Joseph Malherek

Department of American Studies
George Washington University

2015 to 2016
NEH Postdoctoral Fellow

From Bauhaus to Maxwell House: Continental Design and Social Science as Technologies of Consumer Engineering in Twentieth-Century America

2015-2016 NEH Postdoctoral Fellow This project will examine the ways in which social science methods and industrial design techniques have been employed by American businesses as tools for increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of their consumer marketing practices. I posit that, in the commercial-Keynesian economy, design produced an unconscious, emotional relationship between industry and consumers. Design itself became a veritable technology of “consumer engineering,” to use the 1930 coinage of adman Earnest Elmo Calkins. My research examines the dynamic relationship between the corporate developers of new technologies, such as Du Pont and General Motors, and the often immigrant designers and social scientists who helped those companies engage with their consumer markets, such as the French industrial designer Raymond Loewy, the German graphic artist Walter Landor, and the Austrian psychologist Ernest Dichter. The individual subjects of this project were part of an “intellectual migration” that included prominent émigrés in a variety of fields, but because these figures worked in marketing and design, their contributions to the consumer culture intimately affected the daily experience of millions of Americans. Research at Consortium archives, particularly the Hagley Museum and Library, Columbia University’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library, and the Smithsonian’s Archives Center at the National Museum of American History, will be essential to probe the European origins of twentieth-century American consumer culture.