Posted on October 29, 2014
This striking (excuse the pun) first day cover was issued by the U.S. Postal Service in June 2011.
It commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Selectric typewriter and its designer, Eliot Noyes (1910 – 1977) – a Harvard-trained architect and industrial designer. The IBM Selectric became an instant sensation upon its debut on July 31, 1961, and remained the typewriter found on most office desks until the brand was retired 25 years later, in 1986.
From my collection, an IBM Selectric 721, 1970
In 1946, Noyes was appointed as a design director at the firm of Norman Bel Geddes (1893-1958). Bel Geddes was an industrial designer known for his work on cars, planes, trains, and boats. At Bel Geddes’s office, Noyes was selected to design a typewriter for one of the firm’s corporate clients, the International Business Machines Corporation (IBM). When Bel Geddes’s firm folded in 1947, Noyes was awarded the IBM account on his own, and developed IBM’s Model A electric typewriter, introduced in 1948. Justification perhaps for the type-bars on the USPS first day cover?
A few years later, Noyes was to begin an association with IBM that lasted until his death in 1977. “In the early 1950s, the then President of IBM, Thomas J. Watson Jr., took a stroll down Fifth Avenue in New York and stopped at an Olivetti shop where typewriters were set out on the sidewalk stands for passers by to try out …
Olivetti Showroom, New York Palace 1954
The Olivetti machines had sleek designs and a variety of colours. Inside, the shop was bright and modern looking. In contrast, the display areas in IBM’s offices in those days were dimly lit and its computers were drab and boxy.” (Extracts taken from the IBM Archives: Good Design is Good Business)
In 1955, Watson Junior hired Noyes and gave him a mandate to oversee the redesign of the corporation’s products and buildings in order to convert a technologically-unified ‘family’ into a visually-unified one.
For more about Noyes, see: Esoteric Survey: Eliot Noyes
From his days as a student, Noyes began the process of archiving his own work and influences as a matter of course, and kept this going throughout his life. While curator of industrial design at New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMa), Noyes made a significant contribution to the museum’s growing permanent collection of everyday objects, and sought to acquire contemporary objects of good design as they appeared.
While working for IBM, Noyes arranged for brochures of Olivetti typewriters to arrive almost magically on Watson Junior’s desk – constantly yet subtly educating him as to what was good design and what was not.
This 1981 Aerogramme proudly promotes “Made In USA… world’s best buys!” Shown alongside the boats, planes and pharmaceuticals of big industry, and against a backdrop of the breadbasket of America, is a Selectric typewriter and two magnetic tape spools …
Good design certainly was good business!