When A Big Business Prospers, The People Prosper

During the mid-twentieth century, Design Leadership ruled! This new area of the auto industry helped cement an American auto maker, GM, at the top of the business world. Many would agree today that introducing the Motorama concept became central to the General Motors universe and is now an idealized portrait of one of the greatest moments in American auto history. 

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Well Done is Better than Well Said

Creating all of GM's product designs before and after WW II (from the late 1920s through the 1950s), Mr. Earl became the company's arch ruler in Detroit. However, he didn't like "talking it up." Why? He always knew it was better, when speaking to auto journalists and reporters, to go the other way. This cagey leader understood by "not talking" about GM's major innovations/inventions during this era, like the traveling Motorama Shows, would create more mystique behind the company's mainline products that he and his powerful new team inside GM were designing. He wasn't power hungry either and understood that sharing the credit, in a big corporation, and deflecting the light on Alfred P. Sloan was the way to go. In other words, respecting the chain of command. Additionally, Harley Earl was in nature a very private person and enjoyed his anonymity. 

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Inside Story

To put it clearly, if you knew what was going on back during GM's Motorama Era, you knew Harley Earl was the supreme ruler of all GM's product designs. Period. People who bought the side of the story that GM's CEO, Mr. Sloan, was making all the key innovations of the era, simply never got on the inside track of this modern success story.

Yes, these are the self-same people (including legions of auto journalistic community writers) who never even knew the true story. For example Mr. Sloan who was a New Yorker didn't live or even own any property in Michigan during his long association with this company. This financial leader ran all the company's managerial concerns from GM's stately mid-town Manhattan Treasury Office.

At the beginning of his long career, Mr. Sloan was an engineer but he was never known for getting his hand's dirty in the trenches of Detroit's auto making world. Of course that's fine, too... for Alfred Sloan became the quintessential modern corporate financial officer.

Sue Vanderbilt, one of GM Styling's newest female designers, said this controversial statement in a 1960 magazine article, "Harley J. Earl dragged Engineering kicking and screaming into the 20th Century."  This quote quickly allows audiences today to envision how many traditional Detroit engineers, during the mid-20th Century, didn't like many of maverick artist-engineer-Earl's moves. Making GM's cars "to sell" was a big job and HJE could care the least about winning some sort of "popularity contest" inside the American auto industry. 

Motorama enclosure section (15-pages) within the Los Angeles Examiner. 

Motorama enclosure section (15-pages) within the Los Angeles Examiner. 

As this article from GM Folks magazine (Jan., '53) affirms, the innovation of using "Plastics" was experimented on for the first time in HJE's hybrid-engineering facility. Like so many other aspects of this story, once you get on the right scent trail, then it's not hard to understand. 

As this article from GM Folks magazine (Jan., '53) affirms, the innovation of using "Plastics" was experimented on for the first time in HJE's hybrid-engineering facility. Like so many other aspects of this story, once you get on the right scent trail, then it's not hard to understand. 

HJE's lifestyle creations thrilled audiences everywhere.

HJE's lifestyle creations thrilled audiences everywhere.