Presenting Fordism to the World: Ford & Kahn at the 1930s Expos
Norwich University, Northfield, VT, USA
In 1915 Henry Ford introduced millions of people to the practice of mass production with the exhibition of a Model-T assembly line at the Panama Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. By the 1930s, the concept of mass production permeated the fairgrounds of major American world’s fairs, beginning with the 1933-34 Century of Progress International Exposition in Chicago. Within its colorful, modern pavilions, fairgoers could watch everything from Firestone Tires to Kraft Mayonnaise being produced. When Ford discovered that his competitor, General Motors, would be exhibiting its own fully functional Chevrolet assembly line within a modern pavilion designed by Albert Kahn, he abruptly boycotted the fair. Realizing the great mistake he had made in turning his back on such a prominent platform for promoting his products and ideas, he hired Kahn to design a massive corporate pavilion for the exposition’s second season. With help from industrial designer Walter Dorwin Teague, Ford went well beyond exhibiting the basic assembly process of his automobiles by presenting a pavilion filled with spectacular, entertaining displays that incorporated a variety of innovative presentation techniques, including diorama, motion pictures, interactive presentations, and outdoor shows, in a carefully crafted attempt to more completely educate fairgoers on the total production process of his vehicles, as well as on the social and economic benefits of individual automobile ownership.
This paper will examine how the ideas of Henry Ford were directly reflected in the architecture and exhibit designs for the innovative automotive exposition pavilions produced by Albert Kahn and Walter Dorwin Teague for the Century of Progress Exposition, and how their design concepts were further developed at later American world’s fairs in the 1930s, including at the 1935-36 California Pacific Exposition in San Diego, the 1936 Texas Centennial Exposition in Dallas, and finally the 1939-40 New York World’s Fair.