Monday, August 31, 2015

1930s Speed Lines

As the fields of industrial design and automobile styling were ramping up in the 1930s, streamlining became something of a fad. Later observers giggled at streamlining of non-mobile objects such as pencil sharpeners that never required aerodynamic efficiency for basic operation. Perhaps this was in reaction to some proselytizing by new industrial designers who claimed in effect that form that followed function would be beautiful and, by the way, sell well.

A more modest concurrent public relations and client sales approach was to "clean up" fussy, engineering-inspired design of the past. Here again, the results would be stronger sales in an era of depressed economy.

Theory and ideology aside, most designers recognized by mid-decade that to some extent they were in the fashion business because clients were soon asking them to "freshen" or even redesign products that had been touted as being purely function-driven.

As for streamlining, aircraft increasingly were becoming strongly streamlined, especially those made of metal. By around the 1934 model year, automobiles began to be designed with reference to serious concerns for aerodynamic efficiency (as they are to a far greater degree now). A famous case in point was the 1934 Chrysler Airflow.

But for various reasons, not all cars were given more than superficial streamlining in those days. Often streamline-like decor was added to provide a sense of streamlining. Furthermore, industrial designers and architects also included hints of streamlining in buildings and products.

In this post, I present examples of "speed lines" -- parallel ornamentation shapes suggesting airflow passing along or over the basic shape of the object. A fad, but in retrospect, a fun and basically harmless one.


1934 Chevrolet - Barrett-Jackson auction photo
Modest speed lines can be seen along the side of the hood and rear wheel skirt.

1934 Nash
Speed lines here are more elaborate, being found on front and rear fender valances and atop the hood.

Chrysler Airflow facelift proposal - ca. 1934-35
By Norman Bel Geddes. This unused proposal featured grooves along most of the car.

Taxi design - 1938
By Raymond Loewy. Multiple, stacked bumpers also serve as speed lines.

Pennsylvania Railroad S-1 locomotive by Loewy - 1939
An addition to some actual streamlining at the front of the boiler section, Loewy added speed lines wrapping around the front and sides. That's Loewy in the photo.

Sears Coldspot refrigerator by Loewy - 1935
An early Loewy design with vertical speed lines.

Air-King Products radio - 1930-33
Designed by John Gordon Rideout and Harold van Doren. Plenty of parallel lines along with some skyscraper-inspired massing of the body. Photo from Brooklyn Museum.

Kodak Baby Brownie camera - 1935
By Walter Dorwin Teague. More than most early industrial designers, Teague liked parallel speed line décor.

Sparton 517-B radio by Teague - 1936

Texaco Type C filling station by Teague - ca. 1936
Streamlining is evoked here in the curved shapes associated with the overhang. Speed lines wrap around the building.

1942 Chrysler
Now it's the early 1940s, but Chrysler stylists gave their 1942 model one final, heavy, pre-war dose of speed lines.


Anonymous said...

Could some of these lines, particularly the vertical lines and the threes, have something of the classical triglyph in them?

Ahundred said...

Things just look good in threes.