The Henry Ford’s Model i learning framework identifies collaboration as a key habit of an innovator. When considering inspirational collaborators from our collection, Charles and Ray Eames immediately came to mind. So, as part of The Henry Ford’s Twitter Curator Chat series, I spent the afternoon of June 18th sharing how collaboration played an important role in Charles and Ray Eames’ design practice. Below are some of the highlights I shared.
First things first, Charles and Ray Eames were a husband-and-wife design duo—not brothers or cousins, as some think! Although Charles often received the lion’s share of credit, Charles and Ray were truly equal partners and co-designers. Charles explains, "whatever I can do, she can do better... She is equally responsible with me for everything that goes on here."
THF252258 / Advertising Poster for the Exhibit, "Connections: The Work of Charles and Ray Eames," 1976
So when you see early advertisements that don’t mention Ray Eames as designer alongside Charles, know that she was equally responsible for the work. Here’s one such advertisement from 1947.
THF266928 / Herman Miller Advertisement, June 30, 1947, "Now Available! The Charles Eames Collection...."
And here’s another from 1952. I could go on, but I think you get the point!
THF66372 / Wood, Plastic, Wire Chairs & Tables Designed by Charles Eames, circa 1952
For more on Ray’s background and vital role in the Eames Office, check out this article from the New York Times, as part of their recently-debuted “Mrs. Files” series.
Charles and Ray Eames were experimenting with plywood when America entered World War II. A friend from the Army Medical Corps thought their molded plywood concept could be useful for the war effort—specifically for a new splint for broken limbs. Metal splints then in use were heavy and inflexible. Charles and Ray created a molded plywood version and sent a prototype to the U.S. Navy. They worked together and created a workable—and beautiful—solution for the military.
THF65726 / Eames Molded Plywood Leg Splint, circa 1943
Out of these molded plywood experiments and products came the iconic chairs we know and love, like this lounge chair.
But Charles and Ray Eames wanted to make an affordable, complex-curved chair out of a single shell. The molded plywood checked some of their boxes, but the seat was not a single piece—not a single shell. They turned to other materials.
Around 1949, Charles brought a mock-up of a chair to John Wills, a boat builder and fiberglass fabricator, who created two identical prototypes. This is one of those prototypes—it lingered in Will's workshop, used for over four decades as a utility stool. The other became the basis for the Eames’ single-shell fiberglass chair.
THF134574 / Prototype Eames Fiberglass Chair, circa 1949
Charles and Ray recognized when their expertise fell short and found people in other fields to help them solve design problems. Their single-shell fiberglass chairs became a rounding success. Have you ever sat in one of them?
THF126897 / Advertising Postcard, "Herman Miller Furniture is Often Shortstopped on Its Way to the Destination...," 1955-1960
While those of us not mathematically inclined might have a hard time finding math fun, mathematicians truly think their craft is fun. Charles and Ray worked with these mathematicians to develop an interactive math exhibit that is playful.
THF169792 / Quotation Sign from Mathematica: A World of Numbers and Beyond Exhibition, 1960-1961
Charles Eames said of science and play, “When we go from one extreme to another, play or playthings can form a transition or sort of decompression chamber – you need it to change intellectual levels without getting a stomachache."
THF169740 / "Multiplication Cube" from Mathematica: A World of Numbers and Beyond Exhibition, 1960-1961
Charles and Ray Eames sought out expertise in others and worked together, understanding that everyone can bring something valuable to the table. This collaborative spirit allowed them to design deep and wide—solving in-depth problems across a multitude of fields.
Katherine White is Associate Curator, Digital Content, at The Henry Ford. For a deeper dive into this story, please check out her long-form article, “What If Collaboration is Design?”
The Jazz Bowl, originally called The New Yorker, about 1930. THF88363
Cowan Pottery of Rocky River, Ohio, was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy in early 1930 when a commission arrived from a New York gallery for a New York City-themed punch bowl. The client -- who preferred to remain unknown -- wanted the design to capture the essence of the vibrant city.
The assignment went to 24-year-old ceramic artist Viktor Schreckengost. His design would become an icon of America’s “Jazz Age” of the 1920s and 1930s.
The Artist and His Design The cosmopolitan Viktor Schreckengost was a perfect choice for this special commission. Schreckengost (1906-2008), born in Sebring, Ohio, had studied ceramics at the Cleveland Institute of Art in the late 1920s. He then spent a year in Vienna, where he was introduced to cutting-edge ideas in European art and design. When Schreckengost returned to Ohio, he took a part-time teaching position at his alma mater and spent the balance of his time as a designer at Cowan Pottery.
A jazz musician as well as an artist, Schreckengost had firsthand knowledge of New York, where he frequented jazz clubs during visits. To Schreckengost, jazz music represented the spirit of New York. He wanted to capture its excitement and energy in visual form on his bowl. Schreckengost later recalled: “I thought back to a magical night when a friend and I went to see [Cab] Calloway at the Cotton Club [in Harlem] ... the city, the jazz, the Cotton Club, everything ... I knew I had to get it all on the bowl.”
During its heyday in the 1920s and 30s, the Cotton Club was the place to listen to jazz in New York. THF125266
A “Jazz”-inscribed drumhead surrounded by musical instruments symbolize the Cotton Club. Organ pipes represent the grand theater organs that graced New York City’s movie palaces during the 1920s and 1930s. Schreckengost recalled that he was especially fond of Radio City Music Hall’s Wurlitzer organ. THF88363
A show in progress at Radio City Music Hall auditorium, 1936. THF125259
The images on the Jazz Bowl, then, may be read as a night on the town in New York City, starting out in bustling Times Square; then on to Radio City Music Hall to enjoy a show; next, a stroll uptown past a group of soaring skyscrapers to take in a sweeping view of the Hudson River; afterward, a stop at a cocktail party; and finally--topping off the evening with a visit to the famous Cotton Club.
The blinking traffic signals, and "Follies" and "Dance" signs on the Jazz Bowl portray the vitality of Times Square at night.THF88358
Schreckengost decorated the punch bowl with a deep turquoise blue background he described as “Egyptian,” since it recalled the shade found on ancient Egyptian pottery. According to Schreckengost, the penetrating blue immerses the viewer in the glow of the night air--and the sensation of mystery and magic of a night on the town.
This is the view of the New York skyline and the Hudson River that Schreckengost saw on his trips to the city and later interpreted in the Jazz Bowl. THF125264g
Skyscrapers, a luxury ocean liner, cocktails on a tray, and liquor bottles represent a night on the town.THF88364
The Famous Client In early 1931, the finished bowl was delivered to New York. The pleased patron who had commissioned it immediately ordered two additional punch bowls. To Schreckengost’s delight, the patron turned out to be Eleanor Roosevelt, then First Lady of New York State. Mrs. Roosevelt had commissioned the bowl to celebrate her husband Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1930 reelection as governor. She presumably placed one bowl in the Governor’s Residence in Albany, one in the Roosevelts’ home in Hyde Park, and one in their Manhattan apartment. When the Roosevelts moved into the White House in 1933, after Franklin D. Roosevelt’s election as President, one of the bowls made its way there as well.
Eleanor Roosevelt commissioned the Jazz Bowl to celebrate her husband’s 1930 reelection as governor of New York. THF208655
Mass Producing the Jazz Bowl? Immediately after the Jazz Bowl was delivered to Eleanor Roosevelt, the New York City gallery placed an order for fifty identical bowls. Unfortunately, Schreckengost’s process was laborious--it took Cowan Pottery’s artisans an entire day to produce the incised decoration on Mrs. Roosevelt’s version. Cowan Pottery sought to mass produce the punch bowl, simplifying the original design to create a second and third version the company originally marketed as “The New Yorker.”
The Henry Ford’s bowl is the third version, known informally as “The Poor Man’s Jazz Bowl.” It is slightly smaller than the original and the decoration is raised, rather than scratched into the surface. No one knows exactly, but perhaps fifty of the original version, only a few of the unsuccessful second version, and possibly twenty of the third version of the Jazz Bowl were made in total. The whereabouts of many of the Jazz Bowls are not known, though they appear periodically on the art market and are acquired by eager collectors. Even the present location of the bowls made for Eleanor Roosevelt seems to be a mystery.
Jazz Bowl as Icon The “Poor Man’s Jazz Bowl” didn’t save the Cowan Pottery from the ravages of the Great Depression -- by the end of 1931, the company folded. Viktor Schreckengost moved on, continuing to teach at the Cleveland Institute of Art and pursuing freelance design for several firms. His Jazz Bowl would come to be recognized as a visual icon of the Jazz Age in America.
Charles Sable is Curator of Decorative Arts at The Henry Ford.This post originally ran as part of our Pic of the Month series.
As with many entrepreneur stories, this one begins with immigrants coming to the United States to pursue the American dream. That dream was to create stylish, attractive silver housewares, but a national economic crisis forced them to get creative with a new material – aluminum – and resulted in the creation of the Everlast Metal Products Corporation. This blog highlights the company’s nearly 30-year history.
Everlast Aluminum Advertisement, “Yours From Everlast The Finest – Bar None!” 1947 THF125124
When the Great Depression gripped the nation during the 1930s, demand for consumer products fell as many people struggled to get by in the faltering economy. Up to this point, silver had been the primary material used for creating fashionable housewares. With few buyers able to purchase silver products, manufacturers turned to aluminum. One of the most prolific manufacturers of aluminum giftware was the Everlast Metal Products Corporation of New York City.
Everlast Aluminum Advertisement, “Everlast Hand-Forged Aluminum, So Beautiful – So Versatile!” 1948-1949 THF295633
Everlast founders Louis Schnitzer and his brother-in-law, Nathan Gelfman, were experienced metalworkers in their homeland of Kiev, Russia before immigrating to the United States in the 1910s. In the early 1920s, the two men created a silver housewares business in New York City called Western Silver Works, Inc., where they polished and plated silver. By 1930, Schnitzer and Gelfman began producing silver- and chrome-plated items under the name Western Silver Novelty Company.
Affected by the decline of buyers for silver products during the Great Depression, Schnitzer and Gelfman decided to adapt, attempting to work with the modern and more affordable metal, aluminum. Aluminum was more costly than gold from its discovery in the 1800s until the first smelting methods were invented in 1886. Inexpensive aluminum cookware and kitchen utensils were manufactured in the 1890s, but poor manufacturing quality made customers skeptical of the new material. During the first World War, aluminum’s light weight and rust-resistant properties made the metal ideal for use in soldiers’ canteens and military vehicles. From this, aluminum gained wider acceptance, and consumer confidence in the metal led to a surge in aluminum products in the next few decades.
In 1932, Schnitzer and Gelfman formed Everlast Metal Products Corporation and began producing high-quality, hand-forged aluminum giftware. Hammered aluminum giftware products were, at once, both “old” and “new.” In an era of growing uniformity via factory production, the “made by hand” aspect of these products held an aesthetic appeal for consumers, while their aluminum material made them seem decidedly modern.
Everlast “Forged” Gravy Boat, 1938-1950 THF125117 Everlast’s first product line, “Forged Giftware,” was introduced in 1933 and continued until the company closed. Featuring Colonial Revival- and Neoclassical Revival-inspired designs, this line – with items like this gravy boat – appealed to customers with traditional tastes.
Schnitzer, the creative force behind the company, recognized the necessity of increased marketing to promote Everlast’s products. Around 1935, Jack Orenstein was brought on as National Sales Manager. Orenstein, skilled in merchandising techniques and in building relationships with clients, was essential in the success of the company. Already successful in the giftware industry before joining the company, Orenstein organized a highly effective sales force which gave Everlast a national presence in the decorative aluminum giftware market.
Everlast “Forged” Tray, 1938-1947 THF144107 Through innovative manufacturing and creative marketing, Everlast was able to expand its “Forged Giftware” product line. Instead of creating new product forms each year, the company combined new handles and design motifs with previous years’ product forms to create “new” pieces. This cost-effective method for product development enabled Everlast to introduce new items regularly while also keeping up with rapidly changing design trends. The two trays pictured here have the same form, but the second piece now features handles and a different motif.
Everlast Aluminum Advertisement, “Yours from Everlast for ‘Dining Out’ at Home!” THF295629
When the United States entered World War II in 1942, the production of aluminum for consumer goods was halted to focus on the production of military equipment. While some aluminum houseware companies struggled to adapt, Everlast rose to the challenge, securing government contracts and upgrading their facilities to produce military equipment under the name Browning Precision Tool Co.
Throughout the war, Everlast created partnerships with various businesses in the floral, woodworking, and ceramic industries, enabling the company to remain in the public awareness, despite not producing consumer goods itself. As the war was winding down, Everlast turned its focus back to manufacturing consumer products. The upgrades made to its facilities during wartime put the company in a better position to manufacture mass-produced giftware in a more cost-effective manner – just in time for increased consumer spending during a time of post-war prosperity.
Everlast “Bali Bamboo” Ice Bucket, 1953-1959 THF125114 Everlast’s most successful line, “Bali Bamboo,” was a direct result of America’s fascination with the South Pacific following World War II. More than 60 different items, produced between 1946 and 1959, featured raised bamboo shoots and a satin finish. Together these features provided the added advantage of hiding scratches.
Following the war, Everlast resumed its advertising and marketing strategies. To increase its accessibility to consumers in the Midwest, the company also established a showroom in Chicago in 1946. Unfortunately, despite the initial post-war momentum for aluminum housewares, the industry and company struggled throughout the 1950s, experiencing setbacks that ultimately led to its demise.
Everlast “Silvercrest” Tumbler, circa 1952 THF125119 In 1952, Everlast introduced a line called “Silvercrest,” featuring a highly polished aluminum finish. By this time, as a cost-cutting measure, the products’ “hand-forged” hammer marks were actually produced by a machine.
The first blow to the Everlast company came in 1951 when the Korean War initiated a restriction on the use of aluminum for consumer goods once again. Soon after, Jack Orenstein left the company to pursue a career in the new era of modern housewares – ceramics and plastics. Compared to these materials, which were colorful and lacked ornamentation, aluminum was beginning to be seen as old-fashioned and outdated. Despite several attempts to reinvent its products, Everlast floundered, failing to revive consumer interest in aluminum housewares.
Everlast “Modern” Three-Tier Tidbit Tray, circa 1953 THF125116 In an attempt to reinvent its products amidst the growing popularity of plastics, Everlast introduced a contemporary line in 1953 called, “Everlast Modern.”
Like other manufacturers of the time, the company also chose to forego quality in favor of machine-made, mass-produced goods. This ultimately over-saturated the housewares market and crushed any interest in “hand-forged” household items. After nearly thirty years in business, Louis Schnitzer and Nathan Gelfman closed Everlast in 1961.
The two men from Russia had forged their American dream, adapting early on to pursue their entrepreneurial vision. It can be said that advances in technology and rapidly changing consumer interests secured the downfall of the aluminum industry. It cannot be said, however, that Everlast’s founders went down without a fight. Though their entrepreneurial journey came to an end in 1961, the founders experienced undeniable success during their company’s thirty-year history to become one of the eminent manufacturers of aluminum housewares and giftware.
To see more artifacts from the Everlast Metal Products Corporation, visit our Digital Collections.
Samantha Johnson is Project Curator for the William Davidson Foundation Initiative for Entrepreneurship at The Henry Ford. This post was adapted from the Pic of the Month from April 2007, written by Donna Braden and Kira Macyda. Special thanks to Constance Levi for sharing her knowledge of the company and for reviewing this content.
Left side of J.R. Jones General Store featuring large grocery “department” and a cigar case on the counter up front. (THF53774)
During the 1880s, proprietor James R. Jones would have welcomed customers to this general merchandise store—now in Greenfield Village but originally located in the rural village of Waterford, Michigan. Jones sold everything here that townspeople, local farm families, or visiting out-of-towners might want—from groceries to fabrics to farm tools to fishing poles. The store also served as a community gathering place, for customers to exchange news, socialize, and pick up mail.
Choices between similar products even in country stores like this one were quite plentiful. Decisions by shoppers depended upon such things as their family background, gender, financial means, and personal values.
Here’s a sampling of some of the products that 1880s customers to the J.R. Jones store might have purchased.
Sugar barrel (THF176665)
Sugar (approximate price: .08-.12/lb)
In a study of general store accounts from the era, customers purchased sugar more often than any other single product. It was, of course, used in cooking and baking, but large quantities of it were necessary for preserving fresh seasonal produce in the days before refrigeration.
Sugar was available in many grades, from “A” (the highest) to brown to “X” (the lowest). Sugar was available in bulk and, unless a storekeeper stocked several grades, customers had little choice in the quality of sugar they obtained at the local store.
Store canisters for tea (THF176669)
Tea (approximate price: .45-.75/lb)
The Grocer’s Companion (1884) called tea the “foremost of all beverages in reference to its invigorating and restorative qualities.” Tea came in a tremendous variety of grades and types in the late 19th century, and store canisters were often specifically designed to hold the various types. They came from only one species of evergreen shrub or small tree. The differences came in how the tea was grown and how the leaves were treated. All the tea in the J.R. Jones General Store came from China, which was considered the center of the tea industry at the time. This included:
“Black” teas, which underwent a fermentation process before drying.These included Oolong (strong and pungent, made from young leaves) and English Breakfast (in the 19th century, a blend that came from China, but was popularized in England).
“Green” teas, which were submitted immediately upon gathering to a high temperature in iron pans.These included Gunpowder (made from young leaves, fragrant and pungent taste with a greenish hue and shaped like round small shot); and Imperial (like Gunpowder but with larger leaves).
Cans of tomatoes (THF176668)
Canned tomatoes (approximate price: .15/can)
Tomatoes were one of the most popular commercially available canned food products. By the 1880s, improved manufacturing techniques in canning had raised the production of canned goods to a major American industry, making all manner of fruits, vegetables, and meats available year-round to just about everyone but the very poor.
Canned goods, however, had many critics. Some claimed that the food tasted “tinny,” that it was unhealthy, and that products were adulterated to add weight (this was before the Pure Food & Drug Act of 1906). In some cases, women also could be looked down upon for relying on canned goods rather than canning and preserving themselves. Nevertheless, the presence of canned goods in store accounts and advertisements attests to their popularity.
Packages of Magic Yeast and One Spoon Baking Powder (THF176670)
Magic Yeast and One Spoon Baking Powder (approximate price: .15-.25/box)
Despite the introduction of several different brands of baking powder during this time, yeast still remained the most popular bread-leavening agent. Many women made their own yeast and numerous recipes appeared in cookbooks. As for the commercially processed product, compressed yeast introduced by Gaff, Fleischman & Company in the 1860s, was considered the purest and most dependable form of yeast.
But many brands of packaged yeast cakes and powders, including this Magic Yeast, vied for competition in the market. Critics of these commercial yeast products claimed that their vitality could be easily destroyed by heat, cold or movement, and that they could make bread sour or moldy. Still, they were much more convenient than the homemade.
Baking powder, a leavening agent usually made from a proportion of cream of tartar and carbonate of soda, was fairly new on the scene in the 1880s. It saved careful measuring of one or both of these ingredients in baked goods, and saved hours of time over yeast in making bread. Dozens of baking powders, like this One Spoon brand, were available on the market.
But baking powder, more than just about any other cooking ingredient of the late 19th century, raised suspicion and complaints among housekeepers and advice writers alike. High cost, poor performance, and leaving a bitter taste in foods comprised some of these complaints. But even more alarm was raised by accusations of adulteration—that is, the addition of impure ingredients like lime, earth, or alum, which could actually injure people’s health. Fortunately, most of these problems were worked out in the next decade or so, when the advent of “quick breads” really began. It was the adventurous housewife that tried baking powder in the 1880s.
When enamel-coated ironware was introduced in 1874, it was marketed as light (compared to cast iron), handsome (the gray mottled surface was considered picturesque and elegant), wholesome (wouldn’t rust or corrode like tinware and didn’t contain poisonous arsenic, lead, or antimony like cheap imitations), and durable (actually, it chipped easily but 3 out of 4 points in its favor weren’t bad!). Manufacturers of this so-called granite ironware, or graniteware (because of its visual appearance like granite), optimistically claimed that these goods would entirely supplant the “common and unserviceable” stamped tinware. (Actually, it was aluminum that did this in the early 20th century.) In the 1890s, enamel-coated steel replaced much of the earlier granite ironware.
Coffee, as an accompaniment to breakfast and other meals, was an extremely popular beverage at this time. The most common way of preparing it was in an open boiler on a cookstove.
Package of Rising Sun Stove Polish (THF176674)
Package of Rising Sun Stove Polish (approximate price: .08-.10/pkg)
This product would have been used in conjunction with blacking to clean and give luster to cast-iron stoves. It was mixed with a liquid agent (e.g., turpentine or soap-suds) for application to the stove. This was a crucial task for cleaning cast-iron stoves, but it was also marketed as necessary to maintaining a tasteful home. Rising Sun Stove Polish was very aggressive in its marketing. Advertisements boasted that it was “the oldest and most reliable stove polish in the world” and that it would “keep stoves looking good and operating efficiently.”
Case of boxes of cigars (THF176666)
Cigars (approximate price: .04-.08 apiece)
During the 1880s, cigar-smoking was extremely popular, especially among men who wanted to appear prosperous and ambitious. Unlike smoking tobacco (for pipes) and plugs of chewing tobacco, where production was monopolized by a few large national manufacturers, cigars were still produced at thousands of small, local manufactories across the country as well as in Havana, Cuba. Detroit had several cigar factories. As a result of this great number of producers, cigars came in a daunting array of sizes, colors, grades, and flavors. To the uninitiated, sometimes only the eye-catching images on their boxes in the store’s showcase distinguished one brand from another.
Packages of Ayer’s Hair Vigor (THF176671)
Ayer’s Hair Vigor (approximate price: .50)
The hairstyles of the 1880s required an abundant supply of healthy hair in order to make it stand up as high and look as natural as possible. Hair dressings and restorers abounded, with Ayer’s Hair Vigor among the best known.
This product claimed to promote hair growth, restore color and vitality to faded or gray hair, and render the hair soft, youthful, and glossy. It contained cream of tartar (removed the reddish color in hair caused by rust from iron-rich well water); glycerin (a moisturizer); lead acetate (which claimed to remove the gray hair); and a caustic soda (a.k.a. sodium hydroxide or lye), which claimed to be a hair relaxer or straightener. The colorful images of young women with long, luxurious hair on Ayer’s trade cards and packages must have encouraged older women to try this product as well.
Medical journals attacked Ayer’s Hair Vigor as unsafe and denounced its manufacturer as deceiving the public. But the product’s allure persisted, and certainly J.R. Jones and his customers would have been unaware of any safety warnings from such journals.
Jars of Woodworth’s Ursina Bear Grease (THF176672)
Pomades, oils, and dressings for keeping hair in place and sometimes for promoting hair growth were popular men’s grooming aids in the late 19th century. In fact, that is the major reason why ornamental lace tidies and antimacassars were so common—to protect the surfaces of chairs and sofas from these often greasy concoctions. This particular product claimed to be “real bear grease procured from the Rocky Mountains and very carefully refined.”
3 varieties of castor sets (THF176678)
Castor set (approximate price: $1.50-2.25)
In the 1880s, silver-plated castor sets frequently formed the centerpiece of the dining table for middle-class families, reflecting the families’ good taste and economic status. Castor sets would have been a necessity in places like hotels and boardinghouses, where large groups of people dined—each with different tastes in food. They were available in a tremendous variety of styles and prices. Most contained two to six bottles, generally for holding pepper, mustard, oil, and vinegar, and sometimes other spices.
Boxes of men’s and women’s collars (THF176676)
Men’s and women’s collars (approximate price: .10-.30)
A white shirt with a white collar and cuffs marked the man as someone of means, or at least on his way up. But clean collars and cuffs were always a necessity, no matter what color and style shirt a man wore. Enter replaceable collars and cuffs.
Men’s collars of the 1880s were plain in style and were made of paper, celluloid, or linen. Collars were high and tight, either “standing” (straight up around the neck) or “turned outward” (tips or side edges turned outward or over and slightly down), complementing the coats which buttoned high during this time. Paper and celluloid collars were considered disposable, while linen collars could be washed and ironed and kept fresh for a period of time.
Women’s dresses were time-consuming to make and costly to have someone else make. Purchasing a new collar was an inexpensive way of freshening or updating the look of a dress that had been around for a while. Ladies’ collars were detachable and could be used multiple times on various garments. They ranged in price, from fairly plain linen collars to intricate lace ones.
Men’s derbies and straw hats (THF176675)
Men’s hats (approximate price: .50-1.75 for straw; $1.00-2.50 for derby)
While top, or silk, hats might have been worn by a wealthy city gentleman going to a fancy affair, Waterford men would have generally worn a bowler hat, supplemented by a low-crowned straw hat for summer occasions. The hard felt bowler (usually referred to as a derby in the United States) was a staple, durable hat that could have been worn all day long—even at work—and was generally considered a symbol of respectability.
Also during this time, the hat industry aimed to persuade every man to purchase a new straw hat at the beginning of every summer. Straw hats tended to be water-resistant to hold up even on rainy days.
Bolts of fabric (THF176677)
Fabric (approximate price: .05 for print to 1.30 for silk)
Women’s clothing was not ready-made yet, so all dresses had to be fashioned at home or by a seamstress. Bolts of fabric and trims lined numerous shelves of general stores like this one. The bolts of fabric in this store include:
“Print”– a general term for a fabric onto which patterns were printed or applied by dyes after it was machine-woven.Available in a huge variety of designs, it was about the cheapest and most durable, but least elegant, dress fabric available.
Linen – One of the oldest textile fabrics known, this would have been imported.It was more elegant and fashionable than cotton, but also quite a bit more expensive and harder to maintain.
Wool – A very warm and durable fabric, produced in mills in the eastern United States.(In fact, the fleece from sheep raised on farms around Waterford was shipped to these mills.)Wool was very serviceable for winter clothing.
Silk – Noted for its resiliency and elasticity, this would have been imported.It was quite a bit more expensive than wool, and dresses made of this material would have been elegant and stylish.
Donna Braden is Senior Curator and Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford.
PROFESSION: Designer (Although he preferred to be called "searcher")
INNOVATION: The Action Office II System (1968) and the movable "coherent structures” of the Co/Struc System designed for hospitals (1971)
ATTRIBUTES: Empathetic observer, serial problem solver, unorthodox thinker
You could be forgiven if you aren’t familiar with the work of Robert Propst. After all, if his designs were working as he intended, they simply disappeared.
Propst became director of the Herman Miller Research Division (HMRD) in 1960, setting up shop in a small concrete building in Ann Arbor, Mich. The founder of Herman Miller, D.J. DePree, saw potential in Propst’s ambitious thinking and hired him to broaden the company’s product range. Very few guidelines were in place at HMRD: Nothing should be connected to military use, no furniture designs — and whatever was designed should simply “be useful.”
Robert Propst Outside Herman Miller Research Division Office, Ann Arbor, Michigan, July 1964. THF137214
Deliberately choosing a building more than 150 miles away from Herman Miller’s headquarters in Zeeland, Mich., Propst exercised his freedom to research without the distraction of corporate meetings. For every idea he had that went into production, hundreds more were filed away.
Two of Propst’s most impactful projects were holistic environments designed for high-impact workplaces: the improved Action Office II system (1968) and the movable “coherent structures” of the Co/Struc system designed for hospitals (1971).
In Propst’s mind, offices had become chaotic wastelands. Cobbled together furniture, nonergonomic chairs and an invasion of technology onto ad hoc surfaces. Action Office — a modular system of free standing panel walls — could be fluidly arranged into nooks for working, conference areas and other purpose-driven needs. An idealistic vision for the birth of the modern office cubicle.
Propst wasn’t always a designer of “things” but of situations. He attacked issues from the reverse, finding clues in the algorithms of human behavior working in high-stakes spaces. How did people move while working? Where was time being spent? Wasted? How can we support safety? Privacy? Collaboration? The physical solutions he engineered encouraged ideas of access, mobility and efficiency. His modular approach to office landscapes was intended to have a 1 + 1 = 3 effect. Which is to say that by implementing physical change, “knowledge” workers could then springboard off an improved relationship with their workspaces, which were suddenly more hospitable to launching new ideas, productive workflows and transformative projects.
Action Office Project Drawing by Robert Propst, April 6, 1964. THF241708
Did You Know
- The proliferation of the office cubicle is almost single-handedly due to the introduction of the Action Office II system in 1968. Unfortunately, the mobile aspect of Action Office became rooted to the floor, quite literally. Large businesses filled their buildings with Action Office (or its various knock-offs) to create Dilbertesque “cubicle farms.”
- The first version of Action Office was conceived by Robert Propst and designed by George Nelson in 1964, but sales were lackluster. Corporate managers worried about the porous borders being offered to their staff, now called “knowledge workers,” and the cost was simply too high. Propst returned to the drawing board alone for AO2.
- Robert Propst did not like to be referred to as a designer. He also didn’t like the term “researcher,” because it implied looking backward. His ideal description for his activities was “searcher.”
Kristen Gallerneaux is Curator of Curator of Communication & Information Technology at The Henry Ford. This post was adapted from an article in the January-May 2019 issue of The Henry Ford Magazine.
The Nauga, a colorful, horned, happy-looking creature native to the island of Sumatra, was once hunted to near-extinction. They were hunted for sport, but more often for their smooth and durable leather-like hide – Naugahyde, as it’s generally known. However, hunting a Nauga for its hide is quite unnecessary -- they painlessly shed their hide at least once each year for use in furniture, clothing, and more.
Wait a minute.
You’ve never heard of the Nauga?
All right, you’ve got me. The Nauga is a fictional creature. It was an advertising gimmick created to help Uniroyal Engineered Products promote their soft vinyl-coated fabric that feels like leather but is more durable. The product, Naugahyde, was used primarily as upholstery in the furniture industry, but also was used for clothing, shoes, accessories and other home goods. Its success spawned many imitators. In the mid-1960s, Uniroyal hired legendary ad-man George Lois and designer Kurt Weihs to craft an advertising campaign to differentiate their product from the competition. And what did Lois and Weihs create? The Nauga.
A humorous ad campaign featured the Nauga engaged with the world – as the life of the party, as a child’s play companion, adorned in splattered paint from a craft went awry, even as a vacationer readying for travel with golf clubs in hand. These advertisements emphasized the suitability of Naugahyde upholstery for all areas of life, claiming it could be indistinguishable from other fabrics like leather, tweed, or silk -- but “last about ten times as long.” An image of the Nauga found its way onto hang-tags that accompanied all genuine Naugahyde products. Many of the ad campaigns ended with this directive: “If you can’t find the Nauga, find another store.”
The advertising worked – at least in that it caused excitement over the mysterious Nauga creature. Allegedly, some people even believed Naugas were real creatures and became concerned about inhumane treatment as the use of Naugahyde boomed in the late 1960s. A New York comic, Al Rosenberg, invented a fictional character named Earl C. Watkins who spearheaded the “Save the Nauga” project to protect the species from extinction, adding that a “herd of Naugas is often mistaken for a roomful of furniture.'' The Nauga even made an appearance on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Nauga dolls, like this one in The Henry Ford’s collection, were also produced to promote the brand. In fact, if you visit the Naugahyde website today, you can still “Adopt a Nauga,” which, according to the company’s webpage, are bred on a ranch outside Uniroyal’s headquarters in Stoughton, Wisconsin.
It isn’t unusual for companies to go to great lengths to endear a product to the public. These efforts have often yielded highly creative and memorable results, like Oscar Mayer’s Wienermobile, the Heinz pickle charms and pins, or the Pets.com Sock Puppet, to name a few. While the Nauga creature has faded nearly into obscurity, the leather-like product it represents lives on…perhaps even as the upholstery of the chair you’re currently sitting on.
Katherine White, Associate Curator, Digital Content, at The Henry Ford, recently adopted a Nauga doll of her very own.
Pioneering modern designer Ruth Adler Schnee’s bold textiles have broad appeal. Her furnishing and drapery fabrics were favorites of the everyday consumer and leading architects alike, including Minoru Yamasaki, Paul Rudolph, and Buckminster Fuller. Adler Schnee’s textiles, which feature vivid color and abstracted organic forms, added whimsy and depth to the sleek, minimal aesthetic popular in the mid-century period.
Learn more about Ruth's work in this video, and see examples of her designs in this expert set.
Alexander Girard was, among many things, a textile designer who worked for Herman Miller starting in 1952. Throughout his time with Herman Miller, Girard created hundreds of textiles. One of the textiles he designed can be seen on the Protzmann Low Back Armchair on display at The Henry Ford in the Fully Furnished exhibit.
The Henry Ford is lucky enough to have a collection of Alexander Girard’s textile sample cards from his time at Herman Miller and I was able to have an internship focused on this collection. The experience taught me the valuable skills needed to work with museum collections. Not only was I shown how to process and organize the textile samples, I was also given a lesson in conservation and handling of these objects from the museum’s paper conservator.
For the internship, I was given the task of organizing these sample cards. I was to take these sample cards from the drawers that they were being housed in and sort them. First, I had them sorted by the year each was created, then the name of the pattern within that year. After a drawer of these textile samples were sorted in this way, I input them into the computer with all of the relevant information found on the back of the card. They were then sorted into Manila folders and from there into boxes.
This collection will be an incredible resource to both Alexander Girard fans and scholars. This project was given to me to help make this collection as accessible as possible to those who want to research his work and just also to look at the incredible textiles he created. Alexander Girard was an innovator and made patterns that were completely different than anything else seen in that time.
Katie Osborn completed an internship at The Henry Ford in early 2018 for credit towards her Bachelor of Arts Degree in History at Western Michigan University. She graduates this spring.
"Seedy Weeds," Fabric Sample Designed by Ruth Adler Schnee, 1953. THF169002
Walking through the House Industries "A Type of Learning" exhibit in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation you're sure to notice the attention given to printed textiles, from kitchen tea towels to handmade dolls.
The textiles created by the House Industries team are just one of their popular offerings and make us think about other well-known textiles that reside within our collections.
Another set of bold textiles that have broad appeal are those created by pioneering modern designer Ruth Adler Schnee. Her furnishing and drapery fabrics were favorites of the everyday consumer and leading architects alike, including Minoru Yamasaki, Paul Rudolph, and Buckminster Fuller. Adler Schnee’s textiles, which feature vivid color and abstracted organic forms, added whimsy and depth to the sleek, minimal aesthetic popular in the mid-century period.
Take a look at a few of Adler Schnee's pieces in The Henry Ford collections in this expert set.
"Art Deco" refers to the artistic movement prominent during the inter-war period. The 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris was the launching point for the movement, as well as the inspiration for its name. The aesthetic was widely adopted, both geographically and across disciplines.
In this expert set, Art Deco in the Museum, you'll see examples of art deco artifacts that are on display in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, like this 1937 LaSalle Coupe found in Driving America.