Radio Active: Advertising and Consumer Activism, 1935-1947

By Kathy M. Newman | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION
The Dialectic between Advertising
and Activism

In 1937 Bill Phillips, an information officer for the Department of Agriculture, hired a graphic designer named Lester Beall to make a series of posters for the Rural Electrification Administration (REA). The REA planned to use Beall's posters to “communicate the benefits of electricity to citizens in regions such as Appalachia. Beall used the silk-screening process to create six posters that promoted radio technology, electric light, washing machines, running water, farm machinery, and heat generation as among the benefits of electricity. He used bold colors—dark blue, crimson red, black, white, and lemon yellow—over large areas, with little text, and directional arrows to show the flows of light, electricity, and radio waves. The poster for radio, for example, illustrated three white radio waves, like bolts of lightening, moving downward from the upper right-hand corner of the poster toward a black house on a red hill. In 1937 these posters not only promoted electricity, they also promoted Beall's career, earning him the Wrst-ever one-man show for a graphic designer at the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art (see frontispiece). 1

Beall had some links to what Michael Denning has called the “Cultural Front” of the 1930s, but he was just as comfortable designing a promotional brochure for CBS (as he did in 1936) as he was designing the cover of the progressive daily PM or a series of posters advocating the antiFascist movement in Spain (as he did in 1937). 2 At the same time, his work

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