Currently on display, the exhibition A Driving Force: Cranbrook and the Car thoughtfully illustrates two key ways in which Cranbrook has been affiliated with the automotive industry throughout its history. James Scripps Booth was an avid artist and inventor, even taking apart, rebuilding and designing cars in the garage of Cranbrook House from an early age. Later on, the Academy of Art encouraged students to enter competitions which included designs for Packard Motor Car hood ornaments (1934) and exterior design, hood ornaments and trunk lid medallions (1950). Graduates were employed by the Big Three automakers in a variety of ways—working in the design studios building models for new cars, as part of Harley Earl’s “Damsels in Design,” and as textile designers for automotive interiors.
But Cranbrook’s relationship with the car goes beyond the realm of design. The Booth family’s list of cars includes a Winton (1904), a Christie (1904), a Cartercar (1907), two Pierce Arrows (one was a limousine), a Brush Runabout (1910), a Chalmers 40 (1910), a Lozier “Briarcliff” (1911) and a Detroit Electric (1921) which was driven by Henry Wood Booth at the age of 88.
Cranbrook School offered an auto mechanics class for the boys from 1944-1969, spearheaded by science teacher Floyd Bunt. A car enthusiast, Bunt brought his restored 1898 Benz Landau to the school where it was stored in the science building. Bunt also worked during the summers for Nash Motors and was co-author of the Nash Technical Service Manual.
Another interesting car connection is that as early as 1930, auto companies used Cranbrook’s campus to advertise their products. The Archives has a small collection of 1950s magazine advertisements which show new cars in front of Cranbrook House, or on the campus of Cranbrook School and the Academy of Art. And, as an interesting side note, in 1951, Chrysler Plymouth designed a high-end line of cars with a new naming convention. The first was the “Cranbrook,” which was available as a four-door sedan, a two-door coupe and a convertible.
– Leslie S. Edwards, Archivist