October 27, 2018–December 1, 2019


About the Exhibition

In the midst of the Great Depression, Chicago emerged as a vibrant center of streamlined design. The aerodynamic style expressed optimism and a desire for speed, power, and efficiency that suited life in the 20th century. Showcased at the 1933–34 world’s fair, this aesthetic and its enormous popularity prompted many local companies to hire new talent to design stylish yet affordable goods for middle-class consumers. Some of Chicago’s quintessential streamlined products, including Radio Flyer wagons, Sunbeam appliances, and Farmall tractors, became national best-sellers and remain icons of modern American design.

Featuring nearly 300 objects, photographs, and printed materials dating from the 1930s to 1950s, Modern by Design: Chicago Streamlines America celebrates Chicago’s role in shaping one of the most popular and enduring styles in our history.

Upcoming Programming

Modern by Design Talk | Creative Broadcast: Communication, Commercials & Advertising

November 6 | 6:00PM

Advertising agencies such as Leo Burnett have been based in Chicago since the late 19th century. This program highlights the work of a few innovative firms and designers.

Family Design Day


November 10 | 1:00--4:00PM

join us for a day of creative expression that invites families to design, make, and share throughout the Museum.

Chicago by Design: Past, Present, and Future

November 10 | 3:00PM

Join us for an engaging conversation centered around the yesterdays and tomorrows of design in Chicago.

Let us help you plan.

Special discounted group rates are available. 

Call 312-799-2162 or email [email protected] for more information. 

Bringing a group?

Access the Collection

This collection is now accessible to the public through the Museum’s Research Center, which holds the Museum’s archives, manuscripts, prints and photographs and more. 

A curated collection of Chicago's modern design photography is available online at Chicago History Museum Images.

Bring Modern Design to your Coffee Table

Art Deco Chicago: Designing Modern America is the companion volume to the Modern by Design: Chicago Streamlines America exhibition, which explores and celebrates Chicago’s pivotal role in the development of modern American design.

From everyday icons like the Sunbeam toaster and Schwinn bicycle to familiar beacons of the city skyline like the Board of Trade and Palmolive Buildings, Chicago was a national and international leader in the design that came to be known as Art Deco. This gorgeous book includes:

  • 5 essays by distinguished scholars offering new interpretations of twentieth-century modernism and the Art Deco Era
  • 101 iconic Art Deco designs with insightful commentary from scholars, curators, and collectors
  • 300 images including vintage illustrations and historic and commissioned photographs




Members also receive complimentary admission to our exclusive members-only exhibition preview event!

Exhibition Sponsors

This project also received support from the A. Montgomery Ward Foundation, Bank of America, N.A., Co-Trustee.  Established in part by the Elizabeth Morse Charitable Trust and the Elizabeth Morse Genius Charitable Trust, the Exhibition Innovation Fund has provided additional funding for Modern by Design.

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