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Emphasizing vehicle aerodynamics, pioneering theatrical design, and comprehending an automobile-based society, the visionary designer, Norman Bel Geddes, is celebrated as the pioneer of American industrial design and the streamlined aesthetic, who helped to shape the image of modern America with everything from household objects to hypothetical mechanized theatres, amphibious cars and floating airports.
Famous for his eccentric yet remarkably accurate visions, the prophetic designer was born Norman Melancton Geddes in Adrian, Michigan, on April 27, 1893. After studying art at the Cleveland Institute of Art and the Art Institute of Chicago, Geddes became interested in the theatre and staged his first play, “Nju”, and five others for the Los Angeles Little theatre in 1916. Later he started out working as a set designer and designed sets for the Metropolitan Opera, New York in 1918.
In 1925, Geddes returned to Los Angeles and worked in Hollywood. His contact with the architects Frank Lloyd Wright and Erich Meldensohn motivated him to turn to architecture and design. Along with Raymond Loewy, Henry Dreyfuss, and Walter Dorwin Teague, Geddes belonged to the first generation of American industrial designers, who designed railroads trains, buses, cars, aircraft, and machinery.
Toward the end of the 1920s, Geddes adapted his ideas to industrial design, gradually building an organization that employed 2,000 people. His designs ranged from skyscrapers, inkwells, yachts, radios and interiors to refrigerators. He was an especially eloquent advocate of the teardrop form. From 1928, Geddes designed futuristic-looking cars for the Graham Paige company.
One of his best-remembered designs was the General Motors Pavilion, the “Futurama”, which exhibited at the New York World's Fair in 1939. Geddes also designed theatres worldwide. He staged circuses, developed equipment and techniques for the armed services, and wrote books on many subjects.
Geddes expounded his philosophy of design and his vision of the future in the book “Horizons” (published in 1932) and in “Magic Motorways” (1940). An autobiography, “Miracle in the Evening” (1960), edited by William Kelley, depicts the designer through his theatrical work.
Bel Geddes died on May 8, 1958, in New York.