Brooks Stevens (1911 - 1995)

Birth date: 6/7/1911 Death date: 1995  
Birth location: Milwaukee, Wisconsin Death location: Milwaukee, Wisconsin  
Media: Designer , Graphic Art Web site:
Fair (file rating) - MWA artist file may include basic data, and additional newspaper articles, book references, exhibition information, and images that can be researched on site at MWA.


 Brook  Stevens

Born 1911 in Milwaukee, WI

Died 1995 in Milwaukee, WI


As one of the fifteen charter members of the Society of Industrial Designers, Brooks Stevens’ ability to visualize future trends for functional items with style guided his career for 60 years.  Today many of his designs are products and fixtures that the modern world takes for granted in every day life.

Stricken with polio at a young age, Stevens was encouraged by his father to draw and build models while bedridden, likely laying the foundation for his prominent career in industrial design. Later, he studied architecture at Cornell University and briefly worked as a package designer before starting his own design firm in 1934.

Stevens coined the term “planned obsolescence,” which he defined as “the desire to own something a little newer, a little better, a little sooner than is necessary.” Based in Milwaukee, his firm earned international recognition while creating thousands of product designs including Studebaker and Excalibur automobiles, Harley-Davidson motorcycles, Hiawatha and Olympian trains, the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile, Briggs & Stratton “Vanguard” gasoline engines, outboard motors, home appliances, and logos and packaging to create “corporate identities” for companies such as 3M, Miller Brewing and Allen Bradley.

A strong advocate of design education, Stevens lectured at the Layton School of Art, and later at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design (MIAD). The Brooks Stevens chair of Industrial Design was established there in 1983 and the Brooks Stevens Center, a display space, was created when the new MIAD facility was finished in 1992. Stevens continued to teach industrial design until his death in 1995.  After his death his son, Kipp Stevens continued to run “Brooks Stevens Design” with offices in Milwaukee and Chicago.

Selected Exhibitions:

1950     Industrial Design Exhibit, Milwaukee Art Institute, WI

1975     Wisconsin Directions, Milwaukee Art Center, WI

1985     Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, WI   (One-person)

1991     Brooks Stevens: Designs in Motion, Madison Art Center, Madison, WI

1991     Styled to Sell: The Industrial Designs of Brooks Stevens, State Historical Museum of Wisconsin,          Madison, WI

2003     Industrial Strength Design: How Brooks Stevens Shaped Your World, Milwaukee Art Museum, WI

Brooks Stevens continued:

Selected Publications:

Auer, James                  “He Adds Style to Daily Life.” Milwaukee Journal, September 24, 1979

Auer, James                  “Stylish Hiawatha was Queen of the Road.” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, June                                                     20, 2003

Adamson, Glen             Industrial Strength Design: How Brooks Stevens Shaped Your World, MIT                                                    Press, 2003

© 11/10/2005 Museum of Wisconsin Art, West Bend, Wisconsin                                                                                            6/3/2010

Wisconsin Affiliations

Wisconsin Art Organizations

No art organizations were found.

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