by Art Chantry:
my current favorite writer is bill bryson. he’s a linguist, historian, researcher, travel writer and wry smartass. every time i see one of his books laying in a thrift store, i snap it up and devour it as fast as i can. i also re-read his stuff. basically, i think this guy may be the best design historian out there working today.
rather than try to explain why i think he’s delicious, i’m just going to copy across a small two paragraphs from his book that i’m currently reading (and HIGHLY recommend to all graphic designers alive) – “made in america” (minerva, 1994). i think this little snapshot explains what i mean:
“a month before the first (Ford) Model T was produced, another great name of the industry was born: General Motors. the company, which had begun life as the Flint Road Cart Company, was founded by william crapo “billy” durant, a mecurical figure described by one friend a ‘a child in emotions, in temperament and in mental balance’. durant knew nothing of engineering and was not a gifted innovator. indeed, he wasn’t even a particularly astute businessman. he was simply a great accumulator. he bought companies indiscriminately, not just car makers, but enterprises that were involved with the automobile business only tangentally, if at all – companies like the Samson Sieve-Grip Tractor Company (which built tractors steered by reins on the dubious grounds that farmers would find them more horse-like) and a one-man refrigerator company that would eventually become Frigidaire. many of his automobile acquisitions became great names – Buick, Oldsmobile, Cadillac, Chevrolet – but many others, like Cartercar, Sheridan, Scripps-Booth, and Oakland, were never more than highly dubious. His strategy, as he put it, was to ‘get every kind of car in sight’ in the hope that the successes would outweigh the failures. they didn’t always. he lost control of General Motors in 1910, got it back in 1916, lost it again in 1920. by 1936, after more bad investments, he was bankrupt with debts of nearly $1 million and assets of just $250.
many of his best people found his imperiousness intolerable and took their talents elsewhere. walter chrysler left to form the Chrysler Corporation. henry and wilfred leland departed to create Lincoln (which later came back to the GM fold). charles nash went on to build Nash-Rambler. others were dismissed, often for trifling transgressions. in 1911 durant hired a swiss mechanic/racing driver named louis chevrolet. unfortunately for them both, durant didn’t abide smoking. when, shortly after joining the company, chevrolet wandered into durant’s office with a cigarette dangling from his lips, durant took the instant decision that the only thing he liked about the swiss mechanic was his name. he dismissed chevrolet, who thence dropped from sight as effectively as if he had fallen through a trap door, but kept his meolodic moniker and built it into one of the great names of automotive history. (durant was also responsible for the Chevrolet symbol, which he found as a pattern on wallpaper in a hotel room in paris. he carefully removed a strip, took it home with him and had his art department work it into a logo.)”
welcome to the wonderful world of corporarte graphic design.
well, if you look up the story on wiki (that ol’ reliable), durant’s wife sez he got the idea for the logo from an old magazine. various fanatical researchers managed to find an advert for a product called “coalettes” (a fuel source) that was run in a magazine dated 11 days after the founding of chevrolet. the logo for the ‘coalettes’ company and a great deal of the copy in that advert are remarkably similar to what became the chevy logo and marketing screed. so, who knows the truth? was durant ever IN paris?…