General Dynamics was formed in 1952 when it became the parent company of the Electric Boat Company and several other US Department of Defense suppliers. It is primarily known for its aerospace and defense systems, and it creates products like tanks, missiles, submarines, warships, and rockets. General Dynamics, as one of the largest suppliers of atomic weapons, sought to assuage the public’s concerns and portray atomic energy as a benefit to society. The use of nuclear bombs by the American government during WWII sparked the beginning of the Atomic Age of the early 1950s. After the bombings at Nagasaki and Hiroshima, the American general public was fearful of the advancement of technology in making powerful weapons. Thanks in part to this advertising campaign by Erik Nitsche, the Atomic Age was spun as a movement of scientific progress and development that would foster peace around the world.
This poster depicts the first nuclear submarine, the USS Nautilus. Launched in 1954, its design was kept secret from Erik Nitsche, who had to design a simplified image. Nitsche turned this into an opportunity to create a metaphor of the extreme advances in technology from ancient times (symbolized by the shell of a nautilus) to the 'cutting edge' of General Dynamics in the 1950s.
Erik Nitsche (1908-1998) was born in Lausanne, Switzerland and emigrated to the United States just before the outbreak of WWII. Nitsche worked for General Dynamics from 1955-1960 as Art Director. His main goal was to help shift the narrative around atomic energy from one of bombs and destruction to one of peace and scientific advancement.
His first series of posters was created for exhibition at the International Conference on the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy in 1955. There was a lot riding on the design of these images as General Dynamics wanted to both elevate its image as a defense supplier but also outshine its competitors present at the conference. Nitsche was barred from depicting specific General Dynamics products - in many cases these top secret defense ships and weapons were not even shown or shared with the artist. This limitation pushed Nitsche to lean into abstraction, and he ended up creating one of the most important corporate advertising campaigns of the Twentieth Century. The posters were designed in several languages; English, French, Japanese, Hindi, Russian, and German. These nations were committed at the time to developing atomic energy for peaceful purposes. Nitsche borrowed heavily from the Modern Art movement to evoke dynamism and innovation.
The Atoms for Peace campaign was a massive success and was continued by Nitsche throughout his tenure at General Dynamics. His artful portrayal of what was essentially a weapons company as a calming, forward-thinking peaceful movement heralded the Atomic Age. The design elements in these posters were co-opted by countless other companies and designers to create a style that for many encapsulates mid-1950s America.
Click here to read more about General Dynamics and Erik Nitsche: https://postergroup.com/blogs/the-ross-art-group-blog/from-atomic-bomb-to-atomic-age-how-erik-nitsche-s-campaign-for-general-dynamics-shaped-the-1950s
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