Boys Could Influence Car Design:
The Fisher Body Craftsman's Guild
By Albert Drake
I have complained about the lack of research obvious in many automotive books. Often the meat is missing, or what passes as research is material simply lifted from other books. On the other hand, there are authors who put their heart and soul into a book. John L. Jacobus spent over 10 years researching and writing The Fisher Body Craftsman's Guild, and the book shows it. This is the only book on the subject and it must be the definitive book.
The Fisher Body Craftsman's Guild (FBCG), sponsored by the Fisher Body Division of General Motors Corporation, was a competition held each year from 1930 until 1968. Boys between the ages of 12 and 19 were asked to build a model that would reflect their talents. For the first seven years and after 1937 on alternating years the design was limited to a scale model of a Napoleonic Coach, the Fisher Body's Division's trademark.
In 1937 the competition allowed youngsters to design a model of what they saw as the car of the future. There were rules and limitations, of course, but the idea that someone with authority would pay attention to a kid's ideas has a lot of appeal. And there was scholarship money offered for post high school education. The top winners of the junior division (12-15 year-olds) and senior division (16-19 year-olds) could win as much as $5,000, which, for the years of the contest was a terrific sum.
Mature male readers remember the excitement the competition generated, even if, like me, you didn't get far on the project. Jacobus quotes a source which says that "millions of boys fascinated by cars joined the Fisher Body Craftsman's Guild. About 600,000 members enrolled each year in the 1950's making the Guild the second in size only to the Boy Scouts of America for young men."
But building the model was not easy. Jacobus describes the process as "a take-home industrial arts aptitude test." The Napoleonic Coach required between "1,000 to 1,500 hours" and the model car "200 to 500 hours"; he cites one winning entry that took 700 hours. GM selected future designers from the winners, knowing that it was the exceptional teenager who could follow directions, demonstrate craftsmanship and stay focussed on a long-term project.
The book has numerous black and white photos, and several pages of color photos, but it is not simply a collection of photos. The text is extensive. It covers, in detail, the background and history of the FBCG, the history of the coach years and later the model car years, the rules of the competition, the judging process, the awards and much, much more. There are autobiographical statement by many winners. I find it fascinating to learn the names of boys who won and went on to upper-level positions in the automobile industry. And it's even more fascinating to find the names unknown to me, who won the competition and had their lives changed, who showed that the success demonstrated in the contest extended to other successes in life.
The 336 page hard bound book has over 150 photos and charts. It's available from the publisher, McFarland, for $49.95 (plus $4.00 S&H) (1-800-253-2187). Autographed copies are also available from the author, John L. Jacobus, for $39.96 (plus $4.00 S&H) at 10103 Gates Ave, Silver Springs, MD 20902. All profits after printing costs will be donated to the Art Center College of Design.
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