I have some sort of affinity toward the 1930's and 1940s. I like the fabrics, colors that were in vogue, the scale of things, furniture, architecture, music, etc. I like the quality of switches, dials, knobs and other mechanical things of the era. "High technology" was in its infancy and things were made with more of a slant toward durability and function rather than ability to mass produce. While mass manufacturing was present, products were manufactured more "ground up". A company would start with plastics, bakelite, steel, wood or glass rather than preassembled components. Not as efficient, but it created a much more unique product. Try to buy a refrigerator, or telephone today where every part is made from the same company. It is impossible.
Retooling and redesign was much more difficult and expensive than it is now. Computer design and manufacturing enables car companies for example to completely redesign automobiles in months rather than years. This tends to eliminate the refining of design that used to occur. Both in form and function. Body styling follows short term trends, rather than setting them. A turn signal stalk that is a half inch too long and gets in the way isn't refined shorter over the next two years after getting customer feedback, instead the entire car is redesigned and a whole new set of problems pop up that will never be addressed before the next redesign.
This century has produced many wonderful products. Western Electric for example, producing the 302 telephones. This phone remained virtually the same from 1938 to 1958
. There were changes in the body materials, but was basically the same product for 20 years. Because it was designed to last a while, aesthetics were more important, because the style would have to hold up as long as mechanicals.
World War II changed a lot in our day to day lives. America learned to mass produce on a scale never before imagined, it won the war, and it also began to bring a higher standard of living to more and more people. There was a price for this however. Details. Aesthetic details, functional details. "New and Improved" began to mean easier and cheaper to produce. "Features" of a product began to appear not because people wanted them, but because they were cheap and easy to integrate. A 500 number memory on your cordless telephone is offered because it's easy to electronically increase the memory, but adding a way to enter or manage the data is complicated and expensive. So here we are in the new millennium comparing products in stores and dealerships by tons of features we probably will never use, and not realizing untill we get the product home that all the features are accessed through a couple of multi-functioned buttons and menus. . . because it is cheaper to make that way.
The Airstream as art.
Art to me is something that transcends mere craft. Some objects whether purely aesthetic, or functional as well, are self evidently art. They contain some energy that knows no description other than art. Of course everyone has their own artistic tastes. Companies who manufacture products are beholden to sales, and therefore they progress in their designs with an eye toward profit. This means that to an extent they design with certain set of mechanical goals in mind, floor space, amenities etc. Every once in a while someone comes along who finds that sweet blend of everything. Who make a functional piece so obviously well balanced in aesthetics and function you just can explain the "just right-ness" of it by no other word than art. Like a perfect blend of spices in a dish, or the guitar solo that could exist no other way. We see these products occur now and then, The Vespa, the earlier mentioned Western Electric 302, the Volkswagen Beetle, Stickley Furniture, Harley-Davidson, the Wesclock Big Ben, the Supermarine Spitfire. These and others become more than what their specification sheets would imply. They are art, whether they are your taste or not, and this is what sustains them as classics.
Unfortunately I think that we are seeing less of these artistic icons happening. The aforementioned ability to quickly re-tool allows for less commitment to a design. Wacky trends can be chased, products can be designed by committee, its not as serious, not as committed as it once was. Its easy to re-vamp the whole thing if it doesn't sell.
The Porsche 911 held its basic design (aesthetically and mechanically) from 1965
until 1989, an incredibly long run for a design. But Starting in the 1990s, technology, marketing and safety laws have drastically changed it several times over the last 13 years and now it only hints at the original. The cars are selling well, but that's because of more compromises made to increase customer base, but in 50 years what will be more a a classic a 1969 or a 2003?
The post war manufacturing technology boom didn't affect travel trailers as quickly as telephones, stereos, televisions, and even cars because the trailer is a fairly low tech item. There weren't a lot of corners that could be cut by technology. Airstream started in what I'll call "the golden age of cool stuff." After the war and into the 50s and 60s the basic structure of a trailer didn't change all that much, because there was no need for it to. even today the technology required to manufacture an "International" is not very far from that required to make a "Clipper". Fortunately for Airstream lovers, the low techy-ness of the trailer has kept it fairly true to the beginnings.
Some may say I am living in the past, and perhaps I am, But I think some of us just see things, think they are good, and like them. We see the energy, the art in them. We don't want to throw away our cordless phones every 18 months, we would rather paint our wooden windows than install vinyl, we just don't like the color of light from compact florescent bulbs. Not that those things are inherently bad, its just that certain things are more important to us than others.