This website is based on a display that opened at the National Museum of American History in March 2018. Objects pictured here may differ from those currently on view at the museum.
Between the mid-1800s and the mid-1900s, art and design played an increasingly important role in industry and manufacturing in an economy driven by middle-class consumers.
In the mid-1800s, demand for artists grew a new printing technologies made it possible to mass-produce profusely illustrated books, newspapers, and magazines, as well as decorative prints. Recognizing an opportunity, many Americans taught themselves or their children to draw. Public schools began to offer drawing classes, while philanthropists and business leaders opened design schools to teach drawing and other newly marketable artistic skills.
Students learning wood engraving from “The Monument of a Philanthropist: The Cooper Union and its School of Art,” Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, 1883
Courtesy of Newark Public Library
Art Education Applied to Industry
Published in 1877, George Ward Nichols’s Art Education Applied to Industry advocated practical art education for American children, workers, and employers to make the country’s industrial products appealing in markets around the world.
Loan from the Smithsonian Institution Libraries. Image courtesy of the State Library of Massachusetts.
Pyramids & Cubes
Geometrical forms and arithmetical solids such as these manufactured in 1859, helped schools teach students how to draw perspective.
Perspective drawing from the American Text Books of Art Education, 1873
Industrial Art Desk
In an era that emphasized self-improvement, adults and children honed artistic skills at home with products such as the Chautauqua Industrial Art Desk, introduced in the late 1800s. This desk dates from the early 1900s.
Gift of Dr. Richard Lodish American School Collection