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Art Moderne Becomes Industrial Design

Published onApr 22, 2021
Art Moderne Becomes Industrial Design

We passed from the hand to the machine, we enjoyed our era of the triumph of the machine, we acquired wealth, and with wealth education, travel, sophistication, a sense of beauty; and then we began to miss something in our cheap but ugly products. Efficiency was not enough. The machine did not satisfy the soul. Man could not live by bread alone. And thus it came about that beauty, or what one conceived as beauty, became a factor in the production and marketing of goods.

Earnest Elmo Calkins, 1927 ([121], 147)

One of the results of the Paris exposition was to awaken the public press in the United States to the existence, if not the importance, of modern design. Whereas the specialized magazines in art and decoration had been supporting the strong interest of the establishment in traditional styles and the cultural aspects of design, now American newspapers and magazines began to promote design for its economic value. It was stated that America was beginning to catch up as big business was losing its “timidity in the presence of Art.” An editorial in the New York Times challenged industry: “American captains of industry must soon change their traditional characters. True, the public may still cling to its conception of them as iron-jawed, level-headed giants of efficiency.… But if the present international competition keeps up, we may find them, like the Germans, openly cooperating with museums and industrial art schools; or, like the French, proclaiming themselves merchants of beauty.” [187]

The various American decorative-arts associations were quick to point out that the French had only achieved what they themselves had been proposing all along: the collaboration of artists and designers with industry that would result in better and more marketable products. The Art-in-Trades Club issued a manifesto in 1926 challenging all American artists to compete in a competition for modern furnishings. Others, however, recalled that as early as 1923 it had been proposed that American manufacturers did not need to produce cubistic chairs or futuristic consoles, “because our native sense of the fitness of things and our demand for the beautiful serviceable article, as opposed to the irritating, eccentric one, comes to our rescue in furnishing our homes and business offices.” ([110], 18) It was even suggested naively that, since the modernist style belonged to the Europeans, Americans should look to their own native sources and draw inspiration from the Alaskan, Mayan, and Toltec cultures.

American museums moved quickly to capitalize on the interest in design and the decorative arts that had been sparked by the success of the Paris exposition and to reaffirm their hope to be tastemakers for the public. Within a year after the close of the show in Paris the American Association of Museums had organized and imported a selection of products from Paris, primarily French and Swedish, to tour its member institutions, beginning in February 1926 at the prestigious Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The preface of the catalog for the show illustrated once more the museums’ well-meaning but short-sighted attitude toward American design: “The collection has been brought to America not to stimulate the demand for European products nor to encourage copying of European creations, but to bring about an understanding of this important modern movement in design in the hope that a parallel movement may be initiated in our country … to bring to us new forms appropriate to the living conditions of the twentieth century.” [216]

A second stage in the new role of the museum as a cultural reporter was reached in 1927 when the Metropolitan Museum provided space for the first time to a foreign country in the field of the decorative arts. In a move that inaugurated the reign of Scandinavian design in the United States, the museum staged a special exhibition of Swedish industrial arts. The net effect of the exhibition was to demonstrate a new and sincere attempt to speak the language of the day—a language of simplicity and truth. Some cultural historians have pointed out that the Scandinavians had long been familiar with the spare elegance and reverence of the Shakers’ furniture and their other ingenious and appropriate objects for everyday living. Perhaps the appeal of Scandinavian design to Americans stems from a renewed conscience for design that has sent hundreds of American craftsmen and designers to study and work in the studios of Scandinavian designers and has made titles like Swedish Modern and Danish Modern part of the American design vocabulary.

The American Association of Museums was quick to arrange for a national tour of objects selected from the Paris exposition, and borrowed the art from the original catalog.


Once American museums had bestowed cultural respectability upon the modernist movement, it became inevitable that department stores on this side of the Atlantic would emulate the Parisian stores at the exposition by staging their own exhibits and supporting the design and production of products in the new style. Even if the products displayed were too modern for the average consumer, they would at the very least attract the public into the stores and sharpen its appetite for other products. The French had displayed such rooms in the United States earlier, but not until the smashing success in Paris did the idea catch on. Now Macy, Altman, Wanamaker, Lord and Taylor, Franklin Simon, Marshall Field, and others decided to stage their own “ensemble” exhibitions in the style of the French. To this end it seemed natural that they should turn to the worlds of the theater and promotion for designers to help them conceive and install their exhibits, to decorate their show windows, to design some of the furnishings, and to offer other promotional ideas that would stimulate public interest. Lee Simonson, Norman Bel Geddes, Henry Dreyfuss, Russel Wright, and others were already well established as designers of stage settings, theatrical spectaculars, costumes, and decorative accessories before they were attracted by the glamor and excitement of the Art Moderne spirit to try their hand at staging the public debut of decorative and utilitarian products. It was a relatively small step for them to shift their attention from the make-believe world of the theater to the world of real products presented in make-believe environments.

In 1927, the R. H. Macy Company staged an experimental exposition to show the advances American manufacturers had made in introducing good design to everyday products. The public response was good enough to convince Macy to stage, in 1928, the most ambitious project of all of the department stores, an “International Exposition of Art in Industry.” This show was a major activity of Macy’s new department of design under the direction of Austin Purvis of Philadelphia. Lee Simonson, designer of sets for the Theater Guild, with Virginia Hamill as co-director, designed the background of the galleries and show windows for the exhibition, which consisted of an arcade of 15 rooms in the “ensemble” manner. The rooms themselves were designed by a selection of internationally known designers. Josef Hoffmann, director of the Academy of Industrial Art, designed a boudoir and powder room that included products from the Wiener Werkstaette. For France, Maurice Dufrêne designed a dining room and Joubert et Petit a studio living room. Bruno Paul, director of the German state schools of fine and applied arts, combined handmade and machine-made products in his designs for a man’s study and a dining room. For Italy, Gio Ponti designed a country living room and, of all things, a butcher shop. The Swedish exhibits included Orrefors and Kosta glass in addition to metalwork, textiles, and ceramics. The American rooms were particularly interesting because they included not only handmade and manufactured decorative arts but also a selection of manufactured appliances. A three-room apartment by Kem Weber of California included a General Electric refrigerator, a Hotpoint electric range, and a sink and bathroom fixtures by Crane. William Lescaze’s penthouse studio contained a sunlamp and electrical fixtures, and the living room by Eugene Schoen included lamp fixtures designed by him and handmade silverware by Peter Muller-Munk, the recent German émigré who was later to become a prominent American industrial designer.

The Macy exposition was the first useful opportunity for American designers and manufacturers to show their work in the modern spirit. Even so, the magazine Architectural Record still regretted the failure of the Americans, despite the pleas of architects like Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis Sullivan and designer-craftsmen like Gustav Stickley and Louis Tiffany, to find a connection between art and industry. It further expressed a sense of embarrassment that Americans had to go abroad to learn what America’s own modern designers had taught the Europeans. Nevertheless, the demand for more handsome manufactured products had reached a point where it could no longer be denied.

Robert W. de Forest, president of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in a museum monograph on the Macy exposition, speculated (as did many others at the time) on the most appropriate title for the emerging profession. He felt that although industrial art was not quite appropriate, it might have to be used. The German equivalent, kleine Kuenste (small arts), which was used in reference to German industrial arts, carried, in de Forest’s opinion, implications of inferiority, as did applied art. Although de Forest preferred to adopt the French phrase decorative and industrial art, he recognized that as practice expanded to include the design of all manufactured products—not only those that were decorative accessories—a broader and more serious title would be mandated. It was evident that a new title had to be adopted that contained the proper connotations but that had not been tied to another particular occupation. It remained for Earnest Elmo Calkins, head of the very successful Calkins-Holden advertising agency, to catch the character of the crystallizing profession in his seminal article “Beauty the New Business Tool” in the August 1927 issue of the Atlantic Monthly, in which he proposed that manufacturers now concern themselves with good design in their products. It became inevitable that industrial design, which had been used on and off for a decade, would emerge as the name of the new profession. Since then the appropriateness of the name has been questioned often because of its ambiguity. However, as it has achieved national credibility and has been adopted internationally as the generic name for the practice of the imaginative development of manufactured products and product systems that serve the physical needs and satisfy the psychological desires of people, the pressure for a different title has abated. Industrial design today is concerned with utility and safety as well as the meaning and beauty of the products that designers create for their fellow humans.

Lee Simonson’s fifteen rooms at Macy’s Exposition of Art in Industry were grouped around a series of show windows, such as this one, that displayed the best that each country had to offer. It was said that in this exposition the Americans looked to Europe to learn the lessons that America’s pioneer modernists had taught Europe. Architectural Record, August 1928.


William Lescaze’s penthouse for the Macy exposition displayed the then-fashionable affection for geometric forms and modern metals and composition materials, but lacked the stark spaces and arrangements of the International Style or the contrived modesty of today’s “high tech” style. Architectural Record, August 1928.


This 1938 display window by Norman Bel Geddes for Franklin Simon combined three pieces of merchandise—a turban, a scarf, and a bag—and dramatic lighting. “The window is a stage,” he said, “and the merchandise the players.” Hoblitzelle Theatre Arts Library, University of Texas, Austin.


By 1928 the modernist movement was in full swing in New York as merchandisers vied with each other for public attention. The B. Altman department store held an exhibition of what it called “Twentieth Century Taste,” with complete rooms in the modern style by American and French designers. Lord and Taylor announced an international competition in design and trade symbols. And Franklin Simon hired Norman) Bel Geddes to develop a modern approach to its window displays. When the windows were unveiled the crush of viewers was so great that police had to be assigned to keep traffic moving. Within three months every Fifth Avenue store had shifted its displays to the new style.

In a letter to the New York Times, James Rennie criticized Bel Geddes for having abandoned the theater for industrial design. “Norman Bel Geddes has left the theatre flat,” Rennie wrote, “and is now designing window displays, automobiles, scales and various other odds and ends which have no relation to dramatic art.” [188] Bel Geddes responded that industrial objects offered broader opportunities than the theater in its current condition:

The theater is a fickle mistress. We live in an age of industry and business. Industry is the driving force of this age and art in coming generations will have less to do with frames, pedestals, museums, books and concert halls and more to do with people and their life. It is the dominating spirit of this age.… It is as absurd to condemn an artist of today for applying his ability to industry as it is to condemn Phidias, Giotto or Michaelangelo for applying theirs to religion. It is more important that! should be working at something that interests me, that is of the present, such as the automobile, the airplane, the steamship, the railway car, architecture and furniture, than it is for me to keep working in the theater merely because I spent 15 years doing so. [189]

As one might expect, paternity for the growing profession was claimed by its earliest practitioners. Norman Bel Geddes was convinced that he had established the profession in 1927, when he had been the first designer of national reputation to surround himself with a staff of specialists in order to offer industrial design services. One of his first assignments had come in that year from Raymond Paige of the Graham Paige Motor Company, who had asked Bel Geddes to conceive ideas for an automobile five years in the future. Raymond Loewy claimed that “the beginning of industrial design as a legitimate profession” had been his contract with the Hupp Motor Company because “for the first time a large corporation accepted the idea of getting outside advice in the development of their products.” ([60], 85) The first product of his design that was manufactured, however, was the Gestetner Duplicator in 1929. When Walter Dorwin Teague had come back from Europe in 1926 determined to shift his work from graphics to the design of industrial products, he had added “industrial design” to his letterhead. When in 1928 he was recommended by Richard Bach of the Metropolitan to Adolf Stuber, son of the president of Eastman Kodak, to design the interior of his home, Teague took Stuber on a tour of the modern art shops in New York, including the contemporary shop of Rena Rosenthal, in order to show him the clean lines of home furnishings that were coming into style. From this experience their acquaintance grew into a lifetime contract for Teague as a consultant designer for Kodak. Joseph Sinel also believed that he should be given credit as the legitimate father of the profession because he was working on products for industry early in the 1920s through his commercial art work for advertising agencies like Calkins and Holden, McCann-Erickson, and Lennen and Mitchell. Among his first products for American manufacture were the Acousticon Hearing Aid and the International Ticket Scale.

Raymond Loewy’s first major industrial design assignment was the redesign of the Gestetner duplicating machine in 1929. Raymond Loewy


Others were also designing products for industry by 1927. Donald Deskey was preoccupied with a candy vending machine, Egmont Arens was designing and seeing to the manufacture of a line of lamps, and George Sakier was serving as design director for the American Radiator and Standard Sanitary corporations.


In point of fact, none of these early practitioners invented industrial design—nor was it created by Henry Dreyfuss, John Vassos, Lurelle Guild, Russel Wright, Ben Nash, Thomas Neville, Francesco Collura, George Cushing, Harley Earl, William O’Neil, Gustav Jensen, Scott Wilson, Ray Patton, George Switzer, Harold Van Doren, John Alcott, or any of the others who began to design products for industrial manufacture in the late 1920s. Nor was the profession conceived abroad and introduced to the Americans by foreign designers and academicians. Instead, industrial design emerged in the United States as a distinct calling in direct response to the unique demand of the maturing twentieth-century machine age for individuals who were qualified by intellect, talent, and sensitivity to give viable form to mass-produced objects. The new calling appeared almost simultaneously at many points in order to fill the vacuum left by the inability of craftsmen to anticipate every demand that would be imposed on a manufactured product by an expanding technology and a merchandising commitment to consumer satisfaction. These pioneering industrial designers and others like them were the results of this phenomenon, not its originators.

Perhaps no other single incident better illustrated that design had an important role to play than the competition for the consumer’s dollar between the Ford Motor Company and General Motors in the mid-1920s. Henry Ford’s Model T, first produced in 1908, had already entered folk history. Driven by millions, it was beloved as a means of basic transportation as much as it was criticized for refusing to keep up with the times in appearance. Henry Ford stood imperiously above the argument, autocratic and adamant in refusing every recommendation that he update the style of his product. That his homely contraption was selling over a million units a year, whereas its nearest competitor, General Motors’ Chevrolet, had only a third as many sales, was good enough for him. Then, in 1923, when Alfred P. Sloan became president of General Motors, he determined to catch Ford in sales. In 1926 General Motors took a bold step in styling by introducing an all-new, snappy, and colorful Chevrolet in direct competition with the Model T. That year Chevrolet sold more automobiles than Ford. Henry got the message and finally retired the Model T. Within a year Ford introduced the more stylish Model A, launching annual model changes and deliberate styling as a marketing tactic. Henry Ford now found it convenient to reverse his opinion about art: “Design will take more advantage of the power of the machine to go beyond what the hand can do and will give us a whole new art.” ([19], 28) By 1927 General Motors had already established a styling section, with Harley Earl in charge, and other major American companies were beginning to follow suit.

Thus, 1927 may be taken as the seminal year in the recognition of industrial design as an indispensible factor in manufactured products. The American design, merchandising, and industrial establishments had been jolted out of their reverie by the success of the Paris exposition and the subsequent popularity of the modernist products from France that were imported by museums and department stores. However, whereas in Europe the new style was primarily effective in the realm of the decorative arts and domestic furnishings, in the United States its influence was felt much more strongly in the areas of machinery, appliances, and vehicles. The major reason, no doubt, is that advertising agencies (especially those that served the major industries) recognized the promotional value of the more modern and better-looking products and urged their clients to employ industrial designers.

Earnest Elmo Calkins was one of the most enthusiastic supporters of industrial design. At one time or another he had known and employed as illustrators Joseph Sinel, Norman Bel Geddes, Walter Dorwin Teague, and others who went on at his urging to become industrial designers. Calkins credited to design the success of Chevrolet over Ford, and proposed in the article mentioned above that “the only art that can survive and grow is art that is related to our life and our needs, and that has a sound economic foundation.” “It is to be hoped,” wrote Calkins, “that manufacturers in the search for design to beautify their products will start with a clear conception of what beauty is, especially beauty in an article of use.… The surest guide in divining new beauty in machine-made things is to grasp and interpret the beauty they naturally and intrinsically possess.” ([121], 154) Calkins’s article was acknowledged by others as providing a useful accommodation between the relative roles of the engineer and the designer in product development by suggesting that, once technical and manufacturing commitments have been met, the appearance of the product becomes of paramount interest to the consumer. An article in the Review of Reviews in 1928 gave a great deal of credit to advertising men like Calkins as the first business group to appreciate the cash value of advertising products that were good-looking. And a letter by N. Shidle that was published in Automotive Industry on August 13, 1927, acknowledged that “from now on, the pulling power of beauty having been so firmly established, it is expected that beautification may follow on the heels of mechanical improvement more rapidly than in the past.” ([198], 219)

The classic 1923 Ford Model T four-door sedan. Library of Congress.


This advertisement for the 1924 standard Ford coupe suggested that the businesswoman of the day had not only her own office and telephone, but also her own wheels waiting at the curb. Vanity Fair, May 24, 1924.


The “Fordor” Sedan of 1927, the last of the Model T Fordsgaunt, direct, and essentially a nineteenth-century product. Courtesy of Ford Archives, Henry Ford Museum, Dearborn, Michigan.


General Motors’ Chevrolet turned the tables on Ford’s dominance of the low-cost market, proving that form and appearance had power in the marketplace. Automobile Manufacturers’ Association.


Henry Ford caught on fast. Within a year after he stopped Model T production, the more stylish Model A was on the market and Ford was back in the race for first place in sales. Automobile Manufacturers’ Association.


Richard F. Bach was convinced by 1928 that his efforts through the Metropolitan series of annual exhibitions of the decorative arts to awaken Americans to the value of design had finally been rewarded. “Style,” he wrote, “is at last coming to recognition once more for what it truly is: the real drawing power in a thousand products, the basic selling point and—given a good design to begin with—the most convincing argument for quality.” ([115], 599) It had become apparent to Bach that the stream of design vitality had altered its direction and that the commercial world had moved closer to the modern styles from abroad. As a result he decided that the eleventh exhibition in the museum’s series should adopt the French pattern of room “ensembles” and be used to demonstrate that a style of design could generate ideas without an “exuberance of novelty and with never too strong a regard for sales value.” ([204], 23) The show, which opened in February 1929, was called “Contemporary American Design.” Although it was intended to run only through March, by the end of the period 100,000 people had seen it and the Metropolitan found such a great demand that it was obliged to extend it to October. This exhibition neatly brackets a period of transition in American design from subservience to traditional styles to an awareness, if not a total acceptance, of the modern. The subtitle of the exhibition, however, was “The Architect and the Industrial Arts,” and it bypassed the handful of architects and designers who had pioneered the new spirit of design in the United States and the growing band of talented industrial and interior designers, electing instead to feature rooms designed by established American architects, such as John W. Root, Raymond Hood, Ralph Walker, and Ely Kahn, and such talented foreign architects as Eliel Saarinen, Joseph Urban, and Eugene Schoen. It was, therefore, an establishment show. Every object in the exhibition—furniture, accessories, and furnishings—was designed by the architects or produced by a few designers serving essentially as artisans. Peter Muller-Munk, for example, was permitted to design and execute a silver tea and coffee service for Ely Kahn’s outdoor dining room, and Ralph T. Walker commissioned Egmont Arens to produce a fountain of light and Maurice Heaton to provide decorative glass for his salesroom. Richard Bach was evidently determined that the leadership of the new profession be vested in architecture.

Despite the great popularity of the Metropolitan show, there were some critics who felt that the public had come more out of curiosity than out of conviction and that the modern movement had yet to prove itself. Royal Cortissoz, in a Scribner’s article entitled “A Contemporary Movement in American Design,” questioned its dependence upon foreign talent and its “strange conformity” with foreign motivation. He was convinced that the Americans were entering an age of speed and that they were, therefore, in “more a transitional than a decisive period.” Cortissoz recognized that “there must be acknowledgment of the fact that the machine, as a tool of the designer, has replaced the craftsman in contemporary production, and has, therefore, tremendously influenced modern design,” but felt that there was a certain shallowness in the tendency to “go modern” as one might “take up golf.” ([124], 595) Cortissoz found the modern interest in straight lines appropriately hard and crisp but not human. He lamented the bleak rigidity of some modern design and the “Hollywood de Luxe” style of others. In a curious way the modern style seems to have been regarded by many as being more suited to the threatrical and motion picture worlds. It is an interesting anachronism that the important theaters and the grand movie palaces of the period were extravagant palaces in traditional styles while the plays and motion pictures themselves most often dealt with modern themes in modernist settings.

By the end of the 1920s manufactured products had followed electricity into the American home. The radio had taken over the living room, and the refrigerator dominated the kitchen. Major manufacturers had accepted the inevitable fact that the appearance of a product—its styling in a more fashionable form—was indispensable to its success in the marketplace. In 1928 the advertising and printing trade publication Printer’s Ink published a timetable of those professions that its editors believed to be the most important to the progress of industry in the United States. For 1900 to 1910 they gave the greatest credit to salesmen, and for 1910 to 1920 to advertisers. Then they proposed that the honor for 1920 to 1930 should be given to artists in industry.

The American Management Association climbed aboard the design bandwagon in 1929 by conducting a series of seminars for industrialists and businessmen on whether “intelligent and profitable use [can] be made of the modernistic style of design.” ([211], 4) One seminar considered “How the Retailer Merchandises Present-day Fashion, Style and Art.” In another seminar, H. S. Nock, Paul Bonner, and John Alcott (then head of the design department of the Massachusetts School of Art and Design and design consultant to the Associated Industries of Massachusetts) reviewed “How the Manufacturer Copes with Fashion, Style and Art Problems.” And in the third seminar, Ralph Abercrombie lectured on “The Renaissance of Art in American Business.”

On the very day of the stock market crash, October 29, 1929, the American Management Association was holding its annual convention in Detroit with E. Grosvenor Plowman, advisor on merchandising problems to the Associated Industries of Massachusetts, as the keynote speaker. “There was a time,” he said in his talk, “when our best things were hand-made, our poorest made in mass production. Cheap, nasty, poor taste things were turned out by the machine. The reverse seems to be beginning to be true today.” ([211], 16) The question-and-answer period that followed was particularly revealing of the current attitudes toward design. To the question of how much beauty should be put into products, Plowman responded that one must “sell beauty to the public.” The question of the conflict between traditionalists and modernists drew the response from him that the so-called modernistic style was the “offspring of the jazz age,” that “the modern style will remain as long as the machine in its present form is the dominant characteristic of world production, [changing] its outward form from year to year, just as women’s dress styles change,” and that manufacturers would have to learn to balance faddism and permanence. ([211], 4) The discussion that followed brought out the significant opinion that “almost all industries have an overcapacity from a production standpoint,” and that therefore “there are more goods than there are consumers” and all manufacturers in any given field were attempting “to sell much the same articles to the same consumer.” It was claimed that this situation was responsible for the emphasis on appearance for the sake of appearance. To the classical question of the difference between good and bad taste, Plowman responded that good taste was “outward evidence of inner culture and refinement,” and made a particular point of the fact that, despite European criticism of American products, they were moving toward “good design to fit in American life.” ([211], 6) He concluded the session with the observation that the day of period styling was over and that the manufacturers would have to pay attention to the modern ensemble styling, in which every element in a group was turned to the whole.

The Metropolitan Exhibition of Contemporary American Designcalled “The Architect and the Industrial Arts,” included this backyard garden by Ely Jacques Kahn. The furnishings were by Kahn with the artisan Walter Kantak, and the silver tea and coffee service was by Peter Muller-Munk. American Magazine of Art, April 1929.


Eliel Saarinen’s dining room at the Metropolitan show included furnishings and accessories designed by the Danish master himself’, though executed by others, as well as fabrics designed and made by his children. The Architect and the Industrial Arts (Metropolitan Museum of Arts catalog), 1929.


In general, the attendees at the AMA meeting agreed that art values had become essential to sales success. It was pointed out that, although the works of a simple radio cost only $50.00, “in an artistic cabinet it brings $150.00 currently, or $750.00 from the well-to-do buyer.” The only reference to education at the meeting was that schools were developing “a generation who is thinking in terms of appearance before cost and are not interested in durability at the price of ugliness.… It is art, not money, that ‘makes the mare go.’” ([211], 31) Other participants also attested to the value of product aesthetics. Stanley Needhouse of the L. C. Smith Typewriter Company noted that his company had introduced simple colors in its products in 1926 after years of shiny black. By 1929, he noted, only 2 percent of its typewriters were still in black and the green “Secretarial” model had become common in business offices. E. B. French reported that Egmont Arens’s 1928 redesign of his company’s Kitchen-Aid mixer, brought out originally in 1921, had cut its weight in half, reduced its price and improved its appearance; as a result, sales had increased 100 percent. One participant emphasized “the need of combining mass production with style appeal in order to sustain the structure of American business.” Another person said, with enthusiasm: “We are going through the golden age of modern industry. We are in the empire period of mass production.… Art in industry is the natural and logical climax of a century of mechanical invention and industrial progress.” ([211], 16) A more restrained opinion, from a man whose company manufactured noncompetitive products, favored industrial design not to increase sales but out of recognition “that the modern trend is toward a more pleasing appearance of utilitarian things.” ([211], 28)

It was at this AMA conference that the specter of deliberate product obsolescence appeared publicly for the first time, as a calculated reaction to the public’s affection for up-to-date design. It was debated whether “the encouragement of progressive obsolescence was a logical function of the stylist or the designer.” Lewis Mumford had already warned elsewhere in 1929 that the furniture industry had a goal of replacing furniture every 6 years by changing styles deliberately or by building products with limited durability. Plowman’s position was that the rapid pace of inventions in the United States had been originally responsible for inducing obsolescence of products before they were very old. However, now, “the burden of causing obsolescence of articles before they were worn out [had] to be transferred in part to the designer because … the mechanical development of certain things ]had] reached an approximate upper level of development.” ([211], 14)

As the United States plunged into the Depression, it became evident that the public could be stimulated to spend its hoarded and often limited money on a manufactured product only if it took on an entirely new appearance—one that was more than a simple shift in style and that promised better times ahead for those who had faith in America and American industry. This state of mind gave product design a sense of responsibility that helped to establish industrial design. Despite the once prevalent attitude that it was somehow disrespectful if not indecent to use aesthetic values for product promotion, it now became apparent that vernacular manufactured products had aesthetic dimensions that in their own way were as valid as were those once reserved for exclusive aristocratic products.

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