The Color Revolution

From Lemelson Center Studies in Invention and Innovation series

The Color Revolution

By Regina Lee Blaszczyk

A history of color and commerce from haute couture to automobile showrooms to interior design.





A history of color and commerce from haute couture to automobile showrooms to interior design.

When the fashion industry declares that lime green is the new black, or instructs us to “think pink!,” it is not the result of a backroom deal forged by a secretive cabal of fashion journalists, designers, manufacturers, and the editor of Vogue. It is the latest development of a color revolution that has been unfolding for more than a century. In this book, the award-winning historian Regina Lee Blaszczyk traces the relationship of color and commerce, from haute couture to automobile showrooms to interior design, describing the often unrecognized role of the color profession in consumer culture.

Blaszczyk examines the evolution of the color profession from 1850 to 1970, telling the stories of innovators who managed the color cornucopia that modern artificial dyes and pigments made possible. These “color stylists,” “color forecasters,” and “color engineers” helped corporations understand the art of illusion and the psychology of color. Blaszczyk describes the strategic burst of color that took place in the 1920s, when General Motors introduced a bright blue sedan to compete with Ford's all-black Model T and when housewares became available in a range of brilliant hues. She explains the process of color forecasting—not a conspiracy to manipulate hapless consumers but a careful reading of cultural trends and consumer taste. And she shows how color information flowed from the fashion houses of Paris to textile mills in New Jersey.

Today professional colorists are part of design management teams at such global corporations as Hilton, Disney, and Toyota. The Color Revolution tells the history of how colorists help industry capture the hearts and dollars of consumers.


$40.00 X ISBN: 9780262017770 400 pp. | 8 in x 10 in 121 color illus.


  • This fascinating book details how a group of unheralded 'color engineers' created and standardized palettes for the American mass market…Blaszczyk, a design historian, illuminates the economic forces and shifting cultural values that have influenced consumers' color preferences—and she shows how industry has sought to fathom those trends and to anticipate and alter those preferences.

    The Atlantic

  • Read this marvelous book and your eye for color will snap back into brilliant focus.

    Jude Stewart


  • Exploring the use of color by American manufacturers from the mid-1800s when scientists, like Perkin, were inventing new industrial pigments and dyes, until the mid-2oth century, [this book] shows what a powerful force color has been – socially, culturally, and economically.

    Alice Rawsthorn

    The New York Times

  • The Color Revolution…is a result of sheer research rigour…it's also suited for an academic setting, its heft and tone destined to be a primer for the growing number of American Studies, Design History, and Management programmes. Full of rich historical imagery, vintage advertisements, annotated footnotes, and an index, the book catalogues a crucial period in the history of Western consumer culture.

    Aileen Kwun

    Icon Magazine

  • With a focus on America, the book is a lively account of how individuals and industry made colour a transforming force in our culture and design.

    Design Talks


  • Color is a vivid subject: the ground where moods meet physics. The colors of a particular moment live on in our memories, yet history is too often colorblind, oblivious to the powerful role color has played in the development of our florid consumer culture. The Color Revolution takes a big step toward opening our eyes and minds to the way in which a varied cast of characters standardized, refined, and expanded the use of color to create the vibrant, often garish, lives we live now.

    Thomas Hine

    author of Populuxe and The Great Funk

  • The twentieth century produced a new tribe of experts: the color gurus. At the intersection of fashion, psychology, chemistry, marketing, product design, and even military engineering, these men and women used the stability and consistency of modern synthetic organic dyes to create a brave new polychrome world that we now take for granted—in software and electronic devices, too. Combining formidable scholarship with memorable personalities and vivid stories, The Color Revolution will fascinate historians, marketing professionals, and consumers alike.

    Edward Tenner

    author of Why Things Bite Back: Technology and the Revenge of Unintended Consequences and Our Own Devices: How Technology Remakes Humanity

  • Regina Lee Blaszczyk, who deftly combines ground breaking scholarship with an engaging style, has produced an important and lively account of the individuals, organizations, and industries that made color an inventive and transforming force in modern American culture and design.

    Dilys Blum

    The Jack M. and Annette Y. Friedland Senior Curator of Costume and Textiles, Philadelphia Museum of Art

  • The Color Revolution unites the visible history of the color chart with the hidden history of imperfect information, mood, and perception. The narrative arc of this beautifully illustrated book starts with the technical achievement of color in describing the timely development of a reproducible color system among specialists who became 'colorists.' An insightful must-have for the student and historian of business enterprise, industrial psychology, advertising, and the predictive modeling of nuance and effect.

    William Lawrence Bird, Jr.

    Curator, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution


  • Winner, 2013 Hacker Prize, awarded by the Society for the History of Technology