What Came Before the $10 Billion Bet on Flying Taxis

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Back in Business is an occasional column that puts the present day in perspective by looking at business history and those who shaped it.

In the 1962-63 animated television series “The Jetsons,” people in the year 2062 zoomed around in “aerocars” that could take off straight up, exceed 2,500 mph and fold into a briefcase with a touch of the finger.

Today, 2062 is only 41 years in the future, and Silicon Valley is obsessed with the latest incarnation of the aerocar: electric vertical-takeoff-and-landing aircraft. These helicopter-like vehicles could be used to alleviate congestion at airports and in traffic-choked regions.

Companies are raising billions of dollars to develop these air taxis. Will they ever take off?

The history of transportation over the past two centuries is a chronicle of astonishing advancement. (Until the 1860s, it could take more than six months to get from the East Coast to the West Coast of the U.S.) That progress, however, has been full of false starts, stalls and surprises. The funders of radical new transportation technologies have often been wiped out. Because history is written by the winners, it’s important to remember the lessons of the losers, too.

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