Businesses, schools, communities and families fill capsules and boxes with documents and artifacts to present, as history, to later generations. Time capsules teach about other generations and also have a build-in mystery factor for children. The International Time Capsule Society at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta encourages the careful study of the materials found in capsules and encourages creators to register new stored and buried capsules. Kids can appreciate the concept by creating their own personal time capsules.
Builders frequently insert time capsules in cornerstones. Vintage stones typically have a dated newspaper or coins showing the year of the construction inside a hollow brick at the corner of the building. Elaborate capsules include a collection of items to tell a story. Oglethorpe University claims its former president, Thornwell Jacobs, holds the title as "Father of the Modern Time Capsule." The International Time Capsule Society notes the Westinghouse Company history project in 1939 coined the term "time capsule" to describe the stored history collections.
The International Time Capsule Society estimates the world has approximately 10,000 capsules, but many of the locations remain a mystery. The more famous time capsules include the Crypt of Civilization at Oglethorpe University buried in May 1940 and scheduled for opening in 8113. The Westinghouse Company buried a capsule during the 1938-1939 World's Fair in New York with a listed excavation date for 6938. Some famous capsules include the project buried by the cast members of the MASH television show in 1983 and the lost capsule set in the original cornerstone of the Washington, D.C. capitol building. George Washington led the burial ceremony for the official government cornerstone in 1793, but with remodeling and building additions, the exact location of the capitol capsule remains unknown.
Some capsules incorporate unusual and odd contents, but others include only a few ordinary items. The Crypt of Civilization in Atlanta includes newsreels and sound recordings, but also a set of Lincoln Logs and a Donald Duck doll. The MASH television cast buried costumes and props in their capsule. The contents of the Abington, Massachusetts capsule featured only five programs from the city's 200th anniversary, celebrated in 1912, and several images of local buildings and scenery. A Rochester, New York government cornerstone capsule has 350 documents and artifacts, including medals, photographs, coins and newspapers. At Sleeping Beauty's Castle in Disneyland, Anaheim, a time capsule filled with magazines, toys, photos and press kits was buried in 1996 to commemorate the park's 40th anniversary. Disneyland's capsule is scheduled for opening in 2035.
Capsules and Condition
Capsules vary from small metal strongboxes and wooden cigar boxes to state-of-the-art holders designed to withstand burial for hundreds of years. The size ranges from massive to miniature. The Oglethorpe University capsule is the size of a swimming pool, but most capsules restrict the container to the size of the small items for burial.
Only moldy remains, due to moisture, were found in the 1909 capsule unearthed in Aberdeen, Washington in 2003. Some capsule designers guard against damage from moisture by creating tight seals, while other archivists store the container above ground in a place free from air, water and sunlight.
David B. Ryan has been a professional writer since 1989. His work includes various books, articles for "The Plain Dealer" in Cleveland and essays for Oxford University Press. Ryan holds degrees from the University of Cincinnati and Indiana University and certifications in emergency management and health disaster response.