Contents List of Illustrations ix List of Plates xv Acknowledgments xvii Introduction 1 1 Becoming a Practical Visionary: Bel Geddes’s Youth and Early Career 11 Portraiture and advertising illustration 19 Christian Science and Fordism 21 InWhich magazine 23 2 Transforming Audiences: Stage Design to Industrial Design 31 Bel Geddes’s knowledge of Theosophy, psychology, and advertising 32 Theater Number 6: Merging the audience and actors 36 Bel Geddes’s stage design course, 1922–1928 39 Franklin Simon window displays, 1927–1930 43 J. Walter Thompson assembly hall, 1929 47 From stage design to architecture: Plans for the Chicago World’s Fair, 1933 49 The therapeutics of color in interior design, c. 1930 51 Design proposal for the Kharkov Theater, Ukraine, 1931 51 Architecture as a lively art 54 3 Horizons: Publicizing the Visionary Designer 57 Promoting the artist in industry 61 The Aerial Restaurant, Air Liner Number 4, and the Standard Gas Equipment stove 65 Horizons and Towards a New Architecture 75 Influences of Technocracy and scientific management 81 Horizons’ press reception 82 Technological forecasting in Horizons 83 4 A Machine-Age Architecturalist: Planning the Factory, Service Station, and the Mass-Produced Home 87 Toledo Scale factory 88 The House of Tomorrow, 1931 95.
List of Illustrations I.1 Bel Geddes posing with his stage-set model for the unrealized production of Dante Alighieri’s The Divine Comedy. In the background are sanguine on-paper scene renderings of the stage settings, c. 1920 3 I.2 Bel Geddes with model of “City of Tomorrow” for Shell Oil advertising campaign, c. 1937 4 I.3 Bel Geddes’s “Manhattan” cocktail service manufactured by Revere Copper and Brass, designed 1934–1935, produced 1937. Chrome-plated metal. “Skyscraper” shaker, 12 & 3/4 × 3 & 5/16 × 3 & 5/16 in. (32.4 × 8.4 × 8.4 cm); “Manhattan” serving tray, 3/4 × 14 & 1/4 × 11 & 5/8 in. (1.9 × 36.8 × 29.5 cm); goblets: 4 1/2 × 2 3/4 in. (11.4 × 7 cm) 5 I.4 Bel Geddes’s seltzer bottles manufactured by Walter Kidde Sales Company c. 1935. Chromed and enameled metal with rubber fittings. Photograph by Norman Bel Geddes and Company. 10 × 4.5 × 4.5 in. (25.4 × 10.8 × 10.8 cm) 6 1.1 Flora Luella Geddes, with sons Norman and Dudley, in Newcomerstown, Ohio, c. 1900 12 1.2 Photographs of a young Geddes dressed as a Native American 14 1.3 Geddes as Bob Blake, eccentric comedian playing Little Willie Green, c. 1914–1915 15 1.4 Geddes as Zedsky, boy magician, c. 1909 16 1.5 “The Eagle Medicine-Man, Apsaroke.” Photograph by Edward S. Curtis, c. 1908, appeared in The North American Indian (1907–1930) 18.
Acknowledgments T his book would not have been possible without the assistance and generosity of numerous individuals and institutions. First, I am thankful to my parents, whose passion, encouragement, and collection of design-related artifacts piqued my initial interest in industrial design history. This fascination was developed and refined at the University of Texas, Austin, where Jeffrey L. Meikle patiently guided my research of the Harry Ransom Center’s (HRC) Normal Bel Geddes Papers. My professors and classmates at the University of Delaware, Newark, helped me hone my skills as a historian. The archivists and curators and other staff at the HRC, in particular Rick Watson, Helen Adair, and Kathy Henderson, deserve special thanks for their time and generosity. I am equally appreciative of the support of the many individuals who aided my searches and acquisition of images and permissions, including Christopher M. Leich, Kenneth Hamilton Sather Bruguiere, and those at the Edith Lutyens and Norman Bel Geddes Foundation, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the New York Public Library’s Department of Rare Books, Special Collections and Preservation at the University of Rochester River Campus Libraries, the Yale University Manuscripts and Archives, the Library of Congress, the Theosophical Society in America, the Austrian Frederick and Lillian Kiesler Private Foundation, Vienna, Fondacion Le Corbusier, Paris, Hearst Communications Inc., Getty Images, and Scala, Florence. I am hugely appreciative of the inspiring tutors and thoughtful colleagues I met while I was a PhD student at the Royal College of Art, London, in particular my supervisors, Penny Sparke and Jeremy Aynsley. I have benefited hugely from those who read drafts of this book, including Jeffrey L. Meikle and Kjetil Fallan. Financial support was provided through the Graham Foundation, Chicago, the Hagley Museum and Library, the Harry Ransom Center, and the Norwich University of the Arts, which also provided essential research leave. The editors at Bloomsbury, Claire Constable and Rebecca Barden, have been unfaltering in their assistance. Finally, I am most grateful to my wife Grace who has provided constant encouragement, loving support, and astute commentary on my research on Bel Geddes.
Introduction N orman Bel Geddes (1893–1958) was perhaps the most influential of America’s first generation of industrial designers, which included Henry Dreyfuss, Raymond Loewy, Walter Dorwin Teague, and Harold Van Doren. Through his grand schemes, immense imagination, and even greater sense of self, Bel Geddes significantly contributed to the development of the industrial design profession, which in turn played a crucial role in America’s transformation to a consumer society. American Design Visionary investigates Bel Geddes’s startlingly visionary designs of teardrop-shaped cars, trains, and planes, along with his genius for publicity, which helped secure streamlining as the design style of the 1930s and indelibly stamped the industrial design profession as one of unbridled vision and machine-age optimism.1 His 1929 design for Air Liner Number 4, a nine-deck-high-flying wing, exemplifies the monumental scope and imaginative reach typical of many of Bel Geddes’s designs. With its 528-foot wingspan, the unrealized Air Liner Number 4 included a nightclub for 300 persons, four tennis courts, and a glassed-in promenade along the length of the wing. His design triumph, the General Motors Futurama exhibit at the New York World’s fair of 1939, combined the logic of Le Corbusier with the imagination of H. G. Wells. An educational amusement ride, it depicted a vast miniaturized model of the future dominated by superhighways and tower cities. Visited by tens of millions of people, it profoundly shaped the American notion of the world of tomorrow. While the economic depression of the 1930s provided a catalyst for escapism and technological fantasy,2 Bel Geddes’s redesign of everyday goods stimulated consumer desire.3 After an illustrious career as a leading practitioner of the New Stagecraft, a European and American avant-garde stage design movement that emphasized visual unity and the mood of a play, Bel Geddes opened one of America’s first industrial design offices in 1927.4 According to Bel Geddes, it was during this year he became the “first designer to establish a specialized service with a supporting organization in ‘Industrial Design’,”5 and “Founded [the] profession of Industrial Design.”6 While he mentored many of his future industrial design competitors, including .
1 Becoming a Practical Visionary: Bel Geddes’s Youth and Early Career D uring the period of Bel Geddes’s youth and young adulthood, America developed from a producer to a consumer culture, according to historian T. J. Jackson Lears, “from a Protestant ethos of salvation through self-denial to a therapeutic ideal of self-fulfillment.”1 The country experienced a cultural shift from an emphasis on “character” to that of “personality,” where “self-fulfillment, self-expression,” and “self-gratification” took precedence over moral imperative and “sacrifice” to “a higher law.”2 With his interest in constructed identity and consumer desire, Bel Geddes was a significant participant in this transformation. Fundamental to this cultural shift were the late-nineteenth-century, quasi-religious movements of Mind-cure and Christian Science, with their emphasis on healing, self-development, and positive thought.3 This change was accompanied by the tensions of two competing forces of modernism and antimodernism. The former clung to logic; the latter valued irrationality—two values Bel Geddes precariously juggled, writing: “through [the] life of this human these two vital forces [reason and instinct] would be in opposition.”4 The roots of these tensions and the origins of Bel Geddes’s practical vision can be traced to his family upbringing. Norman Melancton Geddes, born in 1893 in the small town of Adrian, Michigan, was the son of Clifton Terry Geddes and Flora Luella Yingling (Figure 1.1).5 Norman’s grandfather, Norman Geddes, was successively a professor, attorney, mayor of Adrian, Michigan, director of a bank and insurance company, and, for twenty-six years, President of the Board of Trustees of Adrian College.6 His grandfather’s numerous roles provided a significant model for Geddes in reshaping his own image, and brought the young boy into contact with prominent artistic, industrial, and scientific figures, an experience that eased his future interactions with artistic leaders and men of industry.7.
BECOMING A PRACTICAL VISIONARY 19 moccasins, a quiver slung over his back, his bow and arrow in hand, and he, too, is stopping to drink . . . I stare at my vision a few seconds, then out comes my sketchbook, to transpose the picture, as it were.38 Geddes’s “vision,” however, was absent of suffering. This Romantic self-projection is not unlike the pseudo-mystical activities he would later encounter through his interests into séance and Theosophy, which held that spirits “of dead people hover over the earth and can be reached readily at séances and through mediums.”39 He continued to visualize a subject before drawing it. In a series of stage design courses he taught privately in the 1920s, he stressed the importance of “seeing a thing clearly and having your mind thoroughly made up before you begin your drawing.”40 Geddes’s Blackfeet drawings and paintings, of which he claims to have produced around 1,200, would soon land him a job at Barnes Crosby, a Midwestern advertising illustration firm, and a few months at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and his Native American experience would inspire the design of one of his first plays, Thunderbird (1917).41 The Romantic longing to escape civilization and return to a natural and primitive existence was a recurrent impulse in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. One of the most vocal promoters of this tradition was Ernest Thompson Seton, who cofounded the boy scouting movement at the turn of the century with Robert Baden-Powell. Seton believed that everyone should spend one month a year outdoors. Established by Seton in 1902, the goal of the Woodcraft Indians was “to make a man.”42 In 1915, Geddes’s little magazine of art and ideas, InWhich, published an article entitled “Simplicity,” which provided a list of “modern day,” “great men,” including Ernest Thompson Seton, Henry Ford, Woodrow Wilson, and Augustus Rodin, perhaps suggesting Geddes’s desire to learn from men of nature, industry, leadership, and art (Plate 4). As InWhich was produced to promote Geddes and reflect his ideas, the list suggests his desire to fuse the practical man and artist within himself.43 Seton represented natural regeneration, while Ford was associated with industrial transformation. As a young man, the worlds of nature, art, and industry appealed to Geddes. He wrote, “everything about the woods interested me . . . I have often thought that the only reason that I did not become a professional naturalist was my deeper interest in design and theatre.”44 Filming insects and reptiles would later become a passion. For him, perhaps the accord between nature, technology, and art lies in the analogy of progress, each seeming to conform to evolutionary laws.45 He would later view streamlining from a Darwinian perspective, championing the teardrop as the most evolved of forms.46 Portraiture and advertising illustration After January 1913, Geddes met the Norwegian neo-impressionist painter Henrik Lund (1879– 1935) at the Art Institute of Chicago, and at the artist’s request studied with him for three weeks in Lund’s Chicago studio.47 This would prove fundamental in Geddes’s development as an artist and adherent of modernism. With his interest in the mechanics of thought, Geddes was drawn to Lund, whose portraits explored the character of their subjects with “psychological insight.” Lund, the “leader of the young Norwegian painters,”48 was considered a “virtuoso,” and was influenced in his early years by the Norwegian Edvard Munch and later by the French Impressionist Edouard Manet.49 Lund’s painting, however, failed to achieve the emotional intensity .
BECOMING A PRACTICAL VISIONARY 21 Michele Helene Bogart in Artists, Advertising, and the Borders of Art pinpoints the explosive expansion of the US publishing industry, especially magazines and newspapers, along with improved printing technology such as the halftone process after the 1890s as a key period providing increased opportunities for American illustrators. Inexpensive popular magazines including Collier’s Weekly (1888), Ladies’ Home Journal (1884), McClure’s (1893), and Saturday Evening Post (1897) provided a wealth of opportunities for aspiring illustrators. Pictures were a significant selling point for these and other profusely illustrated magazines, made possible largely by the halftone process that allowed for detailed reproduction of pencil marks and brush strokes, imparting an atmosphere of fantasy to the medium. By the turn of the century, illustrated mass market magazines such as the Saturday Evening Post and the Ladies’ Home Journal had helped to establish illustration as a well-paid, “prestigious and high-profile form of art and an attractive career option.” Both magazines depended on illustrated fiction to maintain their appeal and sales. Therefore, the practice of illustration became strongly associated with the visual interpretation of fiction writing. Contemporaneous critics who valued authorial authority and the reader’s imagination complained that illustrations were a detriment to readers, distorting narratives and manipulating thought.64 Bel Geddes would face similar accusations in this own work, especially his fantastic visions of the world of tomorrow which offered their own fictions of the future.
BECOMING A PRACTICAL VISIONARY 23 FIGURE 1.6 Geddes with paint set and Helen Belle Sneider with camera, c. 1915. Photograph by unidentified photographer. Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas, and the Edith Lutyens and Norman Bel Geddes Foundation, Inc. 2016.