Lamb, Thomas, 1896-1988.

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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

Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Abercrombie & Fitch. corporateBody
associatedWith A.H. Rice Company. corporateBody
associatedWith Alcas Cutlery Corporation. corporateBody
associatedWith Aluminum Company of America. corporateBody
associatedWith Aluminum Cooking Utensil Company, inc. corporateBody
associatedWith American Designers' Institute. corporateBody
associatedWith Andrew McLean Company. corporateBody
associatedWith Arthur Brown & Bro., inc. corporateBody
associatedWith Children's Book Club (New York, N.Y.). corporateBody
associatedWith Cornell University. corporateBody
associatedWith Ellison & Spring, Inc. corporateBody
associatedWith Good Housekeeping Institute (New York, N.Y.). corporateBody
associatedWith Harrison, Marc, 1936-1998. person
associatedWith Henry Disston & Sons, Inc. (Philadelphia, Pa.). corporateBody
associatedWith Hitler, Adolf, 1889-1945 corporateBody
associatedWith Hughes Brushes, Inc. corporateBody
associatedWith Industrial Designers' Institute. corporateBody
associatedWith Institute of Contemporary Art (Boston, Mass.). corporateBody
associatedWith Johnson, Marshall, 1938-, collector. person
associatedWith Judson Mills. corporateBody
associatedWith Kaufmann, Edgar, 1910-1989. person
associatedWith Lawton Company, Inc. corporateBody
associatedWith Lofstrand Company. corporateBody
associatedWith Lord & Taylor. corporateBody
associatedWith Marshall Field & Company. corporateBody
associatedWith Museum of Modern Art (New York, N.Y.). corporateBody
associatedWith PARA Mfg. Co. corporateBody
associatedWith P.F. Volland Company. corporateBody
associatedWith Remington Arms Company. corporateBody
associatedWith Rhode Island School of Design. corporateBody
associatedWith Scientific Handle Co. corporateBody
associatedWith Scripto, Inc. corporateBody
associatedWith Skilsaw, Inc. corporateBody
associatedWith Syracuse University. corporateBody
associatedWith Tōjō, Hideki, 1884-1948 person
associatedWith Tom Lamb Company, Inc. corporateBody
associatedWith United States. Office of Price Administration. corporateBody
associatedWith Wear-Ever Aluminum, Inc. corporateBody
associatedWith Western Union Telegraph Company. corporateBody
Place Name Admin Code Country
Kitchen utensils
World War, 1939-1945
Industrial designers
Golf clubs (Sporting goods)
Anatomy--Study and teaching
Trade catalog
Shower curtains
Surgical instruments and apparatus
Textile design
Physiology--Study and teaching
Garden tools
Cartoons (Humorous images)
Children's books
Piggy banks
Rackets (Sporting goods)
Silk industry
Adolf the Pig (Piggy bank)
Cigarette holders (Personal equipment)
Children's paraphernalia
Women in advertising
Human engineering
Handles, Wedge-lock
Dental instruments and apparatus
Vacuum cleaners
Design, Industrial
Kiddyland (Trademark)


Birth 1896

Death 1988

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Ark ID: w6xm0bh8

SNAC ID: 65847787