The Origins of Graphic Design in America, 1870-1920

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The Origins of Graphic Design in America, 1870-1920

Ellen Mazur Thomson

Publisher: Yale University PressFormat: Hardcover

By the time the phrase “graphic design” first appeared in print in 1922, design professionals in America had already created a discipline combining visual art with mass communication. In this book, Ellen Mazur Thomson examines for the first time the early development of the graphic design profession. It has been thought that graphic design emerged as a profession only when European modernism arrived in America in the 1930s, yet Thomson shows that the practice of graphic design began much earlier. Shortly after the Civil War, when the mechanization of printing and reproduction technology transformed mass communication, new design practices emerged. Thomson investigates the development of these practices from 1870 to 1920, a time when designers came to recognize common interests and create for themselves a professional identity.

What did the earliest designers do, and how did they learn to do it? What did they call themselves? How did they organize themselves and their work? Drawing on an array of original period documents, the author explores design activities in the printing, type founding, advertising, and publishing industries, setting the early history of graphic design in the context of American social history.

“This thorough investigation of the roots of graphic design in America opens up an area of study that has been much neglected. Thomson brings to the table a fresh account of design as a discipline interconnected with social change”. — Peter Hall, associate editor, I.D. Magazine

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