Norman Melancton Bel Geddes

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Norman Melancton Bel Geddes (Geddes)

Also Known As: "Big Norm"
Birthplace: Adrian, Lenawee County, Michigan, United States
Death: May 08, 1958 (65)
New York, New York, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Clifton Terry Geddes and Flora Luella Geddes
Husband of Helen Belle Bel Geddes; Edith Lutyens Bel Geddes; Frances Resor Bel Geddes and Anne Howe Bel Geddes
Father of Joan Bel Ulanov and Barbara Bel Geddes

Occupation: Industrial designer, Architect, Film Art Director
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Norman Melancton Bel Geddes

Norman Melancton Bel Geddes (April 27, 1893 – May 8, 1958) was an American theatrical and industrial designer who focused on aerodynamics.

Early life

Bel Geddes was born Norman Melancton Geddes in Adrian, Michigan, and raised in New Philadelphia, Ohio, the son of Flora Luelle (née Yingling) and Clifton Terry Geddes, a stockbroker. When he married Helen Belle Schneider in 1916, they incorporated their names to Bel Geddes. Their daughter was actress Barbara Bel Geddes.


He began his career with set designs for Aline Barnsdall's Los Angeles Little Theater in the 1916-1917 season, then in 1918 as the scene designer for the Metropolitan Opera in New York. He designed and directed various theatrical works, from Arabesque and The Five O'Clock Girl on Broadway to an ice show entitled It Happened on Ice produced by Sonja Henie. He created set designs for the film Feet of Clay (1924), directed by Cecil B. DeMille, designed costumes for Max Reinhardt, and created the sets for the Broadway production of Sidney Kingsley's Dead End (1935).

Bel Geddes opened an industrial-design studio in 1927, and designed a wide range of commercial products, from cocktail shakers to commemorative medallions to radio cabinets. His designs extended to unrealized futuristic concepts: a teardrop-shaped automobile, and an Art Deco House of Tomorrow. In 1929, he designed "Airliner Number 4," a 9-deck amphibian airliner that incorporated areas for deck-games, an orchestra, a gymnasium, a solarium, and two airplane hangars.

Bel Geddes's book Horizons (1932) had a significant impact: "By popularizing streamlining when only a few engineers were considering its functional use, he made possible the design style of the thirties." He wrote forward-looking articles for popular American periodicals.

Bel Geddes designed the General Motors Pavilion, known as Futurama, for the 1939 New York World's Fair. For that famous and enormously influential installation, Bel Geddes exploited his earlier work in the same vein: he had designed a "Metropolis City of 1960" in 1936.

Bel Geddes's book Magic Motorways (1940) promoted advances in highway design and transportation, foreshadowing the Interstate Highway System ("there should be no more reason for a motorist who is passing through a city to slow down than there is for an airplane which is passing over it"). His autobiography, Miracle in the Evening, was published posthumously in 1960.

"Norman," written by Gerry Beckley of the band America and performed by Jeff Larson on his 2002 album Fragile Sunrise, is an homage to Bel Geddes.

The case for the Mark I computer was designed by Norman Bel Geddes. IBM's Thomas Watson presented it to Harvard. At the time, some saw it as a waste of resources, since computing power was in high demand during this part of World War II and those funds could have been used to build additional equipment.

The United States Postal Service celebrated the First-Day-Of-Issue for a commemorative U.S. postage stamp honoring Bel Geddes as a "Pioneer Of American Industrial Design" on June 29, 2011 at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in NYC.

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Norman Melancton Bel Geddes's Timeline

April 27, 1893
Adrian, Lenawee County, Michigan, United States
December 2, 1916
October 31, 1922
New York, New York County, New York, United States
May 8, 1958
Age 65
New York, New York, United States