In today’s world, “streamlining” is a term in regular use to describe the process of making something more efficient, removing obstacles, and simplifying. We use it to describe improvements in business practices, better experiences buying tickets to the movies, and even graceful web navigation. But few consider the long history of this word, which has its origins almost 150 years ago. Numerous professions and technologies were involved in the evolution and popularization of this ubiquitous word.
Streamlining in design refers to a style applied to manufactured objects in the 1930s and 1940s. With better engines, infrastructure, engineering, and manufacturing methods, water, land, and air speed records were regularly broken through the 1920s and 1930s; designers and manufacturers were eager to increase depression-era sales by harnessing the era’s enthusiasm for speed. Streamlining offered the perfect combination of shapes and manufacturing techniques to accomplish this. Rounded forms, shiny chromed surfaces, low, horizontal shapes enhanced by parallel lines (amusingly called “speed whiskers”) were used to suggest speed and infuse static objects like toasters, cameras, and even butter dishes, with a sense of modernity and movement.
Streamlined objects make obvious references to speeding trains and airplanes, but the origin of all advances in speed, and the creation of the shapes that allowed them, actually came from boats. Fast car and airplane engines were developed and tested by naval engine designers. The scientific study of wind and water resistance was developed for naval architecture and perfected there before migrating to aeronautics and automobile design. Ideas and technologies advanced through boating quickly migrated to all other forms of transportation, allowing them to mature and eventually eclipse boats as our main method of fast transportation.
Streamlined: From Hull to Home includes visually exciting objects that will interest children, with interpretation designed to satisfy an adult’s deeper curiosity. No existing interest in boats or design is needed to engage with the show content, which is clear and easy to understand even without reading the interpretive text. The text does offer deeper connections and more specific information for those who arrive already knowing about some of the topics included in the show, or just want more information to attach to them. Because this show presents collection items rarely exhibited, it will appeal to locals familiar with Mystic Seaport Museum, as well as tourists passing through.