Models and prototypes are an important part of Cooper-Hewitt’s collection. They represent a step in the design process and a way of showing the story of an object from concept to final product.

In the 1920s, Colonel Howard Marmon, founder of the Marmon Motor Car Company, commissioned Walter Dorwin Teague, one of the first industrial designers, to devise a color scheme for Marmon cars. Teague suggested pastel shades, unusual for automobiles at the time. This unconventional recommendation impressed Marmon. When Marmon resolved to engineer a car with greater speed, acceleration, and flexibility, he again hired Teague’s firm to design a body as exciting as the works under the hood. The result was the Marmon Sixteen, a luxury sedan that epitomized Jazz Age streamline style, powered by an innovative 200-horsepower V-16 engine constructed mainly of aluminum, which made it much lighter than conventional cast iron engines.

While Teague concentrated on designing the car’s interior, his son, Walter Dorwin Teague, Jr., an engineering student at MIT who had been passionate about cars since his teens, focused on designing the body. Teague, Jr. created a streamlined form that cut wind resistance as it hid mechanical details like shock absorbers and spring ends under features such as swooping, curved fenders. The slanted windshield further reduced wind resistance while providing a higher, wider view, and minimized glare from approaching headlights. Teague noted, “There is nothing arbitrary about the design—no extraneous units added for effect…There is a definite reason for every line and curve.” [1]

To translate the design drawings into a realistic three-dimensional example, Teague had Boucher, the foremost model maker of the day, create this model. Teague chose the scale to allow for the use of miniature rubber tires from Firestone Tire and Rubber Company advertising ashtrays.

Despite critical success, fewer than 400 Marmons were produced before the car company failed in 1933, a victim of the Great Depression.

Today is Walter Dorwin Teague’s birthday.

[1] Marmon Motor Car Co., “From the notes of the designer, Walter Dorwin Teague,” in The Marmon Sixteen, (Indianapolis: Marmon Motor Car Co., ca. 1930), 1:13.


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