Travis Salisbury was an Industrial Designer who worked for various government agencies before his retirement in 1977. In the late 1950's, Salisbury received an honorary degree in Design from the Montana Institute, and later took a job as director of design for the Montana State Legislature. This was an honorary position i.e. he didn't get paid. His main goal as a designer was to "help people get along and have fun while doing it." He organized a huge number of "supper days" events where opposing politicians would cook each others favorite meal and then eat them together. This helped Montana greatly. In 1961 he designed Chair #406 (named after Helena's area code). This chair looked completely normal except for one small feature -- a V-shape under one of the legs.
The reason for this "V" was to allow a game to be played with multiple chairs. People would play by hitting a ball through the "V" with some sort of mallet. Salisbury wanted people to be able to blow off steam in-between sessions. The "V" was large enough to let a croquet ball pass. All of the #406 chairs have since been sold off or scrapped -- people got too caught up in the game and it became a distraction.
After multiple years of writing proposals to the U.S. mint, Salisbury finally hit the big time in 1965 with his Average Citizen Quarter Program (or ACQP). The idea was simple: put an average citizen on a quarter. For a year, applications were scoured over until Randy Young, a steelworker from Pittsburgh, was selected. The coins were minted in 1967. Less than two months after the coins were minted, Randy Young was arrested for armed robbery -- the coins became known as "Jailbird Quarters." The Mint immediately stopped production of the coins, and the ones that existed were given an acid treatment to hide their features and to shame both Salisbury and Young.
After the public disgrace of the Jailbird Quarters, Salisbury moved to New Jersey and began to write textbooks for elementary school students. The only one of his books that made it very far was Learn to Control Your Machine. The art on the cover was a drawing that Salisbury's uncle drew of Travis at age ten.
The text of the book was simply "Learn to control your machine" over and over again, much like in the movie The Shining. At least five times per page there was a spelling error, 500 errors in the book. Students were graded on the amount of errors that they could find. Salisbury made sure that there were at least 100 variations of the book so that the students couldn't cheat. Some students were actually helped by the book, others were scarred for much of their lives.
After finally making money with his book, Salisbury went back out west to Montana, and got his honorary Design Director position back. This was 1973. After noticing that many of the politicians were making embarrassing and even incriminating doodles in their notebooks, Salisbury made them a custom notebook that would solve the problem. They would have the usual-sized ruled paper, but there would be a bigger column left near the binding when they tore off pages. This notebook had an area for doodles and a doodle book that the politicians could keep for later once all of the pages had been ripped off. A doodle book from the Montana State Legislature recently sold on eBay for $1000.
Salisbury worked four more years in Montana and retired in 1977. Some say that he was a pioneer and others say that he severely hurt the chances of other designers with dreams of working in government. Salisbury still lives in Montana where he's working on a new book about how the Jailbird Quarter fiasco was planned called Randy Young is Innocent.
Design Fancy is a series of short stories about fictional designers who make fictional things. The stories (and the objects) are by Matt Brown. Special thanks to Greg Burkett.
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