Monday, December 1, 2008

The 1955 General Motors Powerama Exhibit

Since LIFE magazine decided to put millions of pictures on Google, their database has become an "Americana Gold Mine". I have always wanted more information and pictures about the 1955 GM Powerama Show.

Well here we go... below are some of the many photographs taken by Albert Fenn for LIFE magazine that are in the Google/LIFE database. The text is from an original Time magazine article titled "Diesel Dazzle" dated Monday, September 5th, 1955.

  • General Motors, whose car-studded Motoramas have become one of the brightest offerings in auto showmanship, decided last February to bring belated glamour to the plain-Jane diesel engine.

  • Beside Soldier Field on Chicago's lake front, the company strung out eight miles of electrical conduits, laid 500,000 sq. ft. of reinforced paving, built a permanent, 204-ft.-long bridge over busy Lake Shore Drive.

  • This week General Motors was ready to raise the curtain on "Powerama," a $7,000,000, 26-day, seven-day-a-week diesel opera.

  • In rainbow-colored Dieseland, divers will splash into four feet of water in the world's biggest dump truck (50 tons), and the public will tramp around a host of diesel-propelled attractions ranging from an 85-ton atomic cannon to a 63-ft. shrimp boat.

  • The star of the show: G.M.'s new, 10-car, 400-passenger Aerotrain, which is twice as light and less than half as expensive as conventional passenger cars.

  • To make the diesel debut complete, the company has built a grandstand where 7,000 spectators can watch an hour-long musical (title: "More Power to You"), featuring a top-hatted elephant in a test of strength with a diesel bulldozer (the diesel wins), French acrobats performing from a 70-ft. crane, 35-ton bulldozers doing the mambo, girls posturing on a fishnet held aloft by two giant cranes.

  • The First Challenge. The diesel has never been big box office before, but, as the world's most efficient internal combustion engine, it has revved up more horsepower in less time than any industrial engine in history.

  • Patented in 1892 by Germany's Rudolf Diesel (who committed suicide in 1913 because he thought his engine had backfired), the first diesel was brought to the U.S. by Beer Baron Adolphus Busch for use in his St. Louis brewery.

  • Cumbersome and sluggish in its early years, Diesel's engine did not seriously challenge steam until General Motors in 1933 produced the first modern, lightweight diesel. It took World War II to ignite the real development of diesel power.

  • G.M. turned out diesel trucks, tractors, power plants and locomotives by the thousands, provided the U.S. Navy with more diesel power than the entire horsepower of the prewar fleet. Since the war the diesel has completed its conquest of U.S. railroads.

  • Diesel locomotives now haul 86% of all rail passengers, 84% of all freight, save the railroads $600 million a year in fuel and maintenance. Fifty Class I railroads today are without a single steam engine.

  • The Second Hundred Million. G.M., which did not start breaking even with diesels until 1940, today is the world's largest maker, has turned out 100 million diesel horsepower, more than the capacity of all the steam-generating plants built by industry during the same period.

  • Burning low-cost oil, diesel engines today propel 49% of all U.S. merchant ships afloat, handle most of the nation's roughest construction jobs, from road building to rock-crushing.

  • Predicts G.M.'s Harlow H. Curtice: "Within ten years we shall have duplicated the efforts of the preceding 22 ... It took G.M. from 1933 to 1955 to build 100 million diesel horsepower. By 1965 we shall have built the second hundred million."

    TokyoMagic! said...

    Is it just me, or did the Viewliner at Disneyland borrow a little from the Aerotrain's design?

    Vintage Disneyland Tickets said...

    Hey Tokyomagic, I thought the exact same thing, strong resembalance there, except for the SIZE!

    These are great photos, nice of Life to make this available. I've read so much about the Motorama's, but the text is usually accompanied by weak black & white photo's, this series really brings the Motorama to life. Reminds me of the feeling I get watching "The War In Color" with color footage of WWII, so much more real.... Thanks Richard!

    Viewliner Ltd. said...

    The design inspired the Viewliner. And DL used a 1954 Oldsmobile as the basis for constructing the Viewliner.

    Major Pepperidge said...

    Oh my gosh, this looks like the coolest thing ever... practically a World's Fair. That was back in the day when the big car companies had money to throw around!

    Thanks for sharing these beautiful pictures!

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    Michael said...

    I was 8 years old when my dad took to me to this show. I thought it was a Motorama show, but I was wrong. I will never forget how impressed I was with the Euclid trucks and bulldozers. Look at the styling on the dual engined bulldozers with the multiple headlights. Wow! And those construction equipment models. To die for.

    gate valves said...

    what great photos. really amazing. i like it so much. i like the aereal shot of the refinery. spectacular..

    Bob said...

    We went there with our Von Steuben High School class. Teachers left us on our own all day. Loved the freedom! Not a typical field trip. Tres cool exhibit!