Subject Guide

Industrial Design

Industrial design—the practice of optimizing the function, value, and appearance of products—is a central component in America’s culture of consumerism as well as the source of many beautiful objects now in the collections of leading art and history museums. It has influenced the public sphere as well as the private economy, doing much to change the look and feel of the human-built world. The first generation of industrial designers, working in the 1920s, upgraded the visual attractiveness of mass-produced merchandise with the intention of stimulating consumption. In the following decades, industrial design became a professional field that penetrated all aspects of modern material life. The purview of industrial designers expanded from products, packaging, and advertising to corporate logos and trademarks.

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Hagley’s collections document many aspects of industrial design. The papers of influential designers form a principal resource, as do the business records of major American corporations and corollary materials in our pictorial holdings. Our collections include material artifacts that are themselves examples of industrial design. We invite researchers to contact our staff for more information on these materials and on our research grants that can be used to defray costs associated with traveling to Hagley for research.


Hagley holds a number of significant twentieth-century collections that chronicle the evolution of the concepts, products, and processes specific to industrial design.

Raymond Loewy (1893-1986) was the most prominent industrial designer of the twentieth century. The Loewy collection documents his long and varied career. Publicity scrapbooks, client files, and photographs detail Loewy’s work for automobile manufacturers (Studebaker, Hupp), transportation companies (Pennsylvania Railroad, United Air Lines, Air France, Greyhound), and consumer producers (Frigidaire, Coca-Cola, Armour, Schick) and his commercial architecture and interiors for department stores (Lord & Taylor, Wanamaker’s, Sears), hotels (Hilton), and apartment buildings (Imperial House). He also influenced visual iconography associated with the U.S. government through his work for the Postal Service and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and his design of Air Force One. Loewy’s years of association with the Pennsylvania Railroad are described in the Pennsylvania Railroad Company records at Hagley.

Marshall B. Johnson (1938- ) designed electrical kitchen appliances, product graphics, and cutlery during his career with Black & Decker, ALCOA, Proctor-Silex, and Wear-Ever. Johnson’s papers include product catalogs, news clippings, advertisements, and company reports that illustrate constant diversification of product lines. The Wear-Ever, Kensington Ware collection assembled by Johnson consists of drawings for kitchen and giftware, including some by industrial designer Lurelle Guild (1898-1986).

The growth of the Universal Design movement—the creation of products and environments for users of all ages and abilities—is richly documented in several collections.

Thomas Lamb (1896-1988), a successful textile designer and illustrator in the 1920s and 1930s, was best known for his unique wedge-lock handle design for cutlery. His collection includes correspondence and publicity files, research notebooks, sketches, and models and prototypes. Lamb’s notebooks, drawings, and studies illustrate his research on the anatomy and physiology of the hand and its interaction with handles.

Richard Hollerith (1926- ) designed office equipment and household products. Hollerith’s papers reflect his efforts to create universally accessible designs and especially his work with government-sponsored programs such as the President’s Committee on the Employment of the Handicapped, the National Center for a Barrier-Free Environment, and Project Earning Power.

Marc Harrison (1936-1998), a recognized pioneer in the Universal Design movement of the 1990s, is best known for his re-design of the Cuisinart food processor. His papers document his career as an industrial design consultant and a professor at the Rhode Island School of Design. Harrison’s papers also include the papers of chemist Peter Schlumbohm (1896-1962), best known for his design of the Chemex coffee maker.


Industrial designers also helped companies develop their public images. Design Sense, the company magazine of Lippincott & Marguiles, was a forum for discussing the most advanced practices in the field of design as applied to corporate image and branding. Domenico Mortellito’s work for DuPont offers a window on the involvement of designers in the development of trade shows and exhibits. Hagley itself was a site for experimentation in museum design in the 1950s, when the company Walter Dorwin Teague & Associates created the displays for the first permanent exhibit at the museum. The rise of model making as a useful design tool can be traced in the manuals, newsletters, trade catalogs, and pictures in the papers of Harry Jefferson Bowen, a successful entrepreneur in the post-World War II era. The office records of Homsey Architects, Inc., of Wilmington, Delaware, touch upon the ways in which major design and architectural trends were incorporated into small-scale projects as well as on the dynamics of work practiced within a family business.

Numerous corporate files speak to the diversity of design products meant to consolidate a corporation’s public identity. The Sun Company, Inc., records illustrates how changing style and functionality of its gas stations reflected corporate branding strategies. The Joseph E. Seagram & Sons Company records explain its selection of modernist architect Mies van der Rohe to design its corporate headquarters in New York City. Correspondence and drawings of architects George Howe and William Lescaze for the Philadelphia Saving Fund Society Building in Philadelphia, as well as original office furniture and decorations from the building, reflect the image of modernity that the executives of the PSFS wanted to convey to their customers.


The Imprints Department at Hagley houses an outstanding collection of trade literature spanning the past century of American history. More than 40,000 trade catalogs focus on a wide range of products for both domestic and industrial use. The sectors of household appliances, furniture and furnishings, hardware, and housing (mail order and plans) are particularly well represented. While consisting mostly of advertisements with a strong visual component, trade literature generally conveys the promotional message that manufacturers attach to their products. Trade catalogs also offer a glimpse into the evolution of industrial design, both in styles and as a professional field, during the twentieth century.

Hagley’s Amram/Brick Women Inventors Collection includes selections of Eva Zeisel-designed mass-produced ceramic tableware pieces as well as a prototype of a portable chair made from tubular steel. The Adolf Lambach papers contain sketches of appliance cabinets and furniture that he developed in art deco and traditional styles for the Admiral, Zenith, Pacific Mercury, and Sears Roebuck companies. Toy manufacturers relied on industrial designers such as Austin Homer, who received patents for games produced by the Plakie Corporation. The Ken White Associates, Inc., records document the international projects of an independent design firm that specialized in retail bookstores and convenience stores. The Bancroft Company materials document its promotion of "Ban-Lon" fabrics through sponsorship of the Miss America pageant.

New possibilities for designers created by the revolutionary entrance of plastics into the world of consumer goods can be explored through The Society for the Plastics Industry’s materials. Photographs and publications document designers’ decisions to replace natural materials with plastic, consumers’ changing perception of plastics, and growing concerns for safety, recycling, and environmental impact.

William Pahlmann’s fifty-year career offers insights into the accomplishments and challenges of an interior designer. Among his activities were designing and producing furniture and textiles for home and business use. One of the twentieth century’s most influential interior designers, Pahlmann (1900-1987) worked on numerous commercial and residential projects, served as the head of Lord & Taylor’s interior design department, and decorated the Four Seasons Restaurant in the Seagram Building. His records provide a detailed examination of the interaction between client and designer and document Pahlmann’s ties with the American Institute of Decorators and his advocacy of the American home-furnishing industry.


Designers ventured into packaging and advertising as adjuncts to product design. A number of corporate collections at Hagley are particularly strong in these areas and in their relationship to the work of designers. Photographs, video recordings, manuscripts, printed materials, and artifacts provide useful information on the promotional strategies influenced by design departments within major companies.

DuPont's interest in the consumer marketplace and appreciation for the role played by design is documented in many areas of its records. The Textile Fibers Department generated trade catalogs, pamphlets, and fabric swatches for fibers such as Qiana®, Dacron® polyester, and Orlon®. Several DuPont photographic collections illustrate apparel, including couture lines, using DuPont fibers. DuPont aggressively promoted use of its transparent packaging material cellophane in the 1930s and 1940s and offered package-design consulting services as part of its marketing efforts for this product. Hagley collections include examples of the company’s own packaging, such as the award-winning Rally-car wax package created by prominent designer Donald Deskey.

As a direct marketing company, Avon Products, Inc., has tailored its packages to appeal to consumers of varied classes, races, ethnic backgrounds, occupations, and geographic locations. Avon advertisements and television commercials, trade catalogs, sales training literature, and artifacts document the company’s national and international advertising campaigns and their relationship to packaging and product designs.

The Joseph E. Seagram & Sons Company relied heavily on advertising and design to sell its line of alcoholic beverages. Innovative advertising campaigns that associated Seagram brands with modernity and upward mobility were closely tied to bottle and label design intended to convey similar messages. Advertisements and associated marketing studies illustrate corporate intent and can be linked to the choice of design for packages, labels, and hospitality guides. Examples of Seagram bottles can be found in the Irving Koons papers.

The International Housewares Association is a trade association representing manufacturers of home furnishings and appliances in North America, Europe, and Asia. Its records, which focus on its annual trade show, awards, and promotions, provide an overview of the evolution of the consumer-goods industries and domestic consumer products from the last half of the twentieth century through the present day.

Other business records that include design-related advertising and public relations materials include RCA (radio, television, phonographs), Quaker Lace Company (lace curtains, tablecloths, napkins), the American Iron and Steel Institute (consumer durables), and Remington Rand Corporation (office equipment).

Irving Koons’s (1922- ) papers document the career of an innovative designer in the packaging industry. Records such as marketing research studies, business correspondence, comprehensives, mock-ups, and final product packaging describe Koons’s work for clients such as Dixie Products, Colgate-Palmolive Company, Joseph E. Seagram & Sons Company, Consolidated Cigar Corporation, and C.F. Mueller Company.


Industrial designers used color to increase the visual impact of their work. The relationship between color and design can be found in several collections. The Inter-Society Color Council (founded in 1931) developed uniform practices in color selection across industries and products, enabling designers to have a consistent palette of options. The Color Association of the United States pioneered forecasting services that promoted color coordination among product manufactures (e.g., automobiles and home appliances) and paint producers. DuPont’s Color Advisory Service activities are documented in the personal records of its chairman, Ledyard Towle, who also wrote and lectured extensively on the use of color in design in the 1950s and 1960s.


For general questions about using any of these materials, please use our Ask Hagley online form or call 302-658-2400 ext 227.

The Hagley Center for the History of Business, Technology and Society awards travel grants for visiting scholars. Some housing is available on the property. The Center also organizes conferences, research seminars, and academic programs. For more information email