Illuminating Sputnik

Written by on 9th July 2012 in Design & History with 3 Comments


If you follow me, you probably know that I’m a fan of the reproduction Sputnik inspired light fixtures and mid century design in general.  You may also know that I’m a historian and so I’m naturally interested in the provenance of things and decided to investigate the story behind Sputnik a little.

I’m not a U.S. historian, or a space historian, so I didn’t know much about it until now… but I learned that the U.SS.R. launched Sputnik in 1957 and that it was the first artificial space satellite ever. Sputnik orbited the earth and wasn’t equipped with much technology other than a beeping radio signal that other instruments could track.  Sputnik’s success started the space race which became an extension of the cold war.


The United States response to the Sputnik was their own satellite and the creation of NASA in 1958 to fund similar projects.  So, you could say Sputnik is responsible for NASA.

Sputnik didn’t really look like these pointy projection fixtures, but these forms are part of  the popular futuristic imagery around satellites that existed in the 1950s and 60s.


Pop-Culture’s fascination with space and the communist threat resulted in pop art, fashion and decor featuring funky space satellites. Check out these ads!

Images of Sputnik appeared everywhere “Bartenders invented the sputnik cocktail and children bought Sputnik toys. Space fashions also came into style depicting satellites on everything..” source  And of course the Sputnik inspired light fixtures were also popularized at this time.  Here is a vintage example from the 50′s.


Obviously there is much more to the story behind Sputnik than this. But understanding a little about why it became such an iconic image in western popular culture gives me a little something extra to talk with clients about as I try to convince them to use one in their homes:)

(All the pics are links as usual)


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This Article has 3 Comments

  1. I love Sputnik too Nicole! Loved reading this!

  2. I had no idea about all this history. I just liked it….now I’m so much more informed…and I still like it!

  3. I’m a huge fan of these fixtures, Nicole! And I did know the history. Because I’m older than you : )

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