The role of the bicycle in the development of early American streamlining

Tierney, Bradley
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Streamlining was, at least initially, applied to major modes of transportation. Aircraft, streamliner trains, ships and automobiles all purposefully incorporated streamlining in designs to lessen wind resistance and/or to minimize aerodynamic drag. In the early to mid-1930s, following the Great Depression, America looked toward streamlining as a way of lifting public spirit and boosting confidence in a new way of life, by showing optimism and progress through speed. Soon after the Chicago World's Fair, "A Century of Progress" Exposition of 1933-34, stationary objects began incorporating design traits that revealed an ingrained belief in machine efficiency. Common household items such as desk lamps, vacuum cleaners, furniture, etc., were given makeovers with rounded edges and smooth-lined designs. The Schwinn Streamline Aerocycle was included in the transportation display at the Chicago World's Fair and so, chronologically, was on the leading edge of this movement. Significant to this study are the years 1933 and 1934, a timeframe demonstrating an initial stronghold for the use of streamlining in transportation, followed by the introduction of the design movement beyond this origin. This thesis will explore the role of the bicycle, due to the unique position it occupied in the market, and the influence it subsequently had, in the introduction and proliferation of streamlining and machine deco beyond major forms of transportation, to the smaller static objects of everyday use in America during this time period. Having been both a method of transport and a smaller product at the same time, the bicycle acted as the link of introduction, the sole object to embrace and incorporate the trend of streamlining beyond the original application to major forms of transportation, the functional root of the styling movement. Through content analysis of what constituted "streamlined" as an adjective in a product description, differences were discovered and identified, such that there were two separate strains of streamlining used in product promotion and design during this time: the use of linear "streamlining," in other cycles as compared to the aerodynamic "streamlining" presented in the Schwinn Streamline Aerocycle. Differences and comparisons will be discussed at length.

Interdisciplinary graduate studies