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California Graduate School of Design and the California Institute of Technology Industrial Design Section Records

 Collection
Identifier: 10008-MS

Scope and Contents

The California Graduate School of Design (1937-41) and the California Institute of Technology Industrial Design Section (1941-49) papers contain student files, correspondence, and documents regarding the formation and operation of the two schools.

Dates

  • 1928-1964

Creator

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for research. Researchers must apply in writing for access.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright may not have been assigned to the California Institute of Technology Archives. All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Caltech Archives. Permission for publication is given on behalf of the California Institute of Technology Archives as the owner of the physical items and, unless explicitly stated otherwise, is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained by the reader.

Historical Note

This collection contains documents pertaining to the formation and operation of the California Graduate School of Design (CGSD), which subsequently was reorganized to become the California Institute of Technology Industrial Design section (CIT-ID). The CGSD represented a unique attempt to establish an American "Bauhaus."

The CGSD was situated at the northeast corner of the intersection of Colorado Street and Orange Grove Avenue in Pasadena, the current site of the Norton Simon Museum. This 12-acre parcel was then known as Carmelita Garden, a "memory garden" begun in 1880 in which 90 varieties of trees were planted. During the 1920s and early 1930s, the Pasadena Art Institute was situated at Carmelita Garden, but this venture proved financially unsound when its mortgage went into arrears. As the Garden was a preeminent historic site in Pasadena, a group of citizens resolved to preserve this natural monument. They decided that a school would prove suitable (due to its tax free status), and that an art school would be most fitting. In 1936 these organizers engaged Royal Bailey Farnum, the Educational Director of the Rhode Island School of Design, to determine what type of school would be most suitable. The Farnum Report's recommendations proved too broad for Cicero Hunt Lewis, who urged specializing in one aspect suggested by Farnum--industrial design. Lewis was appointed as Organizing Director, and in the spring of 1937 he went east on an investigative trip to establish a definite basis for starting the school. Lewis's report was accepted as the basis for the school's organization.

The school was incorporated in July 1937 as the California School of Design. Later to prevent confusion with an unincorporated school of the same name, it was called the California Graduate School of Design. The CGSD was a privately endowed, nonprofit-making institution which operated from October 1937 to June 1941. Its Board of Directors were nearly all Caltech Associates or members of the Caltech Board of Trustees. This affiliation was further strengthened by having some Caltech faculty members teach at the CGSD. The cause of the school's demise was never explicitly clear, but it appeared to be a victim of hard financial times. The student body never grew to a size considered sufficient to keep the school viable, and Walter Baermann, CGSD's Director from 1938-1941, did not want to increase the quantity of students at the expense of quality. Baermann, an industrial designer from Germany, made an exhaustive cross country trek in the summer of 1939 in an attempt to drum up financial support for the school. All the while he corresponded with his assistant who related to Baermann the Board's desire to ease entrance standards and increase the size of the student body.

The CGSD per se closed its doors in 1941, but was reorganized into the Industrial Design Section at Caltech. When the CIT-ID initiated its efforts in September 1941, it came under the direction of industrial designer, Antonin Heythum, for four years. Following Heythum, J. Paul Youtz became the final Director until Caltech closed out the section in June 1949. Youtz had instructed at the CGSD while he was a Research Fellow at Caltech, and later he became the Institute Patent Officer. Some of the section's work was devoted to the war effort, such as investigating alternative uses for clay and ceramics. Although the eventual demise of the section again appeared to have its roots in financial difficulties, the letters of two disillusioned students who left the Industrial Design Section shed light on some other interesting problems. They criticized some course instruction as being everything from ineffectual or excellent but unnecessarily specialized to spasmodic and contradictory. They also cited an "insidious undertone of individual rivalry," pettiness, and a lack of cooperation and esprit de corps. In any case, the section folded at a time when there was a general building and operating fund drive.

The collection is interesting on a number of levels. First and foremost, there is much commentary on the concepts of teaching and the uses of industrial design. The correspondence also focuses on the role of the industrial designer vis-a-vis mass production techniques. It explains that the industrial designer should be educated in engineering, sociology, economics and, of course, art. The industrial designer needs training in all these disciplines, and the curriculum at both the CGSD and the CIT-ID reflected this. The two schools offered instruction in design techniques and trends, workshop practice, materials and manufacturing processes, art history, business economics, and social and buying psychology.

Youtz continued to correspond with some students from the CGSD and CIT-ID into the early 1960s. Many of them obtained positions in major firms, such as Corning Glass, Eastman Kodak, and the automobile manufacturers in Detroit, while others joined established design companies in the east and still others used their education to create their own companies. Nonetheless, although there was an unquestioned need for the industrial designer, it turned out that the United States in the 1940s was not the place to establish a school to train such a specialist.

Written by Richard J. Frechen, June 1977

Extent

3.13 linear feet (8 boxes)

Language of Materials

English

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Papers donated by Herbert Hahn.
Title
Guide to the California Graduate School Of Design and the California Institute of Technology Industrial Design Section Papers, 1928-1964
Status
Completed
Author
Richard J. Frechen and Caltech Archives Staff
Date
1977, updated 2017
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Undetermined
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Edition statement
Edited by Penelope Neder-Muro, 2017

Repository Details

Part of the California Institute of Technology Archives and Special Collections Repository

Contact:
1200 East California Blvd.
MC B215-74
Pasadena California 91125 United States of America
(626) 395-2704