1958 Edsel Convertible
In the mid-1950s, the Ford Motor Company was working on a car that they fancied would represent the new cutting edge in automotive pleasure. History records that the Edsel, unveiled in 1956, stands as one of the epochal failures in the history of the horseless carriage. In the telltale detail that seemed to promise an unpropitious outcome, the Edsel was named after Edsel Ford, son of the great Henry Ford. Curiously, Henry Ford II was steadfastly opposed to naming the model after his father, and the decision was reached at a board meeting in which Henry Ford II was not present—still, even if it wasn’t sheer Fordist ego, the inescapably sycophantic quality of the name wasn’t promising.
In 1955 Robert B. Young of Ford’s Marketing Research Department reached out to poet Marianne Moore for assistance on the name of the astounding new jalopy, seeking a moniker that would “convey, through association or other conjuration, some visceral feeling of elegance, fleetness, advanced features and design.” Letters of Note posted the full correspondence over the weekend, and it is hilarious.
Moore comes up with a great many remarkable names, most of them apparently facetious or satirical in intent, although presented with an entirely straight face. Young remarks that “seldom has the auto business had occasion to indulge in so ethereal a matter as this” and appears to brush off Moore’s more ridiculous proposals, noting that “we should like suggestions that we ourselves would not have arrived at. And, in sober fact, have not.”
Among the names Moore offered were “Mongoose Civique,” “Dearborn Diamanté,” “Pluma Piluma,” and, fantastically, “Utopian Turtletop.” On December 23, 1955, Young sent Moore “a bouquet of roses, eucalyptus and white pine” with the note “Merry Christmas to our favorite Turtletopper.”
In all, Ford weighed roughly six thousand names before coming up with “Edsel,” which today is roughly synonymous with “stinkbomb.” It’s impossible to say whether the name was a true factor in the eventual failure of the car, which first hit the road in 1958. In the final note, written by Young’s boss David Wallace, Moore learned that Young was now in the employ of “our glorious U.S. Coast Guard.”
Honestly, the correspondence is so smashingly amusing that it feels like it has to be entirely fictional. But apparently that is not the case.
Marianne Moore reads “Bird-Witted”