Cover image for Industrial strength design : how Brooks Stevens shaped your world
Industrial strength design : how Brooks Stevens shaped your world
Adamson, Glenn.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Milwaukee, Wis. : Milwaukee Art Museum ; Cambridge, Mass. : MIT Press, [2003]

Physical Description:
xi, 219 pages : illustrations, (some color), portraits ; 29 cm
General Note:
Published to accompany an exhibition held at the Milwaukee Art Museum, June 7-Sept. 7, 2003.
Added Corporate Author:

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
TS140.S74 A33 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks-Oversize

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Industrial Strength Design: How Brooks Stevens Shaped Your World is a long overdue introduction to the work of visionary industrial designer Brooks Stevens (1911-1995). Believing that an industrial designer "should be a businessman, an engineer, and a stylist, in that order," Stevens created thousands of ingenious and beautiful designs for industrial and household products -- including a clothes dryer with a window in the front, a wide-mouthed peanut butter jar, and the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile. ("There's nothing more aerodynamic than a wiener," he explained.) He invented a precursor to the SUV by turning a Jeep into a station wagon after World War II, and streamlined steam irons so that they resembled aircraft. It was Brooks Stevens who, in 1954, coined the phrase "planned obsolescence," defining it as "instilling in the buyer the desire to own something a little newer, a little better, a little sooner than is necessary." This concept has since been blamed for everything from toasters that stop working to today's throwaway culture, but Stevens was simply recognizing the intentionally ephemeral nature of a designer's work. Asked once to name his favorite design, he replied, "none, because every one would have to be restudied for the tastes of tomorrow."

This book, which accompanied an exhibit at the Milwaukee Art Museum (the repository for Stevens's papers), includes 250 illustrations of designs by Stevens and his firm, many in color. Glenn Adamson, exhibition curator, contributes detailed studies of individual designs. John Heskett, Kristina Wilson, and Jody Clowes contribute interpretive essays. Also included are a description of the Brooks Stevens Archive and several key writings by Brooks Stevens.

Author Notes

Glenn Adamson is curator at the Chipstone Foundation, Milwaukee.

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

Dismissing the "modernist snobs" of his era, Stevens (1911-1995) concentrated instead on what in style was salable, and more or less revolutionized American mid-century industrial design and packaging: the station wagon, the clothes dryer window, the wide-mouthed peanut-butter jar, the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile and the "Skylark" (or "boomerang") graphic for Formica are just a few of his or his eponymous firm's contributions. This book accompanies an exhibit at the Milwaukee Art Museum, but it is uncommonly (and fittingly) well designed and visually compelling itself. Along with the three other scholars who contribute essays, Chipstone Foundation curator Adamson has a good feel for the social and economic character of the '40s and '50s ("Stevens' Best Years," as one chapter heading puts it) and describes the designs clearly and with sympathy: "This logo was an ingenious creation in itself, in which the 3 and the m were the same shape but rotated ninety degrees from each other." Many pages are a period-evoking cyan rather than white, giving good contrast to the 250 photos and illustrations (40 in color). Anyone who lived in the United States between 1940 and 1975 will recognize the world of this book. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Choice Review

Adamson (curator, Chipstone Foundation, Milwaukee) thoroughly describes the life and designs of Brooks Stevens. Stevens, one of the founding industrial designers in the US, was best known for coining the term "planned obsolescence." Stevens's designs are described within the context of popular culture and occasionally compared to other founding industrial designers. The book is arranged chronologically, beginning with his streamlined designs of the 1930s and ending with the boxy designs of the 1970s. The list of the companies and products that Stevens designed is extensive and significantly impacted the look of popular culture in the middle of the 20th century. He designed for many major companies from the Midwest, including Harley Davidson, Jeep, AMC, Kaiser-Frazer, Studebaker, 3M, Evinrude, Mirro, Lawn-boy, Miller Brewing, and Oscar Mayer--to name a few. The book contains 250 illustrations, including design drawings, product glamour photographs, and behind-the-scenes snapshots. Most of the photographs are high quality black and white; about a third are in full color. This book will appeal to those interested in popular culture of the 20th century, designers and design historians, as well as automotive enthusiasts. Footnotes. ^BSumming Up: Highly recommended. All levels. S. Visser Purdue University

Table of Contents

John HeskettKristina WilsonJody Clowes
PrefaceDavid Gordon
AcknowledgmentsGlenn Adamson
The Desire for the New: The Context of Brooks Stevens's Careerp. 1
Brooks Stevens, the Man in Your Life: Shaping the Domestic Sphere, 1935-1950p. 9
Brooks Stevens: "Ego-Inspiring Styling" and the American Dreamp. 23
Career and DesignsGlenn Adamson
1 Less than Perfect: Early Influences and First Designs, 1911-1934p. 33
2 The Right Place at the Right Time: Becoming an Industrial Designer in the Midwest, 1935-1940p. 43
3 The Prophet of the Profit: Stevens in Wartime, 1941-1945p. 65
4 The Organization Man: Stevens's Best Years, 1946-1955p. 81
5 The Enfant Terrible of Industrial Design: Planned Obsolescence and Other Crimes Against Modernism, 1956-1978p. 129
6 The Sheer Who made Milwaukee Famous: Reluctant Retirement, 1978-1994p. 179
Appendix 1

p. 189

Brooks Stevens Staff, 1935-1980
Appendix 2

p. 195

Writings By Brooks Stevens
Appendix 3

p. 209

The Brooks Stevens Archives at the Milwaukee Art Museum
Bibliographyp. 210
Indexp. 212