Monday, June 13, 2011

Frank Lloyd Wright at the Jamestown Exposition

One of the major themes of the 1907 Jamestown Exposition was free enterprise and American capitalism. Several major American and foreign companies, from the giant Pennsylvania Railroad to a small start up known as General Electric, commissioned lavish buildings and exhibits to show off their products and services. One of these companies was the Larkin Soap Company of Buffalo, New York. Started in 1875, the company was originally one of America's leading soap companies before they expanded their product line to include most household products. At the same time, the company also introduced a mail order service.

The founder of the company John Larkin was a good friend of another American pioneer, architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Having already commissioned Wright in 1904 to design the company's Buffalo headquarters (which is considered to be one of Wright's masterpieces), Larkin commissioned Wright to design a building to promote the Larkin Company's marketing concept. Called the "Larkin Idea," this strategy attempted to sell to the American homemaker what the ideal home should look like. This of course included the company's full line of consumer goods.

One visitor to the building wrote, "There was something homey and restful in that little cottage. Both young and old ladies went through the building with attentive eyes, pausing now and then as their fancy fixed upon this chair or that bedstead or other desirable article 'for my room at home.' The 'Larkin idea" is one of the most distinctive phases of modern business life, and there are millions of 'Larkin homes' throughout the country, in which the products of this firm are regarded as household necessities, and where the 'idea' meets with a hearty welcome."

The building, unfortunately, was torn down after the Exposition. Its location today would be at the corner of Pocahontas and Farragut Avenues at Naval Station Norfolk.

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