Out of the Darkness: Selling Light
The technological advances of the late nineteenth century—color lithography, cheap inks and paper, and low production costs—gave rise to the rapid creation and increased dissemination of visual propaganda. Companies hired graphic designers to promote their products through bold, colorful imagery in a variety of media, including posters, signs, and advertising ephemera. Clear, powerful, and precise graphics were necessary to instantly attract consumers. The works on display in this gallery were produced after the introduction of the incandescent lamp in 1879 by Thomas A. Edison. Edison’s invention, coupled with the widespread availability of electricity and the rise in mass production and consumption, led to the development of new commodities, such as electric lighting. The posters and other advertisements demonstrate a variety of visual strategies and techniques used by designers in the twentieth century. They include using a literary reference—Prometheus bringing light to mankind—to position the new product within a historical narrative, to the prominent display of the object-itself. The constant in all these works is the use of the incandescent lamp or light bulb as the ultimate symbol of modernity and progress.