Alden B. Dow’s Display Cases for the Dow Chemical Company’s 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition Exhibit in San Francisco, California

Alden B. Dow enjoyed exploring the design possibilities of plastics and other new products the Dow Chemical Company was on the forefront of developing in the 1930s. His 1937 drawing entitled “1940 House” illustrated the potential use of Dow’s Ethocel in forming 12-inch square building blocks. His design of the 1937 addition to the company’s main offices in Midland incorporated a two-story stair wall made of Ethocel blocks. The skylight of the bathhouse at Midland’s Central Park pool (1938) was made of the same material. 

Mr. Dow utilized the blocks to showcase the latest Dow products in ways that had never been seen before in the company’s exhibit at the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco. 

The designs for the display cases were completed in November and December of 1938. Located in the Hall of Science, the exhibit occupied an area of approximately 25 feet by 40 feet. Overhead was the company name made entirely of massive Styron block letters seemingly lit from within. Styron was one of Dow’s newest plastics at the time. A series of 15 mural-sized photos formed a background for products on display and was illuminated from above with light filtered through opaque Styron panels. The side walls of the exhibit were made of green translucent Dow Ethyl Cellulose that was lit from behind.

Perhaps one of the most unusual features of the exhibit was a separate 40-foot long by 6-foot wide moat into which Mr. Dow placed a 28-foot long illuminated display case containing samples of Dow’s 400-odd products. At each end of the moat was a large bubbling well made of Styron. A circular neon light tube was embedded in the bottom of the thick walls of each well pipe, creating a luminous top edge over which water flowed. The effect was particularly striking as a chemical treatment caused the water to change from colorless to red and back again every minute of operation.

In the pool itself, black plates with the names of chemical elements in raised letters of white Ethocel were submerged just below the surface of the water. Because of the dark inside walls of the pool, the names of the elements appeared to be floating in the water. 

A brief description of the exhibit in the October 1939 issue of Dow Diamond, the Dow Chemical Company magazine, noted that the average weekend attendance at the Dow exhibit during August 1939 was 7,507, with the record attendance of 4,830 visitors in a single day.

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