Evolution of Consumerism

Hagley Museum and Library in Wilmington, DE has received a $95,000 grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC), a program affiliate of the National Archives and Records Administration. The grant will be used to process the collections of design pioneers Ken White and Marshall Johnson, L/IDSA—the former chair of IDSA’s History and Archives Committee and a former IDSA Board member. The collections detail the history of American consumer culture from the Vietnam War era through the 20th century.

“This grant from NHPRC gives Hagley the opportunity to arrange and describe the collection, create finding aids—and allows the public access to these nationally important holdings,” says Erik Rau, director of library services at Hagley. “Together, these collections offer significant insight into industrial design of the late 20th century and its impact upon American domesticity and consumer culture.”

Vicki Matranga, H/IDSA, is chair of IDSA’s Design History Special Interest Section and will speak on Aug. 16 at the IDSA/Eastman Innovation Lab Education Symposium 2017. She calls the grant announcement “great news for industrial design history.”

“Marshall saved a lot of history… and eventually donated all those drawings and correspondence to the Hagley, along with his own body of work,” says the design programs coordinator of the International Housewares Association who wrote "Odd Business, This Industrial Design," for Summer 2017 INNOVATION magazine. “He’s a model for designers to follow for conserving the history of their careers.”  

Johnson, shown on this page, was born in 1938. He created kitchen appliance designs for companies such as Black & Decker, Proctor-Silex and WearEver. He was the first staff designer hired by Black & Decker in 1960. In the 1970s, Johnson designed the first hot air corn popper, electric food gun and kabob cooker. He also created designs for more familiar products such as irons, toasters and can openers. His papers document the ever-increasing number of domestic products for the American consumer and the constant drive for novelty.

White, born in 1923, designed commercial interior retail spaces throughout the United States. He pioneered the concept of pre-architectural planning analyses for projects and conducted real estate research, site and space planning, and animated walk-through simulations of interior environments. White began specializing in bookstore design in the 1970s, and his ID firm specialized in retail bookstore planning and design. His papers describe innovations in the American shopping experience.

It’s expected to take about 18 months to organize and inventory the papers. Then portions of both collections will be digitized and uploaded to the Hagley Digital Archives. The library will encourage colleges or universities with design and material culture degree programs to visit Hagley on-site or online and integrate the collections into their course design.