In product design they used materials like chrome, plastic, and aluminum, not the precious materials of early Deco; they oversaw the transition of elegance from the luxury market to the wider world of ordinary consumption. In the process they became figures of vast cultural influence as well as commercial wizards who, in a stagnant economy, could somehow sell products that exuded elegance, optimism, and energy.
It was one thing to use a sheath of metal to give an aerodynamic look to the sleek locomotive of the new Twentieth Century Limited. It was quite another to give the same look to farm equipment or to a household iron, a pencil sharpener, or a cigarette lighter, associating them too with the aesthetics of the machine, the modern, the thrust toward a utopian future.
Working with curved lines, they used bullet shapes to suggest dynamic force and teardrop shapes to imply graceful flow. They could make a teapot look like Aladdin’s lamp and give rounded, futuristic lines to a toaster, a mixmaster, or the Bakelite portable radios that could be found in every modest American home when I was a kid in the 1940s.
These new industrial products and their designs paved the way for the postwar world by democratizing consumption itself.
Photos: 1930s toasters, all pulled from eBay.