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Streamlined: From Hull to Home

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Streamlined: From Hull to Home
June 15-August 25, 2019
Collins Gallery

Streamlined: From Hull to Home charts the progress of streamlining from naval engineering through design and manufacturing, and into our everyday vocabulary. The exhibit features boats, outboard motors, and images from the Museum’s Rosenfeld Collection, along with household objects and advertisements.

In today’s world, “streamlining” is a term in regular use to describe the process of making something more efficient, removing obstacles, and simplifying. We use it to describe improvements in business practices, better experiences buying tickets to the movies, and even graceful web navigation. But few consider the long history of this word, which has its origins almost 150 years ago. Numerous professions and technologies were involved in the evolution and popularization of this ubiquitous word.

Streamlining in design refers to a style applied to manufactured objects in the 1930s and 1940s. With better engines, infrastructure, engineering, and manufacturing methods, water, land, and air speed records were regularly broken through the 1920s and 1930s; designers and manufacturers were eager to increase depression-era sales by harnessing the era’s enthusiasm for speed. Streamlining offered the perfect combination of shapes and manufacturing techniques to accomplish this. Rounded forms, shiny chromed surfaces, low, horizontal shapes enhanced by parallel lines (amusingly called “speed whiskers”) were used to suggest speed and infuse static objects like toasters, cameras, and even butter dishes, with a sense of modernity and movement.

Streamlined objects make obvious references to speeding trains and airplanes, but the origin of all advances in speed, and the creation of the shapes that allowed them, actually came from boats. Fast car and airplane engines were developed and tested by naval engine designers. The scientific study of wind and water resistance was developed for naval architecture and perfected there before migrating to aeronautics and automobile design. Ideas and technologies advanced through boating quickly migrated to all other forms of transportation, allowing them to mature and eventually eclipse boats as our main method of fast transportation.

This exhibition features objects, photographs, print advertisements, and video content that illustrate the progression of streamlining from shipyard to modern day office lingo. Eight boats from the Museum’s collection demonstrate how streamlining developed as a marine practice. A highlight is the 1904 Elco auto launch Panhard I, a 31-foot motorboat whose round, pod-like hull form defies its age and provides a clear vision of the modern shapes to come.

Multiple photographs from the Museum’s Rosenfeld Collection celebrate the early development of speedboats, and elaborate the advances in hull design that allowed dramatic increases in speed. Boat models and movies help explain how speedboats worked, and why the world became so excited about them. Thirty outboard motors illustrate the arrival of stylistic streamlining and its development into today’s everyday manufacturing, which can be seen through a collection of familiar manufactured objects that show the development of streamlining as a design and manufacturing practice.

As an aesthetic style mark, and a symbol of twentieth-century machine-age speed, precision, and efficiency, it has been borrowed from boats and made to compel the eye anew, with the same flash-and-gleam beauty re-embodied in all travel and transportation machines intended for fast-going.

Mystic Seaport Museum tells this story with a fresh perspective that is made possible by utilizing its vast maritime collections. The result is an engaging and visually exciting exhibition that will appeal to both design enthusiasts and the layperson.

This exhibition is made possible by the generous support of:

Leadership Circle
Alexander and Amanda Bulazel
Charles and Irene Hamm
Ken and Dina Siegel
Chubb, the global insurance company, in honor of Robert G. Stone, Jr.

Patron Circle
Grant and Peggy Cambridge
Cape Branch Foundation
Hope H. van Beuren

Era of Exhibition Sponsor
S. Carter Gowrie
The Capital Group Companies