RCA's 45rpm record player
John Vassos designed this 45rpm record player with the assistance of Lynn Brodton who have each signed off on this drawing from the Styling Department of RCA Manufacturing Co. in Camden, NJ. It was part of the design process and evolution for what became the 45rpm record player released in 1949. This model has classic streamlined moderne details, the vertical grill (it had no external speaker and had to be plugged into a radio so this was purely decorative" and the layered box duplicating motif on the side of the record player. The streamlined tear drop shaped needle speaks to the 1930s while the spare, stark placement of the knob is fitting with Vassos's devotion to modern design, simplicity and clarity for users. The model evolved over time to an even more clean design as seen here in this photo with Arthur Fielder of the Boston Pops.
Vassos designed the "skeet" grade Model 11-48SA and Sportsman Model 48SA for Remington Arms. These lightweight auto-loading shotguns have become sought after for their styling. After World War II, Remington developed a family of guns that would look similar and share some componants. There were two versions - standard and the sportsman, the value priced model. They were part of a line of gas-operated streamlined shotguns introduced after 1948. The Remington Streamliners brochure explained the appeal of these guns in ergonomic terms - “handle it and you’ll feel, lighter weight, amazing balance…gun becomes part of you, hand fitting grip and fore-end.”
Vassos was a game hunter enjoying the hunting fields of Connecticut and Southern New Jersey. Vassos participated inthis sport all year long and appreciated how different field trials and breeding were from the hierarchy in his corporate job. “This sport is strictly democratic," he wrote “you will meet a plumber, a banker or top business executive in the field.” He wrote lovingly about his hunting dogs who were like children and published two books about them - Dogs Are Like That and Rex and Lobo.
Vassos had a strong relationship with he company - Remington Arms having designed kitchen utensils for the company in the 1930s. His ʺMoby Dick"ʺ streamlined knife for which he received a design patent in 1939 was praised for its easy handling if not its quirky name. Vassos improved each of the knives in the Moby Dick collection and heightened name recognition by inscribing the name on the blade and expanding Remington’s presence in the kitchen through the "No Fumble Rack” he created for a streamlined kitchen. The cutlery won the 1940 Golden Seal Jury Award at the New York World’s Fair.
New Review in Technology and Culture of John Vassos Biography at Project MUSE https://muse.jhu.edu/article/697251#.W0tvEtV1ICQ.twitter
I am so thrilled that my book was chosen for review by the prestigious journal the Art Bulletin which is published by the College Art Association. They get thousands of books each year to review - and only review a very small portion in their printed journal. You can read it online here: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00043079.2017.1337427 My copy is in the mail!
My article on John Vassos and television design is now live on Smithsonian Voices. Read it here.
Please come to my talk about industrial designer John Vassos at the historic Helen Kate Furness Free Library in Wallingford, PA on October 22 at 2pm. The Helen Kate Furness Free Library Vassos designed and innovated radios and televisions for RCA and their first computer as well as interior design for the iconic art deco WCAU building at 1622 Chestnut Street in Philadelphia. Here is John Vassos, with assistants, at work on a magnificent mural for the WCAU building showing the power of radio. The mural takes pieces from his books, Contempto and his advertising work, to create a incredible montage showing the reach, importance and potential dangers of this newest form of mass communication. (the image is from Broadcast News, the official organ of RCA)
My biography of John Vassos recently won a coveted Choice Award from the American Library Association, in the category of History of Science and Technology. It is thrilling to be among the top publications of the year in this category. The American Library Association chooses from thousands of books that they have featured in their reviews in the past year. Here is the listing and the formidable books also chosen for that award as well as the book review. Thank you ALA!
John Vassos: Magic Brain of RCA
Greek American John Vassos was associated for more than 40 years with RCA and changed the face of the important media corporation, as I tell my students not familiar with the 20th century powerhouse, the Apple Company of its day. In 1935 Vassos suggested to owner David Sarnoff that they change RCA's logo from the traditional one showing Edison's faithful dog responding to the sound of "his master's voice" via phonograph to something more fitting for the machine age. His image of a stylized head with an electronic brain graphically combined the user-friendliness of RCA radios (and other products) with the fine mechanical circuitry giving listeners the excellent tuning and audio that RCA products promised. As a leading consultant designer to the company, Vassos shaped these user-friendly radios by adding easy to read tuning windows, large knobs and other elements. He came up with the idea for the Magic Brain advertising campaign which expanded to include a Magic Eye referring to tuning precision - when he observed the mechanical components of the radios. Although the conservative Sarnoff preferred the "Master's Voice" logo which persisted for many years and the so called "meatball" logo with the RCA letters underscored with a lightening bolt, the Magic Brain logo was employed from 1935-1940, a time when the cooperation moved to a top ranking among electronics firms. The logo was such a powerful icon for the company, that J. Walter Thompson company decided to use it as their spring board for their adaptation advertising the 1975 RCA Colortrak system (see the ad above). When Vassos retired from the company, they referred to him a the magic brain of the company in a plaque presented to him at his retirement party. You may not have heard of John Vassos since he did not have a big agency like other industrial designer pioneers from the 1930s, but he had a signifiant role in shaping the iconography of the radio age as well as the radios and televisions themselves for the United State's largest electronics manufacturer, RCA. You can learn more about John Vassos in my book, the first biography of this important designer, John Vassos: Industrial Design for Modern Life.
I am so excited to be speaking at the Hagley Museum and Library on March 16. The Hagley holds the David Sarnoff Papers which were instrumental in my book to tell the story of John Vassos's relationship with RCA. The Hagley Library also holds the rights to Broadcast News, the in-house journal of RCA, which I used to illustrate Vassos's contributions to RCA throughout my book. For example, I included this page above which welcomed Vassos to RCA in 1932 and showed him surrounded by his many illustrations and designs from Salome, from Phobia, the Packard advertisement, interiors for Nedick's restaurant and other work. He was hired to make RCA more profitable in their radio manufacturing business which had fallen to 5th in the country.
Here are the details:
AUTHOR TALK: INDUSTRIAL DESIGN FOR MODERN LIFENEXT DATE: March 16, 2017 | 7 p.m. | Thursday
CATEGORY: ACADEMIC PROGRAMS, FEATURE ON HOME PAGE, AUTHOR TALKS, ADULT PROGRAMS | LOCATION:LIBRARY, SODA HOUSEDanielle Shapiro (Independent Scholar), “Industrial Design for Modern Life: John Vassos and RCA”
This lecture is open to the public.
Those planning to attend should r.s.v.p. to Carol Lockman, clockman@Hagley.org or call 302-658-2400, ext. 243.
In her talk, Industrial Design for Modern Life, Dr. Danielle Shapiro will explore the life and career of John Vassos, a Greek émigré who rose from anonymity as an advertising artist to become one of the pioneering founders of the industrial design profession. As the Radio Corporation of America's (RCA) leading designer, Vassos shaped the aesthetics of modern technology in the postwar era and became one of the most influential industrial designers of the twentieth century.
Danielle Shapiro is the author of the first biography of John Vassos, John Vassos: Industrial Design for Modern Life. Shapiro earned a Ph.D. from the Department of Art History and Communications Studies from McGill University. Her awards and distinctions are numerous and include a teaching fellowship at Harvard University, a Fulbright Award, postdoctoral fellowships at the Archives of American Art and the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and at the Wolfsonian Museum. Dr. Shapiro has also served as Senior Program Officer at the National Endowment for the Humanities, taught courses at American University, Hunter College, and Emerson College, and has authored numerous journal articles.
Read more about Hagley Author Talks here.
Happy Birthday John Vassos!!
Happy Birthday John Vassos! John Vassos would have celebrated his 118th birthday today! Raise a glass of ozu to him as you listen to a 45rpm on a RCA phonograph player.
Danielle Shapiro, is a writer and author of the first biography of John Vassos, modernist Greek-American industrial designer - John Vassos: Industrial Design for Modern Life.