Norman Bel Geddes Theater and Industrial Design Papers

Biographical Sketch

Norman Bel Geddes (1893-1958) was a visionary stage designer, director, producer, theater architect, industrial designer, producer of model photography, and author. A pioneer in stage design, he was involved as writer and/or designer in more than one hundred plays, motion pictures, and other theatrical performances ranging from the opera to the circus. As an industrial designer, he was identified with the popular streamlining style of the 1930s and was responsible not only for his own tradition of functionalism but for a variety of specific creations including the Toledo scale, Philco radio cabinet, typewriters, cigarette cases, kitchen ranges, poleless tents, and battleships.

Bel Geddes devoted the early part of his career to the theater, establishing his reputation in 1924 by successfully collaborating with Max Reinhardt on The Miracle. In addition to the unproduced Divine Comedy (1921), his most significant productions were Hamlet (1931), Dead End (1935), and The Eternal Road (1937). As a theater architect, Bel Geddes designed television studios for NBC in the 1950s, but his most elaborate (albeit unrealized) designs were for the buildings and grounds of the 1933 Chicago World's Fair.

Bel Geddes began his industrial design work in 1927. In the 1930s his second wife, Frances Waite, along with Worthen Paxton, Earl Newsome, and the architect George Howe, were partners in Norman Bel Geddes & Co. The firm employed over one hundred people for the General Motors "Highways and Horizons" and "Futurama" exhibits at the 1939 New York World's Fair, and for military contracts and model photography during World War II. Other major clients were Chrysler, IBM, Ringling Bros., and the city of Toledo, Ohio, for which he designed master plans. His influence was perhaps greatest in unrealized, futuristic projects like the Futurama exhibit. In the 1950s, Norman Bel Geddes & Co. became a one-man firm.

Bel Geddes' library, professional archives, and personal files were acquired in 1958 by the Ransom Center with the assistance of the Edgar G. Tobin Foundation of San Antonio. Numerous books and commercial sound recordings received with the collection were withdrawn and cataloged in the Ransom Center Library. Bel Geddes' films and noncommercial audio recordings were transferred to the Film Collection and to Ransom Center Sound Recordings.

Drawings for Divine Comedy are held at the Tobin Collection of Theatre Arts at the Marion Koogler McNay Art Museum.


Norman Bel Geddes Theater and Industrial Design Papers Finding Aid
Title Page Biographical
Scope and
Index of
Series I
Index of
Series II
Index of
Series III

(Last modified: 30 June 2006)

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