Wayback Machine (Peabody's Improbable History)

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Sherman and Mr. Peabody enter the Wayback machine ca. 1960 to witness another time and place in history.

The Wayback Machine or WABAC Machine is a fictional time machine from the segment "Peabody's Improbable History", a recurring feature of the 1960s cartoon series The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show.[1][2] The Wayback Machine is a plot device used to transport the characters Mr. Peabody and Sherman back in time to visit important events in human history.

The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show[edit]

The Wayback machine was a central element of the "Peabody's Improbable History" cartoon segment. The machine was invented by Mr. Peabody, a genius, polymath, and bow tie-wearing beagle, as a birthday gift for his adopted pet boy, Sherman. By allowing them to visit famous historical people or events, the Wayback provided educational adventures for Sherman.[3] At the request of Mr. Peabody ("Sherman, set the Wayback machine to ..."), Sherman would set the Wayback controls to a time and place of historical importance, and by walking through a door in the Wayback machine, they would be instantly transported there. Examples of places or people visited are the Marquess of Queensberry[4] and the rules of boxing, the imprisonment and memoirs of Casanova,[5] and Jim Bowie and the Bowie knife.[6] The machine apparently later returned Mr. Peabody and Sherman to the present, although the return trip was never shown. The segment traditionally ended with a pun.

The Wayback has two main quirks. Firstly, it automatically translates all languages into English for their convenience. Secondly (and more critically), the historical figures and situations that they encounter are distorted in some crucial way. The main focus of the shorts is thus the restoration of historical events to their proper course, albeit in a characteristically frivolous and anachronistic way.

Either of the names Wayback or WABAC are in common usage, with the term "WAYBACK" explicitly indicated during the segment in which Mr. Peabody and Sherman visit the "Charge of the Light Brigade".[7] The precise meaning of the acronym WABAC is unknown. According to Gerard Baldwin, one of the show's directors, the name "WABAC" is a reference to the UNIVAC I.[8] Mid-century, large-sized computers often had names that ended in "AC" (generally for "Automatic/Analogue Computer" or similar), such as ENIAC or UNIVAC. The term "Wayback" suggests the common expression "way back in [some former time]."

In popular culture[edit]

The concept or term "Wayback machine" has been adopted in popular culture as a convenient way to introduce issues or events of the past, often employing the original line "Sherman, set the Wayback machine to ...". This introduction was used by the character Kevin Flynn in the film Tron, for example.[9] As in the original cartoon, the Wayback Machine is often invoked to suggest the audience follow the narrator back to the past. Frequently such visits to the past are trips of nostalgia, remembering times, places, or things of the not-so-distant past.[10][11][12][13][14][15][16]

One example of popular usage occurred in a 1995 episode of the television show NewsRadio, "Goofy Ball" (Season 2, Episode 2), in which station owner Jimmy James (Stephen Root) says: "Dave, don't mess with a man with a Wayback Machine. I can make it so you were never born."[17]

The Wayback Machine of the Internet Archive was named after Peabody and Sherman's Wayback.[18][19]

The Wayback machine is frequently referenced in the Stuff You Should Know podcast when discussing events in the past.[20]

Mr. Peabody and Sherman film (2014)[edit]

The movie studio DreamWorks Animation announced in 2006[21] and again in 2012[22] that they were creating an animated movie entitled Mr. Peabody & Sherman, which was released March 7, 2014. The WABAC machine is a central element to the plot. In the movie, the acronym is revealed to be Wavelength Acceleration Bidirectional Asynchronous Controller (WABAC).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Scott, Keith (2001). The Moose That Roared: The Story of Jay Ward, Bill Scott, a Flying Squirrel, and a Talking Moose. New York: St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0-312-28383-0.
  2. ^ Dunne, Michael (2001). Intertextual encounters in American fiction, film, and popular culture. Popular Press. p. 157. ISBN 9780879728472.
  3. ^ "Mr. Peabody and Sherman". Youtube.com. October 1, 2012. Archived from the original on 2021-12-21. Retrieved 2012-10-01.
  4. ^ "Peabody's Improbably History: The Marquis of Queensbury". Youtube.com. August 26, 2013. Archived from the original on 2021-12-21. Retrieved 2013-08-26.
  5. ^ "Peabody's Improbably History: Casanova". Youtube.com. August 26, 2013. Archived from the original on 2021-12-21. Retrieved 2013-08-26.
  6. ^ "Peabody's Improbably History: Jim Bowie". Youtube.com. August 26, 2013. Archived from the original on 2021-12-21. Retrieved 2013-08-26.
  7. ^ "Peabody's Improbably History: Charge of the Light Brigade". Youtube.com. August 26, 2013. Archived from the original on 2021-12-21. Retrieved 2013-08-26.
  8. ^ Kahle, Brewster (April 24, 2009). "Wayback Machine comes to life in new home". Retrieved 2009-08-23. On another note, we got a nice letter from the last living director of the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, Gerard Baldwin, because he read about the "fantastic project". Our Wayback Machine is a tribute to their more cleverly named "WABAC Machine" which in turn was a reference to the Univac. Sherman and Peabody live on.
  9. ^ Steven Lisberger, Tron, screenplay, 1982: "FLYNN (CONT.) (sighs): 'Sherman, set the Wayback Machine for ... oh, 1973.'" The line as Jeff Bridges actually delivered it in the film reads, "Sherman, set the Wayback machine for ... three years ago."
  10. ^ Miller, Ernest (2005-09-24). "Sherman, Set the Wayback Machine for Scientology". LawMeme. Yale Law School. Archived from the original (Blog) on 2006-04-24. Retrieved 2007-06-27.
  11. ^ Robinson, Eugene (September 5, 2006). "Who Set the Wayback Machine for 1939?". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2007-06-25.
  12. ^ Britt, Robert Roy (July 25, 2005). "The Wayback Machine? Nearby Solar System Looks Like Home". Space.com. Retrieved 2007-06-25.
  13. ^ Mallozzi, Vincent M. (April 6, 2007). "A Jukebox Is a Way-Back Machine With Black Vinyl Wings". The New York Times. Retrieved 2007-06-25.
  14. ^ Smith, Sam (April 26, 2007). "Condi's way-back machine". Scholars and Rogues. Retrieved 2007-06-25.
  15. ^ Clark, Mike (April 12, 2004). "Wayback machine puts out plenty of time-travel movies". USA Today. Retrieved 2007-06-25.
  16. ^ Kurtz, Scott (May 11, 2005). "PvP – Player vs Player – Set the WABAC machine to Pac-Man". pvponline.com. Archived from the original on 2007-12-04. Retrieved 2005-05-11.
  17. ^ Memorable quotes for NewsRadio: Goofy Ball (1995) from the Internet Movie Database
  18. ^ Green, Heather (February 28, 2002). "A Library as Big as the World". BusinessWeek. Archived from the original on June 1, 2002. Retrieved July 29, 2007.
  19. ^ TONG, JUDY (September 8, 2002). "RESPONSIBLE PARTY – BREWSTER KAHLE; A Library Of the Web, On the Web". New York Times. Retrieved 15 August 2011.
  20. ^ "Podcasts". Stuff You Should Know. Retrieved 24 February 2018.
  21. ^ Weinberg, Scott (September 16, 2006). "DreamWorks to Bring "Mr. Peabody & Sherman" to the Big Screen". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2009-09-10.
  22. ^ McClintock, Pamela (June 11, 2012). "Stephen Colbert, Allison Janney Join Voice Cast of 'Mr. Peabody & Sherman'". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2013-08-26.

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