What do Tupperware, bikinis and the International Achievement Awards (IAAs) have in common? They are all 75 years old this year. In addition to getting their start in 1946, these innovations seem to signal the dawn of a new era. The Great Depression and a terrible war were over, and a boom was about to begin—one where a lady could don a two-piece, take a picnic lunch to the beach in a nifty plastic container, and relax under an award-winning canopy.
We have J. L. Stuart of San Francisco to thank for the IAAs. A leader in the National Canvas Goods Manufacturers Association (a previous name for Industrial Fabrics Association International), Stuart launched the awards as a photo contest. “Never before has there been exhibited such beautiful and individual work, whether in Awnings or Canopies,” according to the report in the November 1946 issue of Review. The contest offered cash prizes, with Stuart winning in some of the categories that year. According to Review, he was a generous man, committing to split the award “among the men of the department who had anything to do with the designing, sales and construction of the winning articles. We deem this a good policy as it creates interest among the department heads and employees.”
The IAAs are far from Stuart’s only legacy. His company lives on in Stuart Event Rentals (now the West Coast base for global special events provider Arena Group). He claims a footnote in San Francisco history as well, having designed, manufactured and patented the safety net that was suspended under the Golden Gate Bridge as it was being constructed. Chief engineer Joseph Strauss invested $130,000 (nearly $2.5 million in today’s dollars) in the net to improve workplace safety practices—a high price in the Depression, but worth it: construction speeded up as workers felt safer, and while there were still worksite deaths, the net saved the lives of 19 men. They are said to have proclaimed themselves members of the “Halfway to Hell Club.”
Today, I feel hopeful that we are at the dawn of a new era. The IAAs were one of the many casualties of 2020, but they are back this year. Go to https://iaa.ifai.com/ to enter and continue the industry’s tradition of technical and design excellence.