Zenith Radio Nurse
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Zenith Radio Nurse

Zenith Radio Nurse (1938) bakelite designed by Isamu Noguchi, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

The Radio Nurse was the first electronic baby monitor. Manufactured by the Zenith Radio Corporation, it went on sale in 1938. The product was developed by Zenith executive Eugene F. McDonald, and designed by Japanese-American sculptor and product designer Isamu Noguchi. Although the product was manufactured for only a few years, it has been acclaimed for its design. It is still in demand and is in many museum collections.

Design, function and marketing

The product commonly called the Radio Nurse consisted of two components, the Radio Nurse Receiver and the Guardian Ear Transmitter. Noguchi designed the Radio Nurse Receiver, which was made from a dark colored Bakelite in a streamlined modernist form. The Guardian Ear Transmitter was a more utilitarian design, and was made from enameled metal.[1]

The Radio Nurse was Noguchi's first major design commission and he called it "my only strictly industrial design"[2] The product encountered technical problems because it shared a radio frequency with other new consumer technologies including car radios and garage door openers."[3]

Although the Radio Nurse has commonly been described as a baby monitor, an early Zenith advertisement mentioned invalids as well as infants, and featured an illustration of an elderly woman as well as a baby. This ad appeared in Hygeia, a popular magazine published by the American Medical Association.[4]

Critical reception

In 1938, the Radio Nurse was included in an exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art.[5] In its review of the show, Time said, "Most exotic: Isamu Noguchi's Radio Nurse, a grilled bakelite face--prettier as a radio than as a nurse."[6]

Design historians Charlotte and Peter Fiell wrote that the Radio Nurse "displayed a remarkably refined synthesis of form and function".[7] The Encyclopedia of Interior Design said that the Radio Nurse has a "strangely comforting watchful quality".[2]Smithsonian magazine wrote that "It sits like a dark, faceless plastic mask, more like a prototype for a Star Wars film."[3] On Antiques Roadshow, appraiser Gary Piattoni said, "What's significant about this piece is the design. It's an excellent example of modern design by a very famous Japanese-American designer called Isamu Noguchi."[8]

Reflecting on the attention he received, Noguchi wrote in his autobiography, "By a curious switch, I thought of commercial art as less contaminated than one that appealed to vanity."[9]

Museum collections

The Radio Nurse is included in the collections of many American museums, such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art,[10] the Henry Ford Museum,[11] the Museum of Modern Art,[12] the Noguchi Museum,[13] the Cooper Hewitt,[14] the Oakland Museum of California,[15] the Yale University Art Gallery,[1] and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.[16] It is also part of the collections of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts,[17] the Victoria and Albert Museum in London[18] and the M+ museum under construction in Hong Kong.[19]


  1. ^ a b "Designer: Isamu Noguchi, American, 1904-1988, Manufacturer: Zenith Radio Corporation, American, 1918-1999, "Radio Nurse" and "Guardian Ear" Short Wave Radio Transmitter". Yale University Art Gallery. Archived from the original on October 10, 2017. Retrieved 2018.
  2. ^ a b Banham, Joanna (1997). Encyclopedia of Interior Design. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-136-78757-7.
  3. ^ a b Catlin, Roger (December 20, 2016). "After the Tragic Lindbergh Kidnapping, Artist Isamu Noguchi Designed the First Baby Monitor". Smithsonian. Retrieved 2018.
  4. ^ "If You Have a Baby or an Invalid". Hygeia. American Medical Association. April 1938. Archived from the original on July 2, 2018. Retrieved 2018.
  5. ^ Berman, Avis (1990). Rebels on Eighth Street: Juliana Force and the Whitney Museum of American Art. Athenium. ISBN 978-0-689-12086-2. Archived from the original on November 9, 2017.
  6. ^ "Art: Whitney Annual". Time. February 6, 1939. Archived from the original on July 13, 2014. Retrieved 2018.
  7. ^ Fiell, Charlotte; Fiell, Peter (2010). Plastic dreams: synthetic visions in design. Fiell Publishing. ISBN 978-1-906863-08-1.
  8. ^ Piattoni, Gary. "Isamu Noguchi Radio Nurse, ca. 1937". Antiques Roadshow. PBS. Archived from the original on July 2, 2018. Retrieved 2018. What's significant about this piece is the design. It's an excellent example of modern design by a very famous Japanese-American designer called Isamu Noguchi.
  9. ^ Herrera, Hayden (2015). Listening to Stone: The Art and Life of Isamu Noguchi. Macmillan. ISBN 978-0-374-28116-8.
  10. ^ ""Radio Nurse"". The Met. Metropolitan Museum of Art. Archived from the original on February 1, 2017. Retrieved 2018. The highly sculptural form evokes an abstracted human head: the eponymous surrogate nurse.
  11. ^ "Zenith Radio Nurse, 1937". The Henry Ford. Henry Ford Museum. Retrieved 2018.
  12. ^ "Isamu Noguchi: Radio Nurse Speaker, 1937". MoMA. Museum of Modern Art. Retrieved 2018.
  13. ^ "Noguchi returns to New York and establishes a studio at 211 East 49th Street. He works on his first mass-produced design, a baby monitor for Zenith Radio Corporation, called Radio Nurse". Noguchi Museum. Archived from the original on May 2, 2015. Retrieved 2018.
  14. ^ "Radio Nurse intercom speaker, 1937-38". Cooper Hewitt. Archived from the original on December 30, 2015. Retrieved 2018.
  15. ^ "Isamu Noguchi Zenith Radio Corp.: Radio Nurse". OMCA Collections. Oakland Museum of California. Retrieved 2018. The case is deep brown molded Bakelite and designed to suggest the head and hat of a nurse.
  16. ^ "Radio Nurse Receiver and Guardian Ear Transmitter with Original Box". Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Retrieved 2018.
  17. ^ "Media Art: Timeline". virtualmuseum.ca. Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. Retrieved 2018.
  18. ^ "'Radio Nurse' baby monitor by Isamu Noguchi, 1937". Victoria and Albert Museum. Archived from the original on September 5, 2017. Retrieved 2018. Its shape suggests both traditional Japanese Kendo masks and American 'machine age' sculpture of the 1930s. In 1939 it was displayed at the Whitney Museum of American Art's annual sculpture exhibition, where Time magazine called it the 'most exotic' exhibit in the show, 'prettier as a radio than as a nurse'.
  19. ^ "Isamu Noguchi, Zenith Radio Corporation: Radio Nurse transmitter with Guardian Ear receiver". westKowloon. West Kowloon Cultural District. Retrieved 2018.

External links

  This article uses material from the Wikipedia page available here. It is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.



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