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Noel Mayo

Philadelphia native industrial designer Noel Mayo is the owner and president of Noel Mayo Associates, Inc., the first African American industrial design firm in the United States, whose clients include NASA, IBM, the Department of Commerce and Agriculture, Black and Decker, the Museum of American Jewish History and the Philadelphia International Airport.

Mayo was the first black graduate to receive a B.S. degree in Industrial Design from the Philadelphia College of Art in 1960. He later became chairperson of this department, making him the first African American chairperson of an industrial design program in the United States. He held that post for eleven years and was awarded an honorary D.F.A. degree from the Massachusetts College of Art in 1981.

Mayo has been a regularly published writer magazines and journals such as Innovation, The Wall Street Journal, and The Minority Business Journal. He has been a speaker at various international design symposiums and serves on the boards of numerous professional organizations. He was named the Ohio Eminent Scholar in Art and Design Technology in 1989 at Ohio State University where he taught product, interior and graphic design. Noel advocates alternative methods for education, accelerated learning and information distribution using new technologies and has a personal interest in developing synergistic learning products that include music, color, light and psychology. He has been instrumental in establishing various mentoring programs for minorities and establishing a directory of minority professionals in industrial, graphic, interior and architectural design.

Accession Number

A2002.186

Sex

Male

Interview Date

9/5/2002

Last Name

Mayo

Maker Category
Organizations
Schools

Sunnycrest Farm for Negro Boys

University of the Arts

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Noel

Birth City, State, Country

Orange

HM ID

MAY03

Favorite Season

Spring

State

New Jersey

Favorite Vacation Destination

Jamaica

Favorite Quote

None

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Ohio

Birth Date

12/30/1937

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Columbus

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Falafel

Short Description

Industrial designer and design professor Noel Mayo (1937 - ) is the owner and president of Noel Mayo Associates, Inc., the first African American industrial design firm in the United States. Mayo was also the first African American to receive a B.S.degree in industrial design. Mayo was instrumental in establishing various mentoring programs for minorities.

Employment

Noel Mayo Associates

Philadelphia College of Art

Ohio State University

Favorite Color

None

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Noel Mayo's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Noel Mayo lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Noel Mayo talks about his parents

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Noel Mayo talks about his family history

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Noel Mayo talks about his middle school years

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Noel Mayo describes the sights, smells, and sounds of his childhood

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Noel Mayo talks about Mrs. Valentine, an influential grade school teacher

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Noel Mayo talks about his activities as a youth

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Noel Mayo talks about becoming an industrial designer

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Noel Mayo describes his industrial design firm, Noel Mayo Associates, Inc.

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Noel Mayo describes an exhibit in Casablanca, Morocco

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Noel Mayo describes his design philosophy and his partnership with Lutron Electronics

Tape: 1 Story: 13 - Noel Mayo talks about the general public's unawareness about industrial design

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Noel Mayo talks about the ubiquity of industrial design

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Noel Mayo talks about logo design and famous logos

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Noel Mayo talks about the Organization of Black Designers and his efforts to document the work of black designers

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Noel Mayo talks about a design challenge and his design process

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Noel Mayo talks about the importance of adding cultural diversity to the design world

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Noel Mayo talks about his aesthetic, the home office furniture system, and his design displays

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Noel Mayo talks about racial discrimination in the design business and HistoryMaker Charles Harrison

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Noel Mayo talks about the challenge of getting clients

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Noel Mayo talks about lighting and color

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Noel Mayo describes the power of the color

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Noel Mayo talks about the impact of typeface

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Noel Mayo talks about his hopes as an industrial designer

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Noel Mayo talks about designs with long-lasting and widespread impact

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Noel Mayo reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Noel Mayo describes his hopes and concerns for the black community

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Noel Mayo talks about how he would like to be remembered

DASession

1$1

DATape

1$3

DAStory

9$1

DATitle
Noel Mayo talks about becoming an industrial designer
Noel Mayo talks about the challenge of getting clients
Transcript
So when you were ready for high school graduation, did you have an idea of what you wanted to do--$$Uh-huh.$$--Or had you done enough art where you thought you learned enough?$$Well, in working on this effort to get a portfolio together for the scholarship, the high school instructor asked us to write a term paper on a subject that we were interested in, a part of which we didn't know anything about. I was working my way through high school, delivering art supplies for those cities the largest art store to ad agencies and art directors all in the city, center city. And the owner of the art store would let me take any new book home that I wanted, long as I brought it back undamaged and so I could go through any book, the library didn't even have these. And I would take them home every week. And I knew about illustration and painting and sculpture and lithography and all of that. And I discovered this one little area called industrial design. So as a result the requirement on the term paper was that you had to interview three people in the field and do the history of the area, whatever the subject was. So I discovered the field, interviewed three professionals who were practicing in the city, decided that's what I wanted to do when I went to college. By the time I finished the term paper, I got an "A" on it and I got the scholarship. I interviewed the head of the program at the college as one of my people. And went into the major, much to the chagrin of my family, because they said "how many negro designers are there?" and I said "I have no idea." So they went to the college and said we want to talk to the dean and want you to tell this young man how many people have graduated in this program who are African American, at that point negro. And he said, none. And they said, how many tried. And he said only two in the history of the program. One flunked out and one quit. So I said what's that got to do with me. I didn't understand it. And they said well, you know, are there any jobs, and the dean said well, I don't know, never had anybody graduate. So at any point, I decided to take it. I wound up being an "A" student in it. And because I had done the term paper, I knew more than most of the faculty about the history of industrial design, and pursued that from that point on. I wound up working the summer of my junior year for the head of the department with one of the faculty from the program, and the two owners decided to go off to--one went to Europe to--Bill Sclaroff (ph.) was a top designer, went off to Europe to marry a German girl and his partner, my faculty head, went to Europe on a project in Algeria, and said, here's the office--I'm a junior in college, here's the clients that are gonna to be calling, just take care of it. I didn't know anything. The faculty member who was working with me said this is insane and he quit, left me with the office, the checkbooks, everything, and I wound up taking on projects by myself, hiring other students and paying them and paying projects through. And it was a successful summer. I actually made money. So that was my kind of introduction in junior year to the field, first hand. And then after graduation, I went to work for the office, and that's the firm I own today [Noel Mayo Associates, Inc.].$I was talking about getting clients is part of the challenge for any designer and in particular for minority designers, finding, getting access to publicity and that sort of thing is one the critical issues because the typical journals do not publish photographs of the designer, they'll use the designer's name. Architects are saying they also have that problem, black architects typically get most of their work through competitive bid for city state or federal dollars where there--it's not an old boy network, they can actually bid and have a better chance. There is a firm in Columbus [Ohio] called Moody Nolan that is--Moody and Nolan are both African American. One's an architect from OSU [Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio] and the other is an engineer, and they have grown a business of over a hundred employees to the point where they're not on minority bid lists, they go straight after major contracts from major companies around the country. And to my surprise 98 percent of their employees are white, you know, they're there, but hiring and finding blacks who come into the business, they just haven't been able to do as well. So that's another kind of issue. At one point my firm [Noel Mayo Associates, Inc.] was predominantly white, because I couldn't find black kids. If they're really good, I wanted them to get as far as they could and if they could go in a major corporation, I thought that would be better. In more recent years, I've tried to focus on bringing in minority people who are talented. Tony Ute(ph.) in the other room is from Cameroon, and he got his masters under me at Ohio State and I hired him, he's just terrific talent. We're looking at kind of planning issues for community groups, for profit groups, where you can go in and say this is a concept for a hotel that'll make it more successful than the traditional hotel. And we can design the entire thing.

Charles A. Harrison

Industrial designer Charles Harrison was born on September 23, 1931, in Shreveport, Louisiana to Charles and Cora Lee Harrison. His father was a teacher and their family often moved around. Harrison grew up on the campuses of Southern University and Prairie View A&M University. He spent his summers wandering through the campuses’ experimental farms, chemistry laboratories and woodshops. After graduating from high school in Arizona, Harrison moved to California to live with his older brother and attend the City College of San Francisco where he first studied art.

In 1954, Harrison graduated with his B.F.A. degree from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. After receiving his B.F.A degree from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Harrison was drafted into the military. The Army trained him to be a cartographer and he was sent to remap West Germany since the city was completely different after World War II. He remembers being the only black draftsman in the topographic unit. Harrison went to graduate school to get out of the military early. The School of the Art Institute of Chicago created a master level industrial design program just for Harrison. He married his wife Janet during his graduate studies in Chicago. Harrison held various design jobs with Carl Bjorncrantz, Henry Glass, and Edward Klein after he received his M.S. degree. At Robert Podall Associates, Harrison was on the team that redesigned the View-Master toy in 1959. In 1961, he was hired by Sears Roebuck & Company, where Harrison designed heavy plastic trash cans with snap-lock lids and hundreds of other consumer products, including hair dryers, toasters, stereos, lawn mowers and sewing machines. Harrison worked at Sears for thirty-two years, rising to the position of design department manager.

Since retiring from Sears Roebuck and Company in 1993, Harrison has taught industrial design at the University of Illinois and Columbia College Chicago. He volunteered with the Evanston Arts Council and served as a senior adviser for the Organization of Black Designers. In 2000, his design work was featured in an exhibit: The World of a Product Designer: Charles Harrison at his former high school, Phoenix Union Colored High School, now the Carver Museum and Cultural Center. In 2008, Harrison received the lifetime achievement award from the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum at the Smithsonian Institution.

Charles Harrison was interviewed by The History Makers on July 24, 2002.

Harrison passed away on November 29, 2018.

Accession Number

A2002.196

Sex

Male

Interview Date

7/24/2002

Last Name

Harrison

Maker Category
Middle Name

A.

Occupation
Organizations
Schools

George Washington Carver High School

City College of San Francisco

School of the Art Institute of Chicago

Illinois Institute of Technology

First Name

Charles

Birth City, State, Country

Shreveport

HM ID

HAR03

Favorite Season

Fall

State

Louisiana

Favorite Vacation Destination

Anywhere Warm

Favorite Quote

Things are more like they are today than they will ever be.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Illinois

Birth Date

9/23/1931

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Chicago

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Rice

Death Date

11/29/2018

Short Description

Industrial designer Charles A. Harrison (1931 - 2018) is most famous for his work on the team that updated the View-Master, but he has also designed hundreds of other consumer products from hair dryers to sewing machines. He has taught industrial design classes at the University of Illinois and Columbia College Chicago.

Employment

E. Klein and Associates (Chicago)

Podall Associates

Sears Roebuck & Company

University of Illinois, Chicago

Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Charles Harrison interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Charles Harrison's favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Charles Harrison describes his parents' backgrounds

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Charles Harrison describes his family life

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Charles Harrison recalls his childhood homes: Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Prairie View, Texas

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Charles Harrison discusses his dyslexia

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Charles Harrison describes his early career prospects

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Charles Harrison discusses realizing his aptitudes

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Charles Harrison recounts his undergraduate years at the Art Institute of Chicago

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Charles Harrison describes his living situation in Chicago, Illinois, 1950s

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Charles Harrison explains industrial design

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Charles Harrison continues to describe the field of industrial design

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Charles Harrison recounts his time in the military

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Charles Harrison discusses his early support system

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Charles Harrison details his search for employment after graduate school

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Charles Harrison details the development of his industrial design career

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Charles Harrison describes being a black industrial designer at Sears, Roebuck & Company, 1960s

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Charles Harrison discusses progress in the industrial design field

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Charles Harrison recalls encounters with racism from his tenure at Sears, Roebuck & Company

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Charles Harrison reflects on the impact of racial agitation in the 1960s

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Charles Harrison recalls the end of his career with Sears, Roebuck & Company

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Charles Harrison discusses his career as an educator and the death of his wife

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Charles Harrison discusses his son

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Charles Harrison considers his legacy

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Charles Harrison details his efforts with the National Association of Retired Sears Employees

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Charles Harrison describes how he'd like to be remembered

DASession

1$1

DATape

3$3

DAStory

2$5

DATitle
Charles Harrison recounts his time in the military
Charles Harrison details the development of his industrial design career
Transcript
How I got from--from interior design into--back onto where I--well, as I said I was near the end of my training and--at--as far as the undergraduate study at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and I was able to land a job as an interior designer and it turned out that--I didn't really work there very long. I worked probably six months at the outside for a fellow name Maurice Sternberg who--who was, you know, had a substantial interior design business at that time and he--and then I was drafted into the military. I had actually been deferred from induction into the military until I completed my training there. They allowed me to do that. My draft board was out in San Francisco, and they let me--let me finish school and then I--I became eligible for the draft. I had to go. It was time for me to go and I was drafted into the military in 1954--right the day after graduation or very close to it--and the graduation ceremony, but I had actually finished my work in March and didn't get drafted until June--and I didn't march so to speak with the class until June--and then the military--I was there for two years and I was sent to Germany. I was trained--I had some special training at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri. Fort Leonard Wood was basic training. I went to Ft. Belvoir, Virginia to train as a cartographer--I was a map draftsman and--and then they sent--I went--they sent me right straight from--quickly to--to Germany and they divided the class that I graduated in into three groups and they sent one small group to Panama. They sent quite a large group to Korea. The Korean War was still cooking at that time I think and--and a group that I went with--they shipped us to Europe and to Germany to remap West Germany after World War--you know there was no maps after World War II up to date. The old maps were not of any service anymore they--they were all--the bridges had been destroyed. The roads had been changed. The--many of the railway terminals had been moved and they just--so they needed new maps and that's what I was engaged in for the two years that I was there. I was--was a draftsman drawing--drawing maps and--we finished the map--map assignment. There was a--I was assigned to a group in Frankfurt, which was a small unit that was attached to Fifth Corps Headquarters which was really a division of Seventh Army and the Seventh Army had a battalion, a large group of guys down at the Heidelberg and--but we all worked in concert--these troops that I was with I--I don't really know why the general had his own special troops cause I was one of those in--in Frankfurt--but for this job we--we all worked together and completed the maps for West Germany, and--and when that was finished then we had to do targets. I--I later became a draftsman of targets for guided missiles in--in aircraft bombers and we--these groups--topographic groups would--would draw these targets and they'd run control into these--whatever it was--it was a depot for fuel--a fuel depot or a bridge or any strategic spot that looked like a strategic military installation. They--we would plot it onto their surface within several hundredths of an inch so that they could diffuse that--those--those figures, those numbers to coordinate how to lob guided missiles or--or where to find it on the earth's surface, and I--I worked out on the field most of the time--that time when I stayed out in the field--we slept in the woods, we slept under bridges and I did a lot of that drawing right on the spot. In fact, all of it was done right--right there. The maps were not all done in the field although I did have some outside assignments where I had to go out into--those maps for the most part were made--initially started from aerial photographs and they would fly over with airplanes and photograph the whole area and then bring the maps back into the drafting room and we would use equipment to then extract, you know, the information from the photograph to draw maps. And then what sometimes would happen when a heavily-wooded area like particularly in Bavaria--there's so--the woods were--were so thick--the trees that we couldn't really tell what happened to the terrain underneath the trees--we didn't know how high or how low it was or where the roads went under, so I was assigned to a group of--a survey team of guys and we took a few small trucks and we'd go out and draw these maps in--in the forest. I'd actually set up a drawing table there and draw the map. They would run the control in from some benchmark, real old church or something that had a location or other surface on it, and then they would run the control over to the spot and I'd draw the map right there on the spot to fill in where they couldn't see from the photograph. And that's kind of what I did for two years and then had a chance to get out the military. I was told that I could get a month early or two months early if I--if I wanted to--to attend graduate school. Now, I really thought I had finished with college and--when I--I thought I had done as much as I could do when I got a bachelor's degree, but you know, but I really didn't like the military and I--and I took the challenge of going to graduate school to get out of the--to get out of the military and--and did.$$Before we get out of the military, can you--now you were in the military just after--I guess the Korean War was closing.$$Yeah, the Korean War was closing.$$The military had just been integrated not long ago before, I guess in 1948?$$That's absolutely right. I was the only guy in my--the only African American guy in my outfit in--in at least in the--in--as a draftsman--now that, in a--I have to explain those--I was in a topographic company and in that company there were people who were involved in mapmaking that were not draftsman. They had surveyors and some other functions. I don't know. It doesn't come to me quickly, but we even had our own--they had people there who maintained the vehicles that we had to use and so they had the quartermaster's people who helped out supplying stuff. So there were some other African American guys in my unit--in the company, but there were only probably about two or three of us--four. And so, I yeah to your point--there was very little integration, in fact happening then, no. But some--it was starting--it was starting to--to take place.$Once about every week or so I would come out and bring my work (laughter). I had no car. I was living in the Y [YMCA, Young Men's Christian Association] in Hyde Park [Chicago, Illinois]. I'd get on a bus--ride 55th Street all the way to Kedzie [Avenue]. It would take me almost two hours to get out there on the bus. I had my work under my arm and--and I'd go to Kedzie and wherever it is--Homan [Avenue]--and Arthington [Street] and Kedzie and get off the bus and walk in there with my stuff (laughter) and I'd make little models--markups and bags and--and take them in there and I was really--what it needed help--wanted help with was developing what they call KD furniture, "knockdown furniture". Today they call it RTA, ready to assemble", but this meant shipping it flat and having the customer assemble it. That would save space in shipping and save a lot of damage in shipping also. So, I would create ideas and drawings and sketches and markups and--and take them in and he would then pass them on to his design team and they would develop the ideas and sell them, you know, which was fine with me. But I did that for, oh, several months and--and I began to feel uneasy again. I said, Jesus, I need to be in a place where somebody's watching over my shoulder. I'm young--I'm new and I want the same benefit these other guys are having--somebody to train them--teach them and watch them, and wouldn't you know fate or God or whatever--Henry Glass called me. He was my instructor at school--called me one day and said, "Chuck," says--"We're gonna--my partner and I've decided to separate our businesses." He was--he was merged with a--with an architect, Lou Hebner (ph.) and they did a lot--some architectural things around the city of Chicago, buildings and homes and residences as well, and he said, "We've--we've decided--I've decided to pursue more industrial design and Lou wants to pursue more architecture and so we are gonna separate and I need some help. I'd like to ask you if you'd come and work for me." I says, "What time do you close? I'll be there (laughter)," you know so I did. I went over--Henry hired me and I went--started working for Henry, in his office and he was able to watch me and you know--really put the pieces in place and I have to tell you I was pretty good anyway by that time, but with Henry's policing I think I was doing okay. I was really at the top of my--for my level I was--I was worth my--my salary. And then people started calling me from--people who had seen me before when I was going around and couldn't--couldn't find employment--once I got a job, Henry kept me in there at the boards and doing what I needed to do for him--I--I started getting calls from other people said, you know, I--I had just heard from so and so who said that they saw your portfolio and you seemed to be promising. Would you mind coming over and having an interview? And, so I'd go--I did and I got another job with--with Ed Klein and Associates, who was heavy in electronics and did a lot of stuff from radio--television stuff, but what got me in there was the furniture again, because I was strong on furniture. In those days they were putting console television sets together and--and stereo systems and--and big pieces of furniture.$$'Cause the cabinet is huge--.$$Yeah, so, so yeah, and I had a lot of strength there so I--I went to work went--I took employment with Ed Klein. I wanted--I was at a point too where I really wanted to expand--I wanted to do things in addition to furniture. I felt that I had a pretty good handle on furniture design and Henry really did teach me a lot, and so I hated to--I was--I was reluctant to leave but I felt I had to grow. I felt I had to go and at this point--just about this time Janet and I got married. So I--I really you know wanted to--to get on with building a career and building a life for both of us and in fact she earned more money than I did at that time. She was a secretary, but you know, it soon caught up with me and--and I was able to be the source of support for the family, you know, shortly. Then I worked for Ed Klein for two or three years and actually I was his first employee. Well I was the only employee for a while and then he began to build and add and add, and I was kind of like a senior designer in the--in the studio there and he had offices over on Michigan Avenue. Henry's office was over on--what was then called the Furniture Mart and Henry Glass was up in the tower--it's 666 Lake Shore Drive right on the--on Lake Shore Drive across from the what's now the Olive Harvey Infiltration--Filtration Plant not infiltration plant, but it's a condo now. I think the building is a condominium--big building. Anyway, I--I took this job with Ed Klein who was on Ohio Street, on Ohio and Michigan Avenue, upstairs on--over the Lake Shore Bank then and--and I started with him designing things in addition to furniture. A lot of--as I said--a lot of electronics.