How did a little metal ball with some long antenna scare a country and also kick off a design movement in lighting? That's what we're going to talk about today. That metal ball in question was Sputnik 1, the first man-made satellite. It was put into orbit by the Soviets in 1957, a ball a little under 2 feet in diameter with four long antenna hanging off of it.
At the time, we were in the beginnings of the Cold War and any sort of space flight was seen as just something in science fiction. It could be possible, but we weren't sure. Sputnik ushered in the Space Race, and a large fear about the Russians gaining military space capabilities beyond what the US could handle. The Soviets used ICBM technology to launch the satellite, and if they could put a satellite up into space that means they were well on their way to building a weapon that could hit anywhere on earth.
But a lot of that fear was mostly held by the political class. It didn't whip up into the so-called Sputnik Crisis until the media started to push it. Most people were awed at the achievement. Humans successfully put something up into space and it stayed up there! It could be done!
It didn't take long from there for designers to take the shape of the satellite and turn it into lighting. Sputnik chandeliers are a type of central lighting that uses a central orb with several arms sticking out of it. The ends either have lights or other decorative elements like crystals. Once the first few designs got out there was an explosion of creativity. You can even find new sputnik chandeliers today, though they are much more subdued than the ones from the period.
Here's an example of one from our collection. Here we have a brass orb with many arms, each with a colorful light fixture on the end of it. Sputnik chandeliers were meant to be objects of art, and were usually quite large for a light fixture. They would be hung in tall dining rooms or living rooms. The crazy layout of the arms is meant to evoke not just the satellite, but also images of nuclear power as well. The sputnik chandelier is a true icon of the Space Race era, and one that any Mid-Century modern home should think about installing in one room as a symbol of this important time in American history.