Lamb, Thomas, 1896-1988.

Birth 1896
Death 1988

Biographical notes:

Thomas Lamb was a industrial designer most noted for his design of physiologically efficient handles.

Thomas Lamb was born in New York City on September 18, 1896. From an early age he was interested in anatomy and physiology. His ambition was to become a doctor, but family financial difficulties forced him to drop out of high school. At the age of fourteen, Lamb began working afternoons in a textile design shop, and in the evenings he studied at the Art Students League while apprenticing himself to a plastic surgeon who taught him anatomy in exchange for doing medical drawings.

At seventeen, Lamb opened his own textile design studio, specializing in advertising, fashion and magazine illustrations. His designs for beadspreads, napkins, handkerchiefs and draperies became very popular in the 1920s and were featured in many of the New York department stores, including Lord & Taylor, Macy's and Saks Fifth Avenue. In 1924 he began illustrating children's books, the most popular of which was "The Runaway Bunny." Shortly thereafter he signed a contract with "Good Housekeeping" magazine to illustrate a cartoon series called "Kiddyland." These became extremely popular, and Lamb soon began designing a line of Kiddyland textiles and packaging for soaps, talcum powder and other children's accessories.

The Second World War was a major turning point in Lamb's career. He was determined to contribute to the war effort and did so with a line of Victory napkins and later with his Adolf the Pig, Hitler caricatured as a piggy bank that squealed when a coin was deposited to aid the anti-Nazi cause. However, the sight of wounded veterans stumbling or in pain from poorly-designed crutches turned him from the more frivolous work of his early career to the design of artifacts better adapted to human anatomy. Experimentation revealed that relieving pressure on the hand was the key to the problem, and this became the focus of Lamb's later work.

Although Lamb's "Lim-Rest" crutch never reached manufacture, Lamb's patents for the wedge-lock handle and later universal handle were adapted to a wide range of products, including cutlery, surgical and dental tools, luggage and sports equipment. Lamb was convinced that the central problem was to reduce thumb fatigue, and he developed a handle that would allocate to each finger and muscle an appropriate portion of forces and work. By the late 1940s, Lamb was known as "The Handle Man." In 1948 his work was featured in a one-man show on functional design at the Museum of Modern Art, and this publicity led to contracts with the Aluminum Cooking Utensil Company for a line of Wear-Ever cookware and Cutco cutlery. Lamb's focus on designing for people of all abilities anticipated the Universal Design movement. Thomas Lamb died on February 2, 1988.

From the description of Papers, 1916-1988. (Hagley Museum & Library). WorldCat record id: 82501098

Links to collections


This is only a preview comparison of Constellations. It will only exist until this window is closed.

  • Added or updated
  • Deleted or outdated




  • Kitchen utensils
  • World War, 1939-1945
  • Tools
  • Industrial designers
  • Golf clubs (Sporting goods)
  • Chairs
  • Anatomy--Study and teaching
  • Cutlery
  • Trade catalog
  • Lampshades
  • Crutches
  • Shower curtains
  • Surgical instruments and apparatus
  • Textile design
  • Physiology--Study and teaching
  • Garden tools
  • Cartoons (Humorous images)
  • Children's books
  • Coverlets
  • Handkerchiefs
  • Napkins
  • Games
  • Piggy banks
  • Advertisement
  • Rackets (Sporting goods)
  • Silk industry
  • Adolf the Pig (Piggy bank)
  • Cigarette holders (Personal equipment)
  • Hand--Anatomy
  • Children's paraphernalia
  • Women in advertising
  • Luggage
  • Hairbrushes
  • Draperies
  • Toys
  • Human engineering
  • Handles, Wedge-lock
  • Dental instruments and apparatus
  • Vacuum cleaners
  • Firearms
  • Caricature
  • Pens
  • Tablecloths
  • Design, Industrial
  • Cookware
  • Handles
  • Kiddyland (Trademark)
  • Pistols
  • Endodontics
  • Hand--Physiology
  • Gunstocks


not available for this record


not available for this record