Profile

William Lawrence Bird Jr.

Curator

Ph.D., Georgetown University, American History, 1985
M.A., University of Arizona, American History, 1975
B.A., University of Maryland, American History, 1973

Research Specialties 

Advertising, mass media, political history.

Projects 

Current Projects:

  • Souvenir Nation, book and exhibition, August 2013
  • Democracy in America, exhibition, 2016 -
  • Documention of contemporary politics and popular culture

Past Projects: Exhibitions:

  • Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of American History, Curator, America's Doll House: The Miniature World of Faith Bradford, 2009-indefinite
  • Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of American History, Curator, Holidays on Display, November 2009-October 2010
  • Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of American History, Curator, Vote: The Machinery of Democracy, July 2004–January 2005
  • Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of American History, Curator, Paint by Number: Accounting for Taste in the 1950s” April 6–December 31, 2001
  • Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of American History, Curator, “Science for Progress” section, Science in American Life, 1992–present
  • Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, Co-curator, Produce for Victory: Posters on the American Home Front, 1941–1945, 1994–present
  • Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of American History, Curator, American Television from the Fair to the Family, 1939–1989,” 1989–1991
Awards, Honors, and Special Recognition 
  • Rockefeller Foundation Humanities Fellow, Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research, University of Wisconsin-Madison, January–June 1987.
  • Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, Four Freedoms Foundation Grant in Aid, Hyde Park, NY, June–July 1987.
  • Federal Design Achievement Award, Presidential Design Awards, presented for the exhibition Produce for Victory: Posters on the American Home Front, 1941-1945, 1995.
Professional Affiliations 
  • American Historical Association
  • Organization of American Historians
  • American Studies Association

Publications

America's Doll House: The Miniature World of Faith Bradford. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2010.

One of the most popular exhibits at the Smithsonian Institution is a dollhouse. Sitting on the National Museum of American History's third floor is a five-story home donated to the museum by Faith Bradford, a Washington, D.C., librarian, who spent more than a half-century accumulating and constructing the 1,354 miniatures that fill its 23 intricately detailed rooms. When Bradford donated them to the museum in 1951, she wrote a lengthy manuscript describing the lives of its residents: Mr. and Mrs. Peter Doll and their ten children, two visiting grandparents, twenty pets, and household staff. Bradford cataloged the Dolls' tastes, habits, and preferences in neatly typed household inventories, which she then bound, along with photographs and fabric samples, in a scrapbook. In America's Doll House, Smithsonian curator William L. Bird, Jr., weaves this visual material into the rich tapestry of Faith Bradford's miniature world. featuring vibrant color photography that brings every narrative detail to life, America's Doll House is both an incisive portrait of a sentimental pastime and a celebration of Bradford's remarkable and painstaking accomplishment.

Holidays on Display. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2007.

The warm glow exuding from animated store windows never ceases to arouse a feeling of nostalgic comfort in many Americans during the frigid months of the holiday season. In “Holidays on Display,” Bird examines what makes these windows, along with lighting displays and parade floats, have such a strong appeal to consumers. He does this through a photographic and textual history of all aspects of the display world. The book tracks the evolution of the outdoor lighting, animated windows, and parade floats that fill the streets of America with “holiday spirit.” Bird’s seamless use of text and more than 100 never-before-seen images produces a vivid and telling history of emotionally stirring display.

"American Family Robinson," "Cavalcade of America," "Theatre Guild on the Air," in Christopher Sterling, ed. The Museum of Broadcast Communications Encyclopedia of Radio. Chicago and London: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, 2003.
Paint by Number: The How-to Craze that Swept the Nation. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2001.

A history of the popular hobby from the vantage point of the entrepreneurs who created the kits, the consumers who filled them in and hung them in their homes, the artists who made them, and the critics who reviled them.

“Better Living”: Advertising, Media, and the New Vocabulary of Business Leadership, 1935-1955. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1999.

A history of how big business learned to be both entertaining and persuasive when talking to the public. Examining the years from the Depression to postwar prosperity, "Better Living" follows the dissemination of a politically competitive claim of "more," "new" and "better" in industry and life. Beginning with the changes in business-government relations during the New Deal, this study looks at the ways in which politically active corporations and their leaders learned how to speak--when speaking was not enough.

Design for Victory: World War II Posters on the American Home Front with Harry R. Rubenstein. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1998.

This study delves beneath the surface of colorful poster graphics, telling the stories behind their production and revealing how posters fulfilled the goals and needs of their creators. The authors describe the history of how specific posters were conceived and received, focusing on the workings of the wartime advertising profession and demonstrating how posters often reflected uneasy relations between labor and management.

“Advertising, Company Voice.” “Cavalcade of America.” “General Electric Theater.” In Horace Newcomb, ed. Encyclopedia of Television. Chicago and London: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, 1997.
“Television in the Ike Age,” in Keith Melder, Hail to the Candidate: Presidential Campaigns from Banners to Broadcasts. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1992.
“From the Fair to the Family,” in From Receiver to Remote Control: The T.V. Set. New York: New Museum of Contemporary Art, 1990, pp. 63–70.
“Enterprise and Meaning: Sponsored Film, 1939 1949,” History Today 39 (December 1989): pp. 24–30.
“A Spate of New Toys Invades America’s Living Rooms,” Smithsonian 20 (June 1989): pp. 82–85.
“A Suggestion Concerning James Smithson’s Concept of ‘Increase and Diffusion,’” Technology and Culture 24 (April 1983): pp. 246–255.