Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Brooks Stevens...Designer of the 20th Century


"Total worldwide income generated by products emanating from his Milwaukee studio exceeded 5 billion dollars a year..There were few places on the planet that Stevens could visit without encountering at least one product that he either designed or influenced."

"By the mid fifties it seemed that everything - and I mean everything - from the alarm clock on your night stand, all the cookware in your kitchen, the car you drove,the toys out on the lawn, the logo and the bottle of your favorite beer, almost everything you would see or use from the moment you got up until you went to bed was designed by Brooks Stevens."


Just as Frank Lloyd Wright is not a merely "an architect" and Orson Welles is not merely "a director" and Harry Houdini is not merely "a Magician"...Brooks Stevens is not "an industrial designer".... he is, for all practical(take note you effetes out there, I said practical) purposes, THE industrial designer.
He designed the Oscar Meyer Wiener Mobile (first piloted by the original Little Oscar, Wisconsin's own Meinhardt Raabe click here, better known to one and all as the Coroner of Munchkintown in the classic 1939 film, The Wizard of Oz.) Like Orson Welles, Brooks was the son of a successful inventor who created a number of major innovations in the early days of automobile production (I'll say it again, Detroit merely assembled cars...most of the parts and pieces and major innovations were first created here). He could not have born in a better place. The variety, invention and vitality that was Milwaukee in the first half of the 20th century was unmatched. America's Machine Shop, America's Toolbox, The City That Makes Things..... all well deserved monikers. Stevens was devoted to his hometown. Like so so many others (don't get me started on them), he could easily have set up shop in New York or Chicago. Instead, he made Milwaukee his lifelong home, and it was in Milwaukee that he became the first industrial designer in America to have a museum retrospective. Among his initial accomplishments are numerous "firsts" - the first motor home, the first electric clothes dryer with a glass window, and the first electric steam iron. He designed the new look of the Miller Brewery from the ground up - everything from the buildings to the logo. He introduced colored cookware and appliances to the kitchens of 1950's America, designed numerous automobiles and coined the dreaded phrase "planned obsolesence". Evinrude and Johnson outboard motors, Lawn Boy mowers, Cushman scooters, carts, and motorcycles, the Willys Overland Jeepster, and the 1949 Harley-Davidson Hydra-glide motorcycle....
The 1962 Studebaker Gran Turismo Hawk...

The Toastalator...

And what a great meeting of Wisconsin minds - Milwaukee's Brook Stevens and the Hamilton Mfg Company of Two Rivers, Wisconsin - inventors of the electric dryer....
The grill of a 1959 Chrysler Scimitar Wagon...
...A tiny sample of his work, I'd like to close with a Brook Stevens quote concerning the Oscar Meyer Wiener Mobile,"There's nothing more aerodynamic than a wiener." ...Clifford Brook Stevens, 1911-1995.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

I believe him too. I can run faster when I'm naked.

Exaggerator said...

No mention of Brooks Stevens' design endeavours would be complete without mention of his redesign of The Milwaukee Road's storied Hiawathas between Chicago and the Twin Cities in 1948--and its long-distance cousin, the Olympian Hiawatha (as ran to Seattle), that same year.

Especially memorable were the Skytop Lounge observation/parlour cars marking the end of train, pure Brooks Stevens throughout.

"The finishing touch to a perfect train" is how Mr. Stevens described the Skytop Lounge.

Todd8080 said...

There is surprisingly little information about Stevens' contributions to Harley-Davidson design on the internet, and what scant info is there is highly conflicted.

Depending on whose version you believe, Stevens designed either the '49, '50 or '53 Big Twin. In reality the only major difference between the '48 and the nine following years was the front end, leading me to believe that the Hydra-Glide fork was his only contribution, not the entire motorcycle.

I do know that Stevens designed the '47-'50 tank emblems, though that's also a far cry from an entire motorcycle.

With all that's known and written about Brooks Stevens, why has information about his involvement with the most famous Milwaukee company in the entire world been reduced to a single inaccurate sentence at virtually every source?

Anonymous said...

Even back in the day you have to remember that large companies used multipul people to come up with great designs, specialized in different areas. Brooks Stevens might have only help make the fork suspension design and streamline look with the bucket light yet that is now what all Harley Motorcycles are based off of.

Huntario G. said...

I don't believe it was a Chrysler Scimitar it just used the platform, it was meant to promote the use of aluminum and was really no make.