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Russel Wright Papers

An inventory of his papers at Syracuse University

Finding aid created by: --
Date: Mar 2000

Biographical History

"Good design is for everyone."
-- Russel Wright

Industrial designer Russel Wright (1904-1976) was born in Lebanon, Ohio. He attended local schools, studied at the Cincinnati Academy of Art (1921-1922), Columbia School of Architecture (1923), and New York University School of Architecture (1938-1939). (He also briefly studied law, at Princeton University, from 1922-1924.)

From 1924-1931 Wright was engaged in stage and costume design. He established his own factory in 1930 for the production of the first informal serving accessories. He became an industrial designer for well-known manufacturers in 1933, and in 1938 he designed "American Modern," the first contemporary dinnerware in America, for the Steubenville Pottery Company. He established his own design office in 1939, and that same year designed the first solid maple "blonde" modern furniture for the Conant Ball Company.

In 1940 he originated the "American Way" merchandising program, a cooperative undertaking of 65 designers, artists, craftsmen and manufacturers, and the following year "American Modern" received the American Designers' Institute award for the best ceramic design of 1941. In 1951 he received the Home Fashions League "Trail Blazer" award for upholstery fabric and table service.

With his wife, Mary Einstein, he co-authored A Guide to Easier Living, published by Simon and Schuster in 1951, which expressed their ideas for contemporary home living, maintenance, and furnishings. Together, they publicized Wright's designs and ideas through exhibitions, books, articles, advertisements, radio interviews, and demonstration rooms in department stores, creating a recognizable "brand name" and in effect inventing the idea of lifestyle marketing centered on an individual person. Ralph Lauren, Martha Stewart and other "household names" today are their conceptual descendants.

After his wife's death in 1952, Wright retired to Manitoga, his estate in Garrison, New York. Manitoga's 75 acres had been severely damaged by quarrying and logging, but Wright restored and renovated the area using native plants and created four miles of trails. On a portion of the land, with architect David Leavitt he designed and built Dragon Rock, a Japanese-inspired home and studio which, through its use of local materials, inhabits the landscape rather than dominating it. In 1996 Manitoga was listed on the National Register of Historic Places; it is also home to the Russel Wright Design Center, managed by Wright's daughter Annie, whose mission is "to preserve the legacy of pioneer designer Russel Wright-his home, landscape, products, archives and philosophy." [See the Manitoga web site.]

Wright was a founding fellow of the Society of Industrial Designers (later the Industrial Designers Society of America) and its president from 1951-1952.

Important dates in the life of Russel Wright

3 Apr 1904 Born in Lebanon, Ohio
1921-1922 Student under Frank Duveneck at the Cincinnati Academy of Art
1922-1924 Law student at Princeton University
1923 Student at Columbia School of Architecture
1924-1931 Engages in stage and costume design
1927 Marries Mary Einstein
1930 Establishes own facture for production of first metal informal serving accessories in New York City
1933 Becomes industrial designer for well-known manufacturers
1934 Invents "stove to table ware" of spun aluminum
1937 Designs "American Modern," the first contemporary dinnerware in America, for Steubenville Pottery (goes into production in 1939)
1938-1939 Student at New York University School of Architecture
1939 Opens own industrial design office; designs first solid maple "blonde" modern furniture for Conant Ball
1940 Begins "American Way" merchandising program
1941 "American Modern" receives American Designers' Institute award for best ceramic design of the year; purchases Manitoga estate in Garrison, New York
1950 Designs "Easier Living" line of furniture for the Statton Furniture Company of Hagerstown, Maryland; birth of daughter Annie
1951 Easier Living published by Simon and Schuster; receives Home Fashions League's "Trail Blazer" award for upholstery fabric and table design
1951-1952 President of Society of Industrial Designers
1952 Death of wife Mary
1954 Receives award from the Lebanon, Ohio, Chamber of Commerce
1956 Assigned by the International Cooperation Administration (ICA) to develop native handicrafts for local and export use in Cambodia, Taiwan and Vietnam
1955-1958 Serves as advisor on merchandising and selling in the wood and basketry industry in Japan
1956-1957 Construction begins on Dragon Rock, the 11-level home and studio Wright designed for his Manitoga property
1965 Wright closes his New York City office and retires to Manitoga

[Portions of this chronology adapted from Robert Stearns' essay, "Robert Wright: Living with Good Design."]

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The Russel Wright Papers consists of eight series and includes correspondence, business files and contracts relating to clients and products, writings, material related to Wright's work in Asia for the International Cooperation Administration (ICA), writings, memorabilia, and models of numerous Wright-designed items.

Note: For the most part, Wright's own organization and labeling has been preserved, which means that material on a given company or project may be filed in more than one location. The researcher is advised to review the entire finding aid thoroughly to be sure of locating all relevant material.

Clients and products comprises the bulk of the collection and contains material relating to work done for clients (DuPont, Forster Textiles, General Electric, Hunt Foods, Iroquois China, National Silver, the New York World's Fair, Proctor and Gamble, Raymor Manufacturing, Shwayder Brothers, Statton Furniture, Sterling China, Steubenville, Wurlitzer Piano) as well as to particular items including but by no means limited to bedspreads, bottles, casseroles, cups, dog baskets, glassware, intaglio sets, jewelry, lamps, patents, plasticware, "rustic dinnerware," stove-to-tableware, and woodenware. Materials includes sketches, drawings, photographs, color and fabric samples, illustrations, renderings, catalogs, notes, layouts, and other items.

Writings contains a biographical sketch, galleys for Easier Living , manuals, and a large number of articles and lectures.

Correspondence/subject files includes many trade and popular publications as well as companies and a few individuals.

Surveys comprises surveys done on a range of subjects from "American brides" to "Home of tomorrow" to the Taiwan Handicraft Promotion Center.

Foreign activities contains material relating to Wright's work in numerous foreign countries (Asia and the far east, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico), as well as with the ICA.

In Contracts will be found contracts and related material for clients, both corporate and individual.

Memorabilia includes clippings, manuscripts, notes, fabrics, and photographs, including material from Wright's own apartment.

Thirty-six boxes of Models -- clocks, cups, bowls, dishes, plates, pots and pans, serving plates, vases, and more -- complete the collection.

Note on missing items: Following items are known to be missing from the collection.

History of American Modern sources, Box 1

Item no. 1080 - Photomural of John Hull flatware. Package was sealed, item was listed in correspondence, but was not present in package.

Item no. 1086 - General Electric clocks. Package listed 10 items but only two were enclosed (no. 6-B, round ceramic clock, and another clock, possibly no. 3-B). Missing are:

Arrangement of the Collection

Alphabetically by name, title, or topic.

Note regarding negatives: Both processed sections of the Russel Wright Papers have a siginificant number of photographs (enlarged, 8x10" prints, clippings, and others), and some of these may contain negatives, either filed with the print(s) in the collection or stored in the finding aids file. If the researcher cannot find a negative copy of a photo from any of the boxes, or from a photo stored in the oversize packages (i.e. scrapbooks or enlarged prints), check with either the Manuscripts Librarian or other staff member as to whether any negatives may be stored elsewhere.


Access Restrictions:

The majority of our archival and manuscript collections are housed offsite and require advanced notice for retrieval. Researchers are encouraged to contact us in advance concerning the collection material they wish to access for their research.

Use Restrictions:

Written permission must be obtained from SCRC and all relevant rights holders before publishing quotations, excerpts or images from any materials in this collection.

Related Material

Special Collections Research Center holds the papers of a number of noted industrial designers, as well as the records of the Industrial Design Society of America. Please refer to the SCRC Subject Index for a complete listing.

Subject Headings


Wright, Russel, 1904-1976.


Art and industry.
Industrial design -- United States.
Industrial designers -- United States.

Genres and Forms

Architectural drawings (visual works)
Clippings (information artifacts)
Collages (visual works)
Drawings (visual works)
Manuscripts for publication.
Models (representations)
Negatives (photographs)


Industrial designers.

Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

Russel Wright Papers,
Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries

Acquisition Information

The majority of the collection was gift of Russel Wright. There have been a very few additions from Ann Kerr (photographs and slides) and Diane Zumsteg (tableware from Staffordshire China, 3 photographs).

Table of Contents

Clients and products


Correspondence/subject files


Foreign activities



Models , molds, and sample items

Oversize packages