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Radio Nurse

  • Object:

    Baby monitor

  • Place of origin:

    Chicago (designed)
    United States of America (made)

  • Date:

    1937 (designed)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Isamu Noguchi, born 1904 - died 1988 (designer)
    Zenith Plastics Co. (manufacturer)

  • Materials and Techniques:


  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    On loan

This is one of the earliest baby monitors to be commercially manufactured. It was designed by Isamu Noguchi for the President of the Zenith Radio Corporation so that he could monitor his young daughter while on his yacht. Security for parents was a pressing concern following the 1932 kidnapping and murder of the aviator Charles Lindbergh's young son. This transmitter would have been linked to a receiver (now missing) in to relay sounds from the nursery.

Noguchi was a influential Japanese-American artist and sculptor. This was his first industrial commission. It was manufactured by Zenith under the name "Radio Nurse", making it commercially available. The transmitter was designed to serve as a functional as well as a decorative object. It was celebrated in its time as a piece of domestic modern art. In 1939 an example was exhibited in the Whitney Museum of American Art's annual sculpture exhibition.

Physical description

Dark brown Bakelite radio receiver made of two shell sections (front and back) screwed together. The shape is based on the abstracted human head with a mask in front similar to a Japanese Kendo mask (head in a nurse's cap?). The front is oval tapering towards the base, with a circular grille on the front lined with brown cotton. The outer top edge of the back shell is marked by an indentation that follows in a hair band like form from the top to the middle of each side where it ends in a sharp point. The back is screwed to the front on either side (a third down from the top) with 2 recessed metal screws at the top and two further down. Between the bottom screws is the dial for tuning. In the middle of the back is a small label with the company logo and some details of the radio. Around the label 8 small vertical indentations are cast with either 1, 2 or 3 holes. Below the label, the back shell slopes sharply inwards creating with the front shell a sharp chin. On either side the outer edge of the back shell continues into small panels forming a L-profile which allows a stable stand for the receiver. From the front it gives the impression of small legs on either side. A tapered, rod-shaped handle is screwed between the L-shaped profiles at the back for easy handling. The handle is in lighter brown, slightly marbled bakelite.

Place of Origin

Chicago (designed)
United States of America (made)


1937 (designed)


Isamu Noguchi, born 1904 - died 1988 (designer)
Zenith Plastics Co. (manufacturer)

Materials and Techniques


Marks and inscriptions

ZENITH [company logo]/RADIO NURSE [interspersed with image of crying baby and letters SOS within circle]/ DESIGN BY NOGUCHI/ PATENT APPLIED FOR/ 117 VOLTS-50/60 CYCLE-25 WATTS/ ZENITH RADIO CORP., CHICAGO
Inscription impressed on back


Height: 20 cm, Width: 17 cm, Depth: 16 cm

Object history note

'Radio Nurse' is an early form of baby monitor. The microphone section (the 'Guardian ear') of this two-part product did not survive. It was not designed by Noguchi. One article in a contemporary magazine states that it was designed for the president of the Zenith radio Corporation, Commander E. F. McDonald, Jr., to monitor his daughter, when on their yacht. ['Radio Nurse', Modern Plastics (June 1938), p. 94.] The shape of the speaker is based on the human head. The lack of facial features renders the form abstract and even menacing. The form of the 'face' may have been inspired by Japanese Kendo masks, but the effect is of a machine age sculpture. The design was shown at the Whitney Museum of American Art's annual sculpture exhibition in 1939. Time Magazine called it the 'Most Exotic' exhibit in the show.

Historical context note

The impetus for the design was apparently the kidnapping and murder of the two year old son of aviator Charles Lindberg in 1932. The reasons behind the commission to a young, avant-garde sculptor remain unclear.

Descriptive line

Radio Nurse transmitter, designed by Isamu Noguchi, made by Zenith Radio Corp., Chicago, USA, 1937

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

'Zenith's radio nurse', In: Radio News (June 1938), p.46
'Radio Nurse', In: Modern Plastics (June, 1938), p.24


Bakelite (TM)


Audio equipment; Children & Childhood; Household objects; Plastic; Interiors; Shekou; Values of Design; Design Society

Production Type

Mass produced


Furniture and Woodwork Collection

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