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New Exhibition on Modern Design Opens This Fall


‘Modern by Design: Chicago Streamlines America,’ Opens Saturday, October 27

Inspired by modern technology, streamlined design emerged during the early 1930s and became one of the most popular design styles in history.

Discover how Chicago brought modern design to the American marketplace in the new exhibition, “Modern by Design: Chicago Streamlines America,” opening Saturday, October 27, 2018 at the Chicago History Museum. The exhibition is presented as part of the yearlong Art Design Chicago initiative of the Terra Foundation for American Art.

“Chicago is world famous for modern architecture but its contributions to modern design are often overlooked,” said Olivia Mahoney, senior curator at the Chicago History Museum. “This exhibition explores how Chicago shaped the look and feel of modern America with streamlined graphics, products and interior design.”

Visitors will discover how Chicago introduced streamlined design on a mass scale at the 1933-34 Chicago world’s fair and how Chicago companies subsequently adapted the style to make a wide range of products for American consumers who wanted the latest look and technology in their homes and workplaces.

Nearly 300 objects, photographs and documents from the 1930s-1950s trace this compelling story. Objects on view, many for the first time, include:

  • Tubular steel furniture designed by Wolfgang Hoffmann for the W.W. Howell Company
  • Streamlined appliances and products by Sunbeam, Sears and Montgomery Ward’s
  • Advertisements for Wrigley Gum designed by Otis Shepard
  • McCormick-Deering Farmall tractor designed by Raymond Loewy
  • American Flyer toy trains, Radio Flyer wagons, and Tootsie Toy cars

The exhibition will feature personal stories about designers such as Marianne Willisch and Lyn Colby, interior designers; Otis Shepard and Henry Harringer, graphic designers; and Wolfgang Hoffmann, Robert Budlong and John Morgan, industrial designers.

Art Deco Chicago: Designing Modern America,” serves as the companion publication to “Modern by Design.” The book is an expansive take on American Art Deco that explores Chicago’s pivotal role in developing the architecture, graphic design, and product design that came to define middle-class style in the 20th century.

Public programs will take place throughout the run of the exhibition. Programs include “Near North Design Day,” an all-ages day of Chicago design exploration presented by institutions on Chicago’s Near North Side, including the Chicago History Museum, DePaul Art Museum, Edgar Miller Legacy and the Newberry Library.

Admission to the exhibition is included with regular Museum admission ($19 adults/ $17 seniors and students, and free for children 12 years of age and younger and Illinois residents 18 years and younger). The exhibition will run through December 1, 2019. For more information on “Modern By Design: Chicago Streamlines America,” visit

“Modern By Design: Chicago Streamlines America,” is part of Art Design Chicago, an initiative of the Terra Foundation for American Art exploring Chicago’s art and design legacy, with presenting partner the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation. The Exhibition Sponsor is Wintrust. Additional support provided by the National Endowment of the Arts and WestRock. Established in part by The Elizabeth Morse Charitable Trust and Elizabeth Morse Genius Charitable Trust, the Exhibition Innovation Fund has provided additional funding for this exhibition.


The Chicago History Museum is situated on ancestral homelands of the Potawatomi people, who cared for the land until forced out by non-Native settlers. Established in 1856, the Museum is now at 1601 N. Clark Street in Lincoln Park, its third location. As a major museum and research center for Chicago and U.S. history, the Chicago History Museum strives to be a destination for learning, inspiration and civic engagement. Through dynamic exhibitions, tours, publications, special events and programming, the Museum connects people to Chicago’s history and to each other. To share Chicago stories, the Museum collects and preserves millions of artifacts, documents, images and other items that are relevant to the city’s history. The Museum gratefully acknowledges the support of the Chicago Park District on behalf of the people of Chicago. 

Chicago History Museum Sharing Chicago Stories