Visions

Erik Nitsche’s posters for General Dynamics

by Alex Wellerstein, published November 18th, 2011

The bomb has produced a lot of pretty amazing imagery. It’s not just the atomic sunsets from nuclear testing — there’s something about the bomb that has plucked at the collective imagination, for both good and ill. (Spencer Weart’s Nuclear Fear: A History of Images is still the classic on this subject — and a revised edition should be coming out fairly soon.)

Every Friday from here on out I’ll post an interesting atomic image. I have a separate (not updated very often) atomic imagery site, Atomland-on-Mars, but that site is all about the exceptionally unusual, the exceptionally striking, and the public domain. It turns out that there’s a fairly narrow intersection of those three categories. The photos I post here will be a little bit more loose, with the only main constraint being that I find them interesting or amusing for one reason or another.

I’ll start it off with one from my all-time favorite nuclear graphics designer, Erik Nitsche. Nitsche is best known today for his work on corporate graphics design in the 1950s and 1960s — he made some really stunning images for the company General Dynamics and its subsidiary General Atomics.  My favorite is this one, celebrating their meltdown-free TRIGA research reactor:

Erik Nitsche, “Triga” (1958)

A few more after the jump.

Nitsche also did an amazing series in 1955 celebrating “Atoms for Peace”:

Erik Nitsche, “Atoms for Peace (Astrodynamics)” (1955)

Erik Nitsche, “Atoms for Peace (Hydrodynamics)” (1955)

Erik Nitsche, “Atoms for Peace” (1955)

There’s something so Eisenhower-clean about Nitsche’s work: a vision of a clean, peaceful, technocratic atomic future that never quite arrived. There are some more great examples of Nitsche’s work here.

Nitsche’s style is reflected in the emblem of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) as well. I’m not sure whether he was actually involved in designing it (I’d love to know for sure),1 but it’s that same Atoms-for-Peace cool:

Emblem of the International Atomic Energy Agency (1960)

It’s a stark contrast to the clunky Atoms-for-Peace logo of the United States from around the same period, which is much less hip or graphically informed:

U.S. Atoms for Peace program logo (ca. 1955)

Clip-art quality wheat, microscopes, and gears, all mixed up in a gigantic atomic wheel? A sad showing. So sad, that the Atomic Energy Commission logo in the center has erected a little wall to keep itself separated from its visually lame compatriots.

Notes
  1. The IAEA emblem was made official in 1960, but there are documents dated from the late 1950s which have the same emblem on them, so I’m not sure exactly when it was designed. Again, I’d love to know for sure who designed it, if anyone out there knows. IAEA circular INFCIRC/19 is the official order on the emblem and seal, but it’s not available online, alas. My screenshot is from the IAEA’s Annual Report of the Board of Governors to the Conference, 1960, which also cites when they approved of the emblem. []

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2 Responses to “Erik Nitsche’s posters for General Dynamics”

  1. [...] handshake in from an Atoms for Peace emblem that has seen better days. (Perhaps I should say, a godawful Atoms for Peace [...]

  2. [...] similar to the aesthetic adopted by the Swiss designer Erik Nitsche, who did a lot of other groovy atomic posters for General Dynamics. This poster of Nitsche’s from 1955 has similarly jaunty atomic [...]

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