Turbines to Tupperware
to come up with a signature structure for the 1893 Worlds
Columbian Exposition in Chicago, George S. Morison produced a design
for what he called the American Tower. The trouble was,
it looked suspiciously like the Eiffel Tower, which had wowed visitors
at the Paris Exposition in 1889. Not original enough, decided the
design committee, which chose a 250-foot passenger-carrying wheel
devised by an engineer named George W. G. Ferris instead.
losing drawing was among a wide variety of industrial drawings and
other materials featured in From Turbines to Tupperware: Two
Centuries of Industrial Drawings from the Smithsonian, the
inaugural exhibition of the renovated Payne Gallery from August
3 through November 4. Subjects of the drawings ranged from the grandiose
to the trivial. The plans for Grand Central Station in New York
and machinery for the building of the Panama Canal were on view,
as were Maidenforms templates for vests for carrier pigeons
used in World War II and Earl S. Tuppers patent drawing for
his original Tupperware bowl. Items of local interest included shop
cards from the Baldwin Locomotive Works in Philadelphia (1857 and
1860), an 1873 drawing for a rail mill engine for Bethlehem Iron
Co., and a raw materials test data sheet for Crayola crayons from
Binney & Smith of Easton (1970s). Engineers notebooks,
patent drawings, trade literature, and work incentive posters rounded
out the variety.
Lubar, chair of the Division of the History of Technology at the
National Museum of American History, laid out the rationale of the
exhibition for visitors at the opening reception. Usually, he said,
museums keep their collections in exclusive conceptual compartments.
History museums are interested in context, industrial museums are
interested in technology, and art museums are interested in aesthetics.
But this exhibition, he noted, was interested in all three. Every
piece of art in this exhibition had an aesthetic appeal, but each
had a use that depended on technology and context. The uses of art
in industry, Lubar said, were related to four things: inventing,
persuading, controlling, and recording.