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"Industrial Strength Design: How Brooks Stevens Shaped Your World"
2003-06-07 until 2003-09-07
Milwaukee Art Museum
Milwaukee, WI, USA

he Milwaukee Art Museum will feature the exhibition Industrial Strength Design: How Brooks Stevens Shaped Your World, June 7 - September 7, 2003. The exhibition, organized by the Milwaukee Art Museum, highlights one of the most influential industrial designers of the 20th century and one of the most significant artistic personalities ever to work in Milwaukee. Virtually all Americans have been affected by Stevens' creations, ranging from the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile and the Miller Brewing logo to the wide-mouthed peanut butter jar.

"The Milwaukee Art Museum is proud to share the work of Brooks Stevens with Milwaukee," said Glenn Adamson, exhibition curator. "If you consider industrial design to be an art form, then Stevens was easily the most influential artist ever to work in Milwaukee. He was born here, and spent his whole career here. Moreover, his designs perfectly embody the blend of culture and industry that makes the city what it is today."

The exhibition is an appealing blend of the nostalgic, the familiar and the futuristic and provides a compelling retrospective of the evolution of American popular and material culture from the 1930s to the 70s. The exhibition presents four time periods covering Stevens' 60-year career. Because of his passion for vehicles, his innovative designs will serve as the visual and spatial anchors of the four sections, among them a customized 1930s Cord, a post-war Willys-Overland Jeepster, a Harley-Davidson Hydra-Glide, a prototype 1960s Studebaker, a six-wheeled Briggs and Stratton electric hybrid car, and an Allis-Chalmers tractor. The exhibition brings together objects with which visitors are intimately familiar, such as irons, radios, lawnmowers, logos and a jukebox, as well as designs that bring back memories of the 1950s and 60s - the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile and a model of the Olympian Hiawatha train for the Milwaukee Road. Brooks Stevens was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He attended the architecture school at Cornell University from 1929 to 1933, and then returned home to begin his career. His legacy is reflected in the following four aspects of his work: innovative styling, influence on transportation design, corporate branding and thought-provoking design philosophy.


Steven's design work included many "firsts" for the household, helping define the look of the modern home. His pioneer efforts include the first steam iron, the first modern clothes dryer and the first professionally designed mobile home. Stevens was the first to bring what he called "styling" to many ordinary consumer products. For example, he added a glass window to the front of his clothes dryer for Hamilton, turning what he called a "sheet metal box" into an exciting demonstration of the new technology.

Transportation Design

Nowhere did Stevens make a bigger mark than in transportation design. His innovative vehicles included the first streamlined tractor - the famous bright orange Allis-Chalmers model B, which farmers were proud to own and felt was "pretty enough to drive to church." Stevens' Olympian Hiawatha train, built in the late 1940s for the Milwaukee Road, was among the last and most innovative of the mid-century "streamliners" that defined luxury railway travel. In 1958 he also redesigned the endearing Oscar Mayer Wienermobile. Stevens was extremely influential regarding America's love affair with cars. He worked with more than 50 different automobile lines in the United States and Europe, including American Motors, Volkswagen, Studebaker, Willys-Overland (the original manufacturers of Jeep), Kaiser-Frazer and his family's own company, Excalibur. Corporate Branding Stevens was one of the first industrial designers to realize the power of brand identity. He strove to bring his practice into greater synergy with the goals of the companies he worked for and to promote the company name rather than his own. Stevens was especially interested in packaging, marketing and advertising as a way to influence the public to acquire newly styled products. One of his most famous designs, the Miller Brewing Company "soft cross" logo of 1953, has proved to be remarkably adaptable over the years.

Design Philosophy

The exhibition introduces the concept of design as a major factor in the development of material and popular culture. As the originator and promoter of the concept of "planned obsolescence," Stevens identified himself with the opportunities resulting from America's explosive post-war capitalist growth. To Stevens, planned obsolescence meant the creation of something a little more stylish, making the former version look unfashionable although still functional. He was interested in shaping the buying patterns of consumers by persuading them to buy something "a little newer, a little better and a little sooner than absolutely necessary." He designed with the next thing constantly in mind. Stevens often said that he considered himself "a businessman, an engineer and a stylist, in that order."

Brooks Stevens was astoundingly prolific. He had more than 2,000 clients during the course of his career and in 1993 claimed that the annual volume of sales of products he had influenced exceeded $300,000,000.


The Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design (MIAD) and the Stevens family donated the Brooks Stevens personal archives to the Milwaukee Art Museum in 1997. The archives provide an unusually complete record of an industrial designer and are a resource with few parallels in the country. Many of the original sketches, renderings, models and photographs are included in the exhibition. The Milwaukee Art Museum has made many of the objects from the archives available for viewing online at www.mam.org/brooksstevens. The online archives are sponsored by SBC Foundation and the Wisconsin Humanities Council, with funds from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Organization Industrial Strength Design: How Brooks Stevens Shaped Your World is organized by the Milwaukee Art Museum and curated by Glenn Adamson, curator of the Chipstone Foundation and MAM adjunct curator. An extensively illustrated book, co-published by MAM and MIT Press, accompanies the exhibition.


This exhibition is made possible through the generosity of the Brooks Stevens Family. Additional support has been provided by Miller Brewing Company, Kahler Slater Architects, David and Julia Uihlein Charitable Foundation, Rockwell Automation, SC Johnson Fund, Inc., Eaton Corporation, Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, Globe Foundation, Kopmeier Family Fund, Bombardier Motor Corp. of America, Harley-Davidson Foundation, Stratton Foundation, and Briggs & Stratton Corp. Foundation. Promotional support provided by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

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