Issue No. 2 – The First 3D Printed Object Ever Placed Into a Time Capsule May Have Just Been Placed into One from 1914 NYC

By Joe Borrello, Project Lead at DynamiCal: in situ Imaging Solutions

This special report takes a look at a pretty special event that recently took place in New York. For background: in 1914, the Lower Wall Street Business Men’s Association created and filled a beautifully crafted bronze time capsule with items to memorialize that time in New York history, as well as to recognize the role the city played about 150 years earlier during the infancy of the American Revolution. The original plan was to open the capsule in 1974, but some clerical errors resulted in its misplacement until the mid-1990s. When it was recovered, it was decided that the capsule should be opened on the 100th anniversary of its creation, in 2014. On the day of its opening, October 8th, the time capsule was the oldest known time capsule yet to be opened.

The contents of the capsule were fascinating windows onto a world both very different and very similar to our own. Contained artifacts included newspapers, pictures and telegrams from important New York political figures. Untapped Cities, one of my favorite NYC blogs, covered the whole affair with tons of great pictures. You can check that out here.

What interested me even more though, was the idea had by the New York Historical Society, otherwise known as the keepers of the capsule. The NYHS reached out to high school students in New York City to curate a list of new items to put in the capsule to represent 2014 and to be reopened in 2064. The students put together what I thought was a pretty good and indicative selection of items representing the city as it is today. I couldn’t help but wonder though, if there would be anything 3D printed to add in. There was no mention of anything 3D printed in the Untapped Cities posting, but as I scrolled through the pictures, something caught my eye in some of the last images.

To the untrained eye, that might just look like a World Trade Center trinket, but that flat portion at the bottom gives it away: that’s a raft for a 3D print. In the 3D printing world, a raft is a few layers of preliminary material put down to allow the printed object to stick on the build plate better. The print itself isn’t clear enough to tell what printer made it, but it’s very clearly a consumer machine.

Some of the magazines and newspapers indicated that the 2014 capsule may reference or even show 3D printing, but it is a whole different thing to have an actual 3D printed part in there. It’ll be interesting to see how New Yorkers in the mid-21st century respond to a standard issue print from our times. It may very well be how we respond to photographs from the early 20th century. I’m also curious to see how the print fares, since some materials (like PLA) are biodegradable and may not make it till 2064. If nothing else, it’ll be the greatest print lifetime test conducted so far.

Doing some cursory research, I found no mention of other printed objects being put into a time capsule. Being such a young technology (at least in the semi-mainstream space), it’s very likely that no one has thought to put a 3D printed object in a time capsule yet. This makes New York’s all the more unique. I think there’s a very good chance this is the first time a 3D print has ever been put into a time capsule, and it’s indicative of how this field is beginning to influence and represent our times. All the more reason to have some foundational printlosophies!