Selling the Future

Again, from Laura Burd Schiavo’s “Modern Design Goes Public” in Designing Tomorrow: America’s World’s Fairs of the 1930s:

“From their start, expositions were meant to incite consumer desire.”

The evolution of display techniques:

“In pavillions dedicated to the display of goods, exhibits showcased row upon row of clocks, glassware, and, as industrial production heated up, pyramids of ketchup bottles and other mass produced goods, as well as the machines that made them possible.”

“By the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, displays had become more sophisticated, advancing from showcasing product to demonstrating production. The ultimate express of this trend came at the Panama Pacific International Exposition in 1915, where Henry Ford installed an assembly line that churned out as many as twenty-five Model Ts a day.”

“During the 1920s and 1930s corporations were involved in the development of an increasingly sophisticated public relations strategy … World’s fairs became prime venues for designers to experiment with how design innovation could visually and viscerally dramatize the promise of industrial capitalism … they sought to provide innovative and engaging exhibits that shared a vision of the future, a sense of the power and promise of industry, and an image of the place of consumers in that world.”

Compare Walter Benjamin’s comments on the Paris expositions of the late nineteenth century:

“The world exhibitions glorified the exchange-value of commodities. They created a framework in which their use-value receded into the background. They opened up a phantasmagoria into which people entered in order to be distracted. The entertainment industry made that easier for them by lifting them to the level of the commodity. They yielded to its manipulations while savouring their alienation from themselves and from others.”

Test driving Fords on the "Road of Tomorrow" (NY 1939)

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