American Crossroads: General Motors’ Midcentury Campaign to Promote Modernist Urban Design in Hometown U.S.A
- Buildings & Landscapes: Journal of the Vernacular Architecture Forum
- University of Minnesota Press
- Volume 23, Number 2, Fall 2016
- pp. 89-115
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- Additional Information
Norman Bel Geddes’s Futurama exhibit was a national sensation, but it was only one component of a larger effort by General Motors to promote highway-centric urban design to the citizenry of North America. Historians of architecture and planning have neglected most of this effort, focusing on the important roles of designers and governments in highway creation while downplaying the powerful voices of corporations. GM’s engagement with urbanism began in the wake of the 1933–34 Century of Progress Exposition in Chicago when it capitalized on the success of its fair exhibit by launching the Parade of Progress, a roadshow that took visions of America’s high-tech future to towns all across the continent. Millions saw this “miniature world’s fair on wheels.” The subsequent success of the Futurama in 1939 reinvigorated the parade, and several schemes were concocted to add the Futurama to the roadshow. World War II interrupted these efforts, but victory eventually brought the Parade of Progress back to the highways and byways of America, with renewed emphasis on the importance of urban demolition and highway construction for any community that hoped to enter the promised land of scientific progress. From Palm Beach to Portland, from Pasadena to Providence, the General Motors Parade of Progress spread the “gospel of research,” pleading with Americans to plow freeways through the hearts of their old-fashioned towns and embrace the car as a necessity of daily life. The dramatic rise of state support for urban and suburban highways in the mid-1950s suggests the message was heard.