Norman Bel-Geddes

 

1893-1958

A native of Adrian, Michigan, Norman Bel-Geddes' career began in New York City at the Metropolitan Opera House in 1918, designing sets.  He went on to become a respected Hollywood and Broadway stage designer, winning contracts from Cecil B. DeMille.

His interest in the theater came from his mother, a woman of culture and means prior to the death of her husband.  Though left in poverty, she inspired a love of the arts in her son.

Though Bel-Geddes attended the Cleveland Institute of Art and the Chicago Art Institute briefly, his real love was the opera and stage.

Bel-Geddes primary creative contribution was to lighting.  Geddes saw the dramatic potential of spotlighting. He directed the lighting on over 200 productions. 

In the mid 1920s he opened an industrial design company on the basis of his belief in form following function and perfect aerodynamics.

Soon he was designing airplanes and buildings, including the project for which he is best remembered, the General Motors Pavilion, Futurama, at the 1939 New York Worlds Fair.  With teardrop shaped cars and super highways he portrayed the streamlined future world of 1960.

Products designed by Norman Bel-Geddes included Toledo scales, Philco radio cabinets, typewriters, cigarette cases, kitchen stoves (the Oriole), tents and even battleships.  Others of his clients included IBM, Ringling Brothers, Toledo, OH, J. Walter Thompson Advertising, Shell Oil and Chrysler. 

For the Simmons Company he designed metal bedroom furniture that was introduced in 1932.  The 1946 Nash auto carried a Bel-Geddes designed dashboard.

Bel-Geddes was born as Norman Melancton Geddes.  After his 1916 marriage to writer Helen Belle Sneider of Toledo, Ohio, they changed their last name to Bel-Geddes. Their daughter Barbara became a recognized stage and film actress.

Bel-Geddes published several books, the first in 1932, Horizons.  In 1940 he published Magic Motorways, about freeways and interstate highways.  Miracle in the Evening, an autobiography, was published posthumously in 1960.  .

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