“Exhibit ‘Chicago Streamlines America’ Opens at Chicago History Museum” by S.M. O’Connor

The exhibit Modern by Design: Chicago Streamlines America opened at the Chicago Historical Society’s Chicago History Museum in the Chicago Park District’s Lincoln Park on Saturday, October 27, 2018 and will run through Sunday, December 1, 2019.  It is part of a yearlong Art design Chicago initiative of the Terra Foundation of American Art.  The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation is a presenting partner.  Wintrust is the exhibit sponsor.  Additional sipport comes from the Natuonal Endowment for the Arts and WestRock.  Established in part by The Elizabeth Morse Charitable Trust, the Exhibition Fund has provided additional funding for the exhibit.

Streamlined design emerged in the 1930s in response to modern technology and as a succor to the Art Deco movement.  It owed something to the French Art Moderne movement and the German Bauhaus movement.[1]  This was the style of architecture featured in Chicago’s second World’s Fair, A Century of Progress: International Exposition (1933-34), which was held in the Chicago Park District’s Burnham Park.  Subsequently, Chicago-based companies adapted the style to make a wide range of products for American customers who wanted the latest look and technology in their homes and workplaces.  The exhibit is comprised of 300 artifacts, photographs, and printed materials produced from the 1930s to the 1950s.

Objects on display include tubular steel furniture designed by Wolfgang Hoffmann for the W.W. Howell Company; streamlined appliances and products by Sunbeam, Sears, Roebuck & Company, and Montgomery Ward & Company, advertisements for Wrigley Gum designed by Otis Shepard; McCormick-Deering Farmall tractor designed by Raymond Loewy; and American Flyer toy trains, Radio Flyer wagons, and Tootsie Toy cars.   The exhibit also profiles personal stories about designers such as interior designers Marianne Willisch and Lyn Colby; graphic designers Otis Shepard and Henry Harringer; and industrial designers Wolfgang Hoffmann, Robert Budlong, and John Morgan.

“Chicago is world famous for modern architecture but its contributions to modern design are often overlooked,” stated Olivia Mahoney, Senior Curator at the Chicago History Museum.  “This exhibition explore how Chicago shaped the look and feel of modern America with streamlined graphics, products and interior design.”

If you enjoy this exhibit, you may also enjoy a visit to the subterranean Entry Hall of the Museum of Science and Industry down in the Chicago Park District’s Jackson Park in Hyde Park to see the Pioneer Zephyr (also known as the Burlington Zephyr) and the related steel mural behind the escalators and stairs that lead up to the ground level.  There are a number of programs related to Modern by Design.

Family Design Day” will be Saturday, November 10, 2018.  Take this opportunity to explore the exhibit, go on an artifact hunt, and build your own miniature Zephyr train at the make-and-take station from 10:00 a.m. to noon.  Afterwards, enjoy lunch at the Chicago History Museum’s North and Clark Café, or, if you want to bring your own food, use the picnic tables in the Crown Family Room.

The Gallery Design Journey will be from 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m.  There will be a Maker Cart; graphic artist Mario Lucero will guide visitors through making two-dimensional collages; and balloon art and face-painting with Smarty Pants.

At 3:00 p.m., there will be a panel discussion in the Robert R. McCormick Theater.  The panel will consist of Carlos Herrera, Senior Store Concept Designer for Starbucks; Anijo Mathew, Associate Professor at the I.I.T. Institute of Design; and the aforementioned Senior Curator Olivia Mahoney.  Architect Alicia Ponce-Nuñez will moderate.

This is part of Near North Design Day, which is taking place under the umbrella of Art Design Chicago.  There will also be events at The Newberry Library, the DePaul Art Museum, Carl Street Studios, Sedgwick Studios, and the Roger Brown Study Collection.

The “Modern by Design Film Talk | Creative Broadcast: Communication, Commercial, and Advertising” event will take place in the McCormick Theater on Tuesday, November 27, 2018 at 6:00 p.m.  Presented in partnership with the Chicago Film Archives, this free film screening will be followed by a discussion.  Chicago has been home to several advertising agencies of note, including Leo Burnett.  In this program, Associate Professor Michael Golec of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago will highlight a few of those firms and their designers.  The companies for which the profiled commercials were made include Sears, Roebuck & Company, Quaker Oats, and United Airlines.  This event is free with museum admission, but one should reserve a seat in advance.  Click here to order a ticket.

The book Art Deco Chicago Designing Modern America by Robert Bruegmann is a companion publication.  Published by Yale University Press, it has a list price of $75.

Admission to the exhibit is included with regular Chicago History Museum admission ($19 for adults, $17 for senior citizens and students, and free for children twelve and younger).  Admission is free for Illinoisans eighteen and younger.

MuseumExterior3Figure 1 Credit: Chicago Historical Society Caption: This is the main entrance of the Chicago History Museum in the Chicago Park District’s Lincoln Park.


The Chicago History Museum is both a museum and a research library.  The address is 1601 North Clark Street, Chicago, Illinois 60614.  The phone number is (312) 642-4600.




[1] After the Bauhaus Institute faculty members fled Nazi Germany, László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946) established the New Bauhaus in Chicago in 1937.  After it failed due to financial difficulties and student unrest, he founded The Institute of Design in Chicago, which, oddly enough, was housed in the old Chicago Historical Society building on Dearborn Street from 1946 to 1955.  In 1949, it became a department of the Illinois Institute of Technology (I.I.T.).  It is now called the I.I.T. Institute of Design.  In 1938, the last director of the original Bauhaus Institute, Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969), who had been forced to close down the Bauhaus in 1934, become head of the architecture department of the Armour Institute of Technology – now I.I.T. – and while in Chicago also designed buildings all over America.  These included the Chicago Federal Complex, Farnsworth House on the Fox River west of Chicago, the high-rise apartment buildings at 860-880 Lake Shore Drive, the Seagram Building in New York City, the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, and the National Gallery in Berlin, as well as a number of buildings on the I.I.T. campus. His grandson, Dirk Lohan, is also a prominent architect based in Chicago.

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