Bel Geddes - The Forgotten Genius

A prolific American designer, inventor and futurist dubbed by many as the father of streamlining – Bel Geddes’s sleek and practical designs helped to shape the image of modern America, from household objects to hypothetical amphibious cars and floating airports.

Called everything from “the Grand Master of Modernism,” “Inventor of the Jet Age” and “little Leonardo” to “the P.T. Barnum of industrial design” – Bel Geddes laid the groundwork for 20th century design – and his influence is rife around the world today. Your auto appliances, even the psychological use of sound in the film or play you just saw, can be traced back to his influence.

A ninth-grade dropout from a small town in the USA, Bel Geddes (1893-1958) began as a highly successful art director, spent years revolutionising Broadway – the sets, lighting, scenery, even the conguration of the theatres themselves – and then set off for his third career. In 1927, recognising that industry was “the defining spirit... the driving force” of the age, he opened the first of office dedicated to the melding of art and commerce; it was the start of a new profession that eventually became known as industrial design.

Read more in Issue 35...

Manhattan skyscraper-shaped cocktail set in chrome-plated brass, designed in 1934, and manufactured by Revere Copper and Brass Co. Cocktails were an important part of American culture throughout the 20th century. In the late 1970s and early 80s for example, television shows like Dallas and Dynasty used cocktails as punctuation for plotlines. (Incidentally, Ellie Ewing was played by Norman’s daughter - Barbara Bel Geddes!)

Woo Gilchrist