"An industrial designer in today's business world should be a business man, an engineer and a stylist, and in that direct order."
August 2, 2006 11:59 AM   Subscribe

Brooks Stevens, the man who once said, "there is nothing more aerodynamic than a wiener," created the iconic Wienermobile , but was also responsible for many other innovations in industrial design. He put the first window in a clothes dryer, built a land-yacht and streamlined train, developed an important precursor to the SUV, and designed the wide-mouth peanut butter jar and an aerodynamic vacuum cleaner. More lastingly, he also created the idea of planned obsolescence, the "desire to own something a little newer, a little better, a little sooner than is necessary."
posted by blahblahblah (31 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Wow. Now I know a weenie man. He owned a weenie stand. He sold most everything from hot dogs on down.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:03 PM on August 2, 2006

Speaking of SUVs - the other day my son & I saw a pink pig-shaped car pulling two pink pig-shaped trailers on a Massachusetts highway. Has anybody else seen this? (Neither one of us was drinking.)
posted by Kirth Gerson at 12:06 PM on August 2, 2006

Prior to the wide-mouth jar, how were substances such as peanut butter, mayonnaise, etc., packaged for the mass market?
posted by Faint of Butt at 12:08 PM on August 2, 2006

More lastingly, he also created the idea of planned obsolescence, the "desire to own something a little newer, a little better, a little sooner than is necessary."

Maybe he productized it, but theoretically speaking this notion has been around since at least the time of - for instance - the Frankfurt school.
posted by ChasFile at 12:16 PM on August 2, 2006

Oh cool. More pictures of the Wienermobile in (what else) the Flickr Wienermobile Group - which I only know about because one passed me on the highway and I snapped a quick picture.
posted by vacapinta at 12:16 PM on August 2, 2006

Sweet. Now I've got a place to put my weinermobile pictures!
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:17 PM on August 2, 2006

Tom Perrotta's short story 'The Weiner Man,' is a gem.
posted by jonmc at 12:23 PM on August 2, 2006

Oh, and the original Jeepster was not much like an SUV. It was a roadster, not a wagon, and the cargo capacity was very limited. My father had one. The late '60s Jeepster was much more like an SUV, and was a real piece of crap. I had one of those.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 12:27 PM on August 2, 2006

I knew a girl in college who drove in the Weinermobile after graduation. Apparently it's a very prestigious, highly sought-after position.
posted by footnote at 12:37 PM on August 2, 2006

I wanted to see "Die Valkyrie" coupe, but there was a fashionably dressed woman standing in front of it.
posted by Cranberry at 1:00 PM on August 2, 2006

he also created the idea of planned obsolescence

I hope he is currently burning in hell.
The observation car on that train is hella cool though
posted by keswick at 1:25 PM on August 2, 2006

I hope he is currently burning in hell.

I hope that every six months or so he gets moved to a newer, better hell.
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:29 PM on August 2, 2006 [5 favorites]

Take a virtual tour of Oscar Meyer's 2004 Wienermobile, and be the first kid on your block to skewer any other kid that acts like a wiener.
posted by cenoxo at 1:40 PM on August 2, 2006

Kirth Gerson - That was TrueMajority's beautiful pink shiny Pigmobile, although it looks like the demons of planned obsolescence are replacing it with a sadly humdrum OreoMobile. Bah.
posted by naomi at 1:55 PM on August 2, 2006

Hey, forget boring old sex ed videos... our nation's schoolkids just need to grab their Wienerwhistles and start tooting!

I'm also pretty excited about the Wiener Patrol but would never admit that in public.
posted by naomi at 2:05 PM on August 2, 2006

"he also created the idea of planned obsolescence"

I’m far more interested in his son.
...although I understand he’s planning to be a cage fighter.
posted by Smedleyman at 2:22 PM on August 2, 2006

I took a picture of his Hiawatha car last month when it was back in Milwaukee. It's funny you link to the exhibition of his works that was from 3 years ago but yeah, he was a Milwaukee icon.
posted by JJ86 at 2:35 PM on August 2, 2006

Milwaukee has certainly had its share of visitors. The French missionaries and explorers began visiting here in the late 16th century.
posted by keswick at 2:38 PM on August 2, 2006

I'm groovin' on the Studebaker Hawk.

"...he was a Milwaukee icon."

How come I never heard of this guy before? Seriously. I'm not trying to be snarky. Is Brooks Stevens like a hidden Milwaukee treasure or have just been living under a rock for the last 38 years?
posted by MikeMc at 2:52 PM on August 2, 2006

MikeMC, the art museum had a display of his work a few years ago (which is actually what the first link is from).
posted by drezdn at 3:30 PM on August 2, 2006

Despite the "wide mouth", his peanut butter jar is an example of very poor design, as one can't easily get a knife or a spoon into the widest part of the jar. A straight sided jar is a much better design for sticky, high viscosity foods. My vote for the all-time poorest glass jar design is the original Grey Poupon mustard.

Why are the simplest things so often done wrong?
posted by Tube at 3:54 PM on August 2, 2006

Brooks Stevens, the man who once said, "there is nothing more aerodynamic than a wiener"

I just want to know how fast he had to run to figure that out.
posted by BoringPostcards at 3:54 PM on August 2, 2006

The site is a few years old, but has quite a bit of info about Brooks Stevens, I should know - designed it back then as part of their perm. collection.

Stevens wasn't the first to speak of planned obsolence, but really was the first to coin the term, define it, and although some question it - from what I read and learned really believed in that and became part of his philosophy with design.

He has designed some pretty amazing things and never really wanted to leave Milwaukee. Which I thought was pretty cool since most big names find a way out of the small city. Instead he found much work in the city and improved or designed many famous icons.

The Miller Beer logo and Weinermobile just to name two...Harley Davidsons and jeepster are probably the other main contributions that stick out for me.

With the war ending he found a way to take a military jeep and market it to the average consumer, not unlike a Hummer or SUV today. Some of his building designs are quite forward thinking as well...

The Hiawatha train is not something many see outside of Milwaukee unless you are a train fanatic - but it was quite remarkable and well designed as well.

I think good design means you don't always notice it. With the wide mouth peanut butter jar he took a jar that was usually 5-6 inches tall or more, and only about 1.5 inches in diameter and widened it for easier use. Simple, yet something that has continued to be used to this day.

I don't think it is a very poor design, it was a practical and important design change that not many people recognize - but has a very large impact day to day. I think that is exactly what Stevens did with many of his designs.

His small town career and life just seems to keep his idea of planned obsolence and great design hidden a bit too much.

I wish I owned one of those Valkeries...
posted by djenders at 5:26 PM on August 2, 2006

Very cool.

When I lived in Wisconsin I got to see the Wienermobile a few times. It always reminds me of this old joke: A man finds a magic lamp and out pops a genie who grants him three wishes. skeptical, he wishes for a new Cadillac (I told you the joke was old), poof. Whoa. Then he wishes for a million dollars - poof. He decides to wait on the third wish and puts the million dollars into the the trunk of his new Caddy and goes for a ride. Then he starts to sing "Oh I wish I were an Oscar Meyer wiener," - poof.
posted by caddis at 7:19 PM on August 2, 2006

djenders, back in Stevens' day Milwaukee wasn't a small town. It was up there with many other big cities and had much more vitality than it does today. It was renowned for much more than just beer. All of SE Wisconsin was an industrial powerhouse that was world renowned. Many big names in manufacturing were located here and many still are. As an industrial designer, there really wasn't much of a better place to be.

The main reason why he isn't all that well known is because it was a funk of a long time ago and most of his work is dated. Times change and the old timers are steamrolled under newer trends and ideas. If you ask any industrial designer, they know who he was but the man on the street generally doesn't.
posted by JJ86 at 5:49 AM on August 3, 2006

Any idustrial designer should know Stevens, but Milwaukee has always been small - always will be. Minus the beer industry, rail industry and some manufacturing - Milwaukee wasn't the powerhouse like Pittsburgh, etc.
posted by djenders at 5:27 PM on August 3, 2006

Minus the beer industry, rail industry and some manufacturing - Milwaukee wasn't the powerhouse like Pittsburgh, etc.

Milwaukee was an industrial powerhouse. The Allis-Chalmers plant and Allen-Bradley, and Harley were huge companies. It also had a significant foothold in leather tanning, meat and more. Until the 1880s, Milwaukee was bigger than Chicago. The New York Subway system was built in Milwaukee. It, at one point was in the top 15 most populous cities in the country and is currently much much bigger (population-wise) than Pittsburgh.
posted by drezdn at 10:17 PM on August 3, 2006

I know that I have heard the name Brooks Stevens before. I want to say that MIAD periodically exhibits some of his work and that's where I may remember him from, but I can't say for sure.
posted by anjamu at 10:57 PM on August 3, 2006

And as for Milwaukee being a "small town," those of us who have lived there appreciate it for the way it synthesizes big-city amenities and activities with a small-town way of life.

My parents have lived there for more than 25 years now, and they still sing the praises of having "rush minute" instead of rush hour, being able to go to the farm stand and knowing all their neighbors; but at the same time, it's not lacking in nightlife, restaurants, or whatever it is that you find makes a city a city.

If you think it's a small town because it lacks the verve that makes, say, New York what it is, well, yes, it's a bit quieter than that. But it is most definitely a city.
posted by anjamu at 11:02 PM on August 3, 2006

djenders, heh, heh, Pittsburgh....

K, let's look at the facts relating to Stevens' time.

1940 Rankings by population:
Pittsburgh - 10th
Milwaukee - 13th

1950 Rankings by population:
Pittsburgh - 12th
Milwaukee - 13th

1960 Rankings by population:
Milwaukee - 11th
Pittsburgh - 16th

Really there isn't that much difference. Milwaukee, Pittsburgh - roughly the same size and standing. drezdn barely scratches the surface with the amount of heavy industry. I guess also subtracting P&H, Cutler Hammer, International Harvester, Kearney & Trecker, AO Smith, Louis Allis, Bucyrus Erie, Falk not to mention AMC, Nash Motors plants, etc. then yeah Milwaukee wasn't much. Now if you would have compared it to Detroit, then sure, that is a difference.

But besides the facts, what difference does it make? Stevens was here because there was a shitload of industry that he could make a living off. He didn't have to seriously hunt for work, especially when you take the even larger amount of industry outside of Milwaukee in SE Wisconsin. Factor in Racine, Kenosha, and West Bend, hell even nearby Chicago and this was as good a place to call home as anywhere.
posted by JJ86 at 5:50 AM on August 4, 2006

Great site, blahblahblah. Excellent images, design and content. And really interesting story. Thanks.
posted by nickyskye at 5:53 PM on August 4, 2006

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