How Industry Operates: Frank Soltesz and the Art of Cutaway Illustrations

How Industry Operates

Cover of the How Industry Operates booklet. Plain white cover with black lettering and a series of three color lines in a zig-zag pattern.
Booklet cover, How Industry Operates, 1950. LancasterHistory, Armstrong Archive.

In 1950 Armstrong Cork Company produced a booklet titled “How Industry Operates” to demonstrate how insulating products produced by Armstrong could play an important part in making new products and improving older ones. Rather than produce a technical pamphlet filled with black and white illustrations and complex formulas, Armstrong wanted to produce something informative with colorful and interesting illustrations that would entertain as well as inform. To achieve their goal, Armstrong once again called on the renowned New York advertising agency of Batten, Barton, Durstine & Osborn Inc. (BBDO), a longtime advertising partner, to produce a booklet filled with fanciful drawings showing how Armstrong products were used by various industries in everyday life.

Frank Soltesz

Black and White image of a painting showing a building facade with parts of the exterior wall removed to show operations inside.
Black and white print of an original painting by illustrator Frank Soltesz. Circa 1950. LancasterHistory, Armstrong Archive.

To illustrate how industry operates, BBDO commissioned commercial illustrator Frank Soltesz (1912-1986) to paint a series of factories and buildings with parts of their walls removed to show the operations inside. Soltesz produced 29 of these cutaway illustrations between 1947 and 1951, some of which appeared in Armstrong advertisements in publications like The Saturday Evening Post. Although Armstrong’s “How Industry Operates” booklet only included 13 of these colorful behind-the-scenes illustrations, the Armstrong Archive contains black-and-white negatives of all 29 paintings. These negatives show the framed image with its title plaque. In the case of the painting of “How An Office Building Operates,” the accompanying plaque reads: “Prepared by the Armstrong Cork Company, makers of Industrial Insulations, in cooperation with the National Association of Building Owners and Managers.”

A celebrated commercial illustrator born near Pittsburgh, Soltesz received his training at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh in the early 1930s. His first big break came in 1945 when he began working on TWA (Trans World Airlines) magazine advertisements. This helped lead to his connection with BBDO and his work on the Armstrong cutaways. During his career Soltesz produced advertisements for a number of BBDO clients and his work appeared in all the major periodicals of the day, including Business Week, Colliers, Esquire, Forbes, Fortune, Life, The Saturday Evening Post, Sports Illustrated, Time, and U.S. News and World Report.

The Cutaway Illustration in Print

The color illustrations created by Soltesz and reproduced in “How Industry Operates” show how various Armstrong products could be used to withstand extreme heat, maintain cold temperatures, and protect against damage from moisture. The amount of detail in these illustrations is incredible and the accompanying explanation easy to understand. Each explanation included a line drawing of the building or industry being depicted with numbers embedded in the text to help the reader trace the flow of hot water, steam, or refrigerant used in each step of the process.

Each of the drawings produced by Soltesz contains a fanciful element as well. The more you look at each scene and the tiny human figures as they move about, the more interesting they become. In the “How An Office Building Operates” image, a man on the ground floor can be seen running to catch an elevator. Soltesz also takes great care to portray elements of everyday life both inside the building (i.e. people performing their jobs) and outside the building (i.e. people walking their dogs). In his drawings, Soltesz is always careful to include a context for the building or industry depicted. In this instance, his cutaway shows how underground pipes, subway lines, and even the bedrock foundations beneath the building are contribute to how a modern building operates.

Where in the Illustration?

How good is your eyesight? In “How A Modern Dairy Operates,” Soltesz also depicts a busy street scene outside the dairy. See if you can find the policeman walking his beat, a man pushing a baby carriage, a young girl on skates, or the dog taking a great interest in a fire hydrant. Take a close look at “How a Steamship Operates” and try to count the number of fish in the sea and men swimming in the water at the stern of the ship. Have fun!


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