The Great Depression of 1929 applied the brakes to free-wheeling living and carefree spending of the twenties. The thirties were an exceptionally dynamic decade for the art world, bringing a number of new styles to the fore: surrealism, cubism, expressionism, Art Deco, modernism, etc. As important as those movements were, though, it was first things first when it came to making a living. A new artistic style of social realism arose, and not a few artists were relieved to be able to continue as artists by virtue of Roosevelt's Federal Art Project. Illustrators especially were charged with finding new ways to attract an audience and encourage them to use scarce dollars to buy products and services. Advertisements showed bolder colors, sleeker (sometimes abstract) designs, and catchy copy. In the midst of great poverty, companies pictured life as it should be — affluent, stable, and cheerful. As was the case with period films, viewers wanted a morale boost and, above all else, hope.
World War II, of course, held center stage during the decade of the forties. Nazi Germany not only disrupted the balance of power in Europe but also brought the notion of unspeakable state-sponsored evil to the fore. In the aftermath of the War, the United Nations was established and there was a post-War boom in America. Because of pent-up demand, there was great demand for products from cars to housing and everything in between. Those involved in advertising contributed in many ways to the War effort and stood ready to benefit from a population, post-War, eager to spend.
During the thirties and forties, some of the artists responsible for illustrating MoToR covers were Wilson Stuart Leech, Arthur Radebaugh, Robert Robinson, H. W. Wesso, and John Scott Williams. Some of their work was bold, daring and futuristic, some cartoonish and fairly mundane. They touched upon many themes of the day: cornball humor, women in the workforce, patriotism, love of sports, racial stereotyping, disparity between rich and poor, the value of plain hard work, and many others.
After WWII there was significant pent-up demand for consumer goods. Production soared and there was a buying frenzy. There were certainly fears of nuclear destruction or Russian domination, but America had bigger, better technology. We had the interstate roads system, television, time-saving kitchen appliances, and rock and roll. Families ate together, went to church together, and, once a year, vacationed together, mostly on trips to see the grandparents. Ad campaigns acknowledged all these positive values and touted the notion that prosperity equaled happiness.
The cover illustrators for MoToR magazine during the decade of the fifties included Art Cumings, Charles Dye, Ben Eisenstat, Arthur Gross, Frank Ingoglia, James Jordan, Irving Sloane, and E. Franklin Wittmack. In addition, there were a number of illustrators who began work for MoToR in the fifties but contributed more significantly during the sixties, so we'll look at their work in the later decade.
The early sixties were all about the nascent space age, besting the Russians and starting the race to land a man on the moon. Consumerism was still alive and well, and the mood of the country was positive and progressive. Television and movie stars began to get into the advertising game, lending their star status to the sale of almost any product imaginable. In 1963, the shock of the Kennedy assassination shook the country; within an hour of the announcement, 70 % of the country was seeing television coverage of the event. A year later, television also brought the Beatles to shake up the American music scene. U.S. involvement in Vietnam deepened, and war protests began. Social change brought psychedelic colors, as well as fashion statements such as white go-go boots and miniskirts. There was a greater consciousness of a more significant societal role for women and minorities, the latter brought into sharp focus with the assassination of Martin Luther King in 1968.
During this decade of decided social change, the artists for MoToR, here represented by Dean Ellis, Harry Goff, Gary Gretter, Roy Grinnel, Fred Irvin, Casey Jones, Gerald McConnell, Herb Mott, and Taylor Oughton, showed us a more sophisticated world view.
As Porky Pig would say, "That's all Folks". While we haven't given you a comprehensive look at all the illustrators who worked for MoToR, we think you'll agree that there have been some incredibly talented artists illustrating cars, drivers, and mechanics down through the years. Perhaps the last place you'd have thought to look for artistic embellishment is a magazine directed towards professional car guys (and gals). Nevertheless, Hearst and his followers spent considerable time and treasure attracting first-rate artists to put their stamp on the automotive world.
MoToR is still being published, though its logo has been updated multiple times and its covers these days mostly utilize photographs. Still a respected, award-winning publication for supplying automotive data, it now has an on-line presence with access to back issues (to 2001) and even a Facebook page. That it's still going strong more than a hundred years after it got its start is testament to professional journalistic management, and, of course, to the power and appeal of motor cars.