Walter Dorwin Teague and U.S. Industrial Design

Walter Dorwin Teague's design. Camera, No. 1A Gift Kodak

Walter Dorwin Teague‘s design. Camera, No. 1A Gift Kodak

On December 18, 1883, American industrial designer, architect, illustrator, graphic designer, writer, and entrepreneur Walter Dorwin Teague was born. Often referred to as the “Dean of Industrial Design”, Teague pioneered in the establishment of industrial design as a profession in the US. Regarded as a classicist and a traditionalist despite a later shift to modern tastes, Teague is recognized as a critical figure in the spread of mid-century modernism in America. He is widely known for his exhibition designs during the 1939-40 New York World’s Fair, such as the Ford Building, and his iconic product and package designs, from Eastman Kodak’s Bantam Special to the steel-legged Steinway piano.

Walter Dorwin Teague moved from Indiana to New York City at the age of 19. There, he attended the Art Students League of New York where he studied painting. He was hired at the Ben Hampton Advertising Agency and later switched to Calkins & Holden. There Teague was able to develop a distinct artistic style. During the early 1910s, Walter Teague was active as a freelancer in decorative design and typography and co-founder of Pynson Printers. By the 1920s, Walter Teague became involved in commercial packaging. He further traveled to Europe in order to research European design, especially Bauhaus and Le Corbusier.

Walter Dorwin Teague. Sparton Table Radio

Walter Dorwin Teague. Sparton Table Radio

Back in the United States, Teague was able to make use of his working experience in the field of industrial design upon being contracted by Eastman Kodak. Teague had no profound knowledge of cameras and proposed to work on-site in collaboration with Kodak engineers on the project. Teague’s collaboration with Kodak was fruitful and their working relationship lasted until his death. Walter Teague designed several well-known Kodak cameras, including an Art Deco gift camera, the Baby Brownie, the Bantam Special, and the Brownie Hawkeye. By 1934, Kodak created an entire styling division, to which Teague’s role became advisory.

After successfully designing for Kodak for two years, Teague was able to sign with further large businesses. His designs included automobiles, pianos (e.g. the Steinway Peace Piano), radios, and diners for the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad.

Next to his product designs, Walter Teague highly contributed to several World’s Fairs. For instance, he made a substantial impact on the 1939-40 New York World’s Fair as one of seven members of the Fair’s design board, and was also responsible for nine corporate displays. Teague designed the Ford and US Steel pavilions and further introduced the new National Cash Register 100 Model with a seven-story high cash register placed atop the NCR exhibition.

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