he was describing Mars the way a lot of astronomers described it at the time and his picture of a dying Mars with the ochre dead sea bottoms, canals, exotic landscapes and an atmosphere factory which provided an artificial atmosphere were almost plausible.

ERB was also one of the first to explore essentially alien beings and their psychology and this was possibly his most lasting impact on science fiction. The John Carter stories are characterized by incredible scientific inventions, a disregard for the laws of nature as we know them, and a somewhat male chauvinistic barbaric world. Despite elementary plots which require constant suspension of disbelief and characters who are shallow and predictable, the series has made immense contributions to the field of serious science fiction.

Because of the sensationalist approach of the Burroughs stories, he may never be appreciated as a great author by professors of English, but Burroughs has made his mark on a potentially more influential group of people: the deans of modern science fiction writers, who have looked to Burroughs for inspiration and, at times, material. References to John Carter and Barsoom abound in current fiction. Many famous authors have cited the Burroughs works as profound influences upon their style and perception of science fiction: Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein, Carl Sagan and a host of  lesser-known writers.

Although the SF novels of ERB often have been accused of being weak on science, a careful study of his body of work, especially in the Barsoom and Amtor series, turns up an incredible array of scientific predictions -- the fruition of which we now take for granted. In the following document we have provided descriptions of the many inventions and future technologies prophesized by Mr. Burroughs in those long ago, early years of the Twentieth Century.


Scientifiction was the term coined in the '20s to describe ERB's style of imaginative, fantasy adventure.

Barsoom was the name Burroughs applied to the red planet Mars which he described as an often hostile place with low gravity, and as having lost most of its oxygen and water.


Atmosphere Factory provides the artificial atmosphere of Mars through the powers of the Ninth Ray -- a ray which is an inherent property of all light. The factory is a huge, completely unassailable building which covers about four square miles and towers 200 feet in the air. There is only one tiny door in the massive walls, which are about 20 feet thick and the roof is guarded from attack by aircraft by a glass covering five feet thick. Entry is gained through a series of three doors, controlled by a set of nine thought waves. The Ninth Ray is separated from the other rays of the sun by means of a set of finely adjusted instruments on the sprawling roof of the factory, three-quarters of which is used for reservoirs in which the Ninth Ray is stored. Certain proportions of refined electric vibrations are combined with it, and the result is pumped to the five principal air centers of the planet, where, contact with the ether of space transforms it into atmosphere. There is sufficient reserve of the stored Ninth Ray to maintain the present atmosphere for 1,000 years. The only danger is that some accident might befall the pumping apparatus, a battery of twenty radium pumps, any one of which is equal to the task of furnishing all Mars with the atmosphere compound. Each is used for a day at a time. Two men are in charge of this plant, each of whom spends half a Martian year, at a time, alone in the plant.  The only real fears of attack are from the green Martians or some demented red man, as all Barsoomians realize that the very existence of every form of life on Mars is dependent upon the uninterrupted working of this plant.

International air travel moves both freight and passengers.

Full-Scale Air Battles between powerful air fleets took place on Barsoom long before the importance of airpower in war was accepted on Earth.

Airship hangars & landing pads on roofs

Eighth Ray or Antigravity Ray is the ray of propulsion. It repels aircraft from gravity and is used in buoyancy tanks. It allows all Barsoomian aircraft to hover anywhere. It is an inherent property of all light.

Ninth Ray combines with the ether to create a breathable atmosphere on Barsoom.

Sun Ray Tank: A tank in which light is trapped for later use (as opposed to converting sunlight to energy). (WM)

Airships  range in size from single seaters to giant 10,000-man craft.

Equibilibrimotors or flying belts are one-man flying machines, consisting of a broad belt, similar to an earthly life belt, filled with enough eighth ray to equalize the pull of gravity. Attached to the back of the belt is a small radium motor and controls are positioned on the front of the belt. Projecting from each side of the upper rim of the belt is a strong, rigid, light wing with small hand levers for quickly adjusting its position. The Equibilibrimotors are rented out for public transport. City guards fly patrol in them.

One-man surfboard-like fliers are equipped with a wind-screen and travel at speeds up to1000 mph.

Public flier taxis

Ground fliers are of two different designs. In the north polar region the tires of this  wheeled motor vehicle are actually rubber-like gas bags filled with the eighth Barsoomian ray. The flier is propelled along the ground by a motor-driven propeller. Throughout most of the rest of Barsoom the ground flier is just a modified aircraft designed for use on, or a short distance above the ground.

Military aircraft patrol the skies

Space craft guided by artificial brains similar to today's computers were invented by Fal Siva, a scientist in Zodanga.

Spacecraft capable of reaching the moon Thuria was developed by Gal Nar, a scientist of Zodanga. Dejah Thoris was abducted and transported to the moon in such a vehicle.

Spaceship propulsion employs a technique of combining a propulsion ray with the highly concentrated gravitational forces of nearby celestial bodies and a concentration of Ray L (cosmic rays) which are collected from space and discharged at high velocities from propulsion tubes at the ship's stern.

Astral Projection: John Carter eventually masters the ability to project himself between Mars and Earth at will. GMFW

Controlling Destination Compass is a directional compass used for navigation in aircraft (this device was called a gyro-compass in "Giant of Mars"). It is actually a computer-driven automatic pilot perfected by Carthoris. The pilot sets the desired latitude and longitude and the device then navigates to the location, shuts down the propulsion, and lowers the craft to land. A warning bell is often incorporated to awaken the sleeping pilot.

Altitude Ranging is another feature of the Controlling Destination Compass which was designed to prevent collisions.

Sonar or Radar devices are used by Fliers  to warn of approaching obstacles. The ship is brought to a halt until pilot takes control.

Air and Ground Traffic Control: All traffic in Okar is controlled by intricate flight control systems similar to our modern-day air traffic control networks.

Airship weaponry includes rapid fire guns and the larger radium cannons which fire explosive radium projectiles. A variety of bombs are also used.

Radium rifles are an extremely deadly weapon with a range of 300 miles. They fire small calibre explosive radium bullets which explode when exposed to light. The bullets are covered with a thin coating that breaks on contact with the target, thus creating an explosion. This is the principal firearm used by the green men. Many models are equipped with wireless finders and sighters and the Therns or white Martians use a model with an attached shield.  This lightweight weapon has a wood stock - a rare material on Barsoom - and a long metal barrel composed of a specially tempered alloy of aluminum and steel.

Radium Pistols are a firearms with a shorter range than the radium rifle.

Atom Gun is a somewhat different kind of pistol or rifle described in "Giant of Mars."

Disintegrating Ray of Tul Axtar was invented by Phor Tak, the scientist of Jahar. It destroys metal, wood, or flesh, depending on the setting of the machine gauges. It is of a much shorter range than the radium cannon.

Ghastly blue protective paint was later developed by Phor Tak to negate the effects of the disintegrating ray.

Phor Tak's Flying Death is a guided missile attracted to Tul Axtar's protective blue paint or other objects to which it has been programmed to hit. The missiles were covered with  invisible paint but were never used as they were destroyed by conquering Helium. FMM10

Carborundum Aluminum was a lightweight, impenetrable material used in the construction of Martian fighting ships.

Invisibilty paint is used on fliers as a cloaking device. This invention by Phor Tak causes the line of vision to pass completely around it, making the object to which it is applied invisible.

Invisibility Sand is a Sasoomian submicroscopic, magnetic sand composed of prismatic crystals. It has the same characteristics as Invisibility Paint. Its many uses include concealing aircraft and camouflaging homes.

Magnetic tower of Kadabra - the Great Power or Guardian of the North - is a gigantic electromagnet built over the north magnetic pole in Okar. It has the power to desroy approaching air fleets. It is controlled by the technician Solan.

Magnetic Elevator: A transport device that uses very powerful electromagnets for propulsion.(GM)

Carrion Caves are a series of 27 caverns connecting the hothouse cities of the North Pole with the outside world, beneath the ice cliffs. Here the yellow men of Okar bring their dead so that the stench will discourage any invasion of their territory.

Pumping Stations of the subterranean Omean Sea: The only entrance to the Omean Sea is through a crater opening in a flat-topped black mountain rising from the south polar ice cap. To keep it from filling above a certain level, the Black Pirates have four great pumping stations that force the oversupply back into the reservoirs from which the red men draw the water which irrigates their farm lands.

Submarines are used in the Omean Sea.

Advanced Mental Powers were developed by Lotharians who create imaginary bowmen for defence.

Advanced Hypnotic Powers were developed by Kaldanes who control others through mind control.



"Canals": What appears as canals through our Jasoomian telescopes are actually fertile, irrigated strips of farmland.  Water is collected in immense underground reservoirs at the poles from the melting ice caps.This water is pumped through long conduits to the various populated centers where it is distributed to farms and cities. Along either side of these conduits, and extending their entire length, lie the cultivated districts. They are divided into tracts of about equal size, each under the supervision of one or more government officers. Instead of flooding the surface of the fields, and thus wasting immense quantities by evaporation, the water is carried underground through a vast network of small pipes directly to the roots of the vegetation.

Underground transport links the Twin Cities of Helium which are 75 miles apart

Pneumatic tube transport systems are part of the rapid transit system between the Twin Cities. Passengers are propelled through the 75-mile tubes in eight-foot-long bullet-shaped cars.

Pits & passageways under cities

Ramps are much more common than stairs over most of Barsoom.

Home Security is achieved by using hydraulics to lift houses up at night for safety.

Door Locking Mechanisms are controlled by a series of light rays of varying intensity for specific lengths of time.

Surveillance cameras are used in Zodanga's Royal Palace

Directional lighting:  In Barsoomian street lighting, the light leaves the lamp, goes around in a circle, illuminates everything in its path and then returns to the lamp. SM

Torches of Horz are cylindrical portable lighting devices with a central core which glows when exposed to air. The secret technique of producing this central core has been lost for centuries.

Forandus is the hardest and lightest metal on Barsoom. It is commonly used in the making of wall panels.

Radium Light Bulbs are the principal means of artificial lighting on Mars. They are hemispherical glass bowls, filled with radium powder, which gives a clear but glareless light almost indefinitely. The bulb is never extinguished, but is fitted with an opaque cover when not in use.

Holographic Telescopes

Telescopic Cameras are capable of taking pictures of Earth objects as small as a blade of grass. PM11

Glass-Domes are used to cover whole cities in northern polar regions. Here, solar energy is trapped and stored in huge reservoirs.

Solar Energy used in northern cities for heating and a source of energy.

Concentrated energy food tablets

Food Automats prepare and serve food entirely by a mechanical apparatus. The diner selects the food to be served by pressing tiny buttons.

Healing powders and ointments of remarkable powers can heal wounds of any severity.

ID Rings WM

ID Machines are used in northern nation of Okar to measure, weigh and photograph people. Copies of this information  are reproduced instantly in offices all over the region.

Dance of Barsoom One-Stringed Instrument is an exotic instrument made of skeel (a Barsoomian hardwood) and shaped to fit the left forearm of the dancers. Characters are inscribed upon it denoting the pitch and length of its tone. There is also a ring wound with gut which is worn between the first and second joints of the index finger of the right hand and which, when passed over the string, elicits the single tone required of the dancer.

Invisibility Tablets are used by the invisible warriors of Invak and Onvak in the Forest of Lost Men. It renders them invisible except under special artificial lighting in their cities. A tablet takes effect after an hour and lasts for one day.

Radio Technology: There is a great variety of radio-related equipment from large to miniature with various modes of transmission & reception,  secret frequencies, transmission codes, headsets, etc.

Nerve Index Machines control the bodies of people. This machine was invented by scientist Myr-lo for the Jeddak of Kamtol who holds all his subjects and slaves in absolute control. The machine is keyed to their nervous systems via shortwaves and enables him to kill all escapees or rebellious subjects with the simple pushing of a button.

Photostatic copiers which reproduce images in an instant are used in the Temple of Knowledge.

Computer Fax and Teletype Machines record and transmit data.

Gridley Wave is a type of radio wave discovered by Jason Gridley of Tarzana, California, and is also used by Barsoomian scientists. Ulysses Paxton transmitted the story of Tan Hadron of Hastor to Burroughs via this medium.

Sophisticated Chronometers

Longitudinal Positions (Central Meridian) are reckoned from the ancient city of Exum.



Through Ras Thavas of Toonol, the Mastermind of Mars, ERB presented a long string of innovations long before they appeared on Earth:

Transplanting of Organs through sophisticated surgical techniques
Brain Transfer
Restoring of Severed Limbs
Iron Lungs
Artificial Hearts
Multi-Focal Lenses in eye glasses
Sophisticated Hearing Aids
Intricate Brain Surgery
Instruments to study thought waves of inhabitants of distant planets
Freezing and Reviving of Bodies, i.e. suspended animation,
Homads - synthetic men
Malagors - a recreation of extinct huge flying birds on which the Homads rode
Television - invented by Ras Thavas


Edgar Rice Burroughs' Predictions 
of Future Innovations and Inventions 
Part I: Barsoom (Mars): ERBzine 0459
The illustrated version of this feature appears at:
ERBzine 0247: ERB Future Visions - St. John Barsoomian Gallery I
ERBzine 0248: ERB Future Visions - St. John Barsoomian Gallery II
ERBzine 0249: ERB Future Visions - St. John Barsoomian Gallery III
Part II: Amtor (Venus): ERBzine 1561

Collage of J. Allen St. John ERB Art in Pulp Magazines I

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THE BARSOOM SERIES 
Visit the ERBzine Guide to 
Edgar Rice Burroughs' Mars Novels
ERBzine 1351

ONLINE TEXTS
A Princess of Mars1911
The Gods of Mars 1912
The Warlord of Mars 1913
Thuvia, Maid of Mars 1914
The Chessmen of Mars 1921
The Master Mind of Mars 1925
A Fighting Man of Mars 1929
Swords of Mars 1933
Synthetic Men of Mars 1938
Llana of Gathol 1940
John Carter of Mars 1941: 
1. John Carter and the Giant of Mars  (by John Coleman Burroughs)
2. Skeleton Men of Jupiter 

Please see 
ERB C.H.A.S.E.R. Encyclopedia
for a complete list of available online Barsoom books
and related features in ERBzine


Volume 0459

BILL HILLMAN
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