In the fifties and early sixties, car designs were perhaps at their most dramatic, with acres of chrome and fins that went on forever. So dramatic were the styles, and futuristic were the car concepts that in America in particular, even kids were excited about the new car designs. Under the direction of Harley Earl, the Fisher Body Craftsman's Guild, subsidized by General Motors, was a national competition to help focus that energy and give teenagers an outlet for their car designing enthusiasm. The competition flourished in the fifties and sixties by offering scholarships for building scale model dream cars. Created for high school seniors to challenge their imaginations, Fisher Body helped these young engineers and designers shape the look of the future. The Craftsman's Guild aimed to shape young candidates into fine craftsmen, mature and stable, the well-mannered "Fisher Boys" would stand as pillars of the community.
Initially, as the Fisher Body Club developed, auto mockups were crudely sculpted or carved in wood or clay, often with simple details. Starting with a set of wheels mounted on axles, to which they would apply a large wad of modeling clay, young designers were left up to their own creative devices to fashion their scale model dream cars. Those who had some experience with crafting models, perhaps referring to drawings they had created, managed to sculpt inspired designs that exhibited a high degree of craftsmanship. In depth building instructions were not available and assistance of former contestants was not available. GM reasoned that given little to go on, contestants would have to dredge up solutions by themselves, as a form of creative stimulation.
The legacy of the Fisher Body Craftsman's Guild is one of stimulating, enabling and rewarding creativity and craftsmanship. The Guild strove to mold high school seniors into strong, bold and creative engineers and designers with their sights on a future as General Motors employees. Young adults embraced the challenge and rewards set forth by the Guild during the post-war period, exemplified by the fact that during the fifties, only the Boy Scouts of America had a larger membership. As noble an accomplishment as this may seem, it is also true that there was no place in the Guild for the female designer or craftsperson. When one looks back at the promotional material General Motors and the Fisher Body Craftsman's Guild used to attract members, it is a sad reminder of why women are a scarce minority in engineering and other technological fields today. The attitude of the Fisher Body Craftsman's Guild's toward women eventually evolved, if only in it's experimental European program, with the co-educational Opel Modellbauer Gilde in West Germany remaining active from 1965 to 1976.
By the mid sixties, designs were more futuristic, clean, and exhibited the highest level of craftsmanship. These young designers were producing professional quality mockups using the same techniques as actual automotive designers. By 1968, the Fisher Body Craftsman's Guild ended its scholarship program and competition for financial reasons. The US Craftsman's Guild held a reunion in 2004, with many of the attending adult members currently working in the field of automotive engineering and design.
Until teenage boys discovered the Fisher Body Craftsman's Guild, many only had the fleeting satisfaction of making their futuristic sketches in school notebooks, or in the margins of text books. The Fisher Body Craftsman's Guild served as an enabler, mentor, and bridge to the future for youth inspired by automotive design. Today, powerful technological tools including the computer, the Internet, and 3-D imaging software enable anyone with an interest in engineering or design to create and show their concepts to millions of other enthusiasts, and potential employers. Anyone old enough to hold a mouse or operate a Wacom Tablet can stand on the shoulders of the Fisher Boys and begin to design their own futures.
by John Prinz