Question for you: what do the following three icons have in common?
Answer: They were all created by Raymond Loewy, a man who the press referred to as The Man Who Shaped America, The Father of Streamlining and The Father of Industrial Design.
In this installment of “Learning from InvENtors,” we are highlighting Mr. Loewy and his career.
Spanning seven decades, Loewy touched everything from logos to spaceships. He spent most of his professional career in the United States. Among his designs were the Shell, Exxon, TWA and the former BP logos, the Greyhound Scenicruiser bus, Coca-Cola vending machines, the Lucky Strike package, Coldspot refrigerators, the Studebaker Avanti and Champion and the Air Force One livery. He was involved with numerous railroad designs, including the Pennsylvania Railroad GG1 and S-1 locomotives, the color scheme and Eagle motif for the first streamliners of the Missouri Pacific Railroad and a number of lesser known color scheme and car interior designs for other railroads.
Born in Paris in 1893, Loewy was the son of Maximilian Loewy, a Jewish journalist of Austrian origin, and a French mother, Mme. Marie Labalme. Loewy achieved an early accomplishment with the design of a successful model aircraft, which then won the Gordon Bennett Cup in 1908. By the following year, he had commercial sales of the plane, named the Ayrel.
Loewy served in the French army during World War I (1914-1918), attaining the rank of captain. He was wounded in combat and received the Croix de guerre.
In Loewy’s early years in the United States, he lived in New York and found work as a window designer for department stores, including Macy’s, Wanamaker’s and Saks in addition to working as a fashion illustrator for Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar.
Following his work in fashion, Loewy dedicated his talent to the field of industrial design. He had innate creative genius, and his effect on the industry was immediate.
Loewy lived by his own famous MAYA principle – Most Advanced Yet Acceptable.
He believed that, “The adult public’s taste is not necessarily ready to accept the logical solutions to their requirements if the solution implies too vast a departure from what they have been conditioned into accepting as the norm.”
Raymond Loewy launched his career in industrial design in 1929, when Sigmund Gestetner, a British manufacturer of duplicating machines, commissioned him to improve the appearance of a mimeograph machine. In three days, 28-year-old Loewy designed the shell that was to encase Gestetner duplicators for the next 40 years. In the process, he helped launch a profession that has changed the look of America.
The Gestetner duplicator was the first of countless items transformed by streamlining, a technique that Loewy is credited with originating.
Calling the concept “beauty through function and simplification,” Loewy spent over 50 years streamlining everything from postage stamps to spacecrafts.
In 1930, Loewy was brought on as a consultant to the Hupp Motor Company. He called the Hupp contract “the beginning of industrial design as a legitimate profession,” explaining that it was “the first time a large corporation accepted the idea of getting outside advice in the development of their products.” The Hupp contract also marked the beginning of Loewy’s long and often frustrating association with American automobile manufacturers.
One of Loewy’s first major successes, a Coldspot refrigerator he designed for Sears Roebuck & Company in 1934, served as a testimonial to creative packaging. Loewy’s streamlined Coldspot, complete with the first ever rustproof aluminum shelves, sent Sears refrigerator sales from 60,000 units to 275,000 units in just two years.
In 1937, Loewy established a relationship with the Pennsylvania Railroad, and his most notable designs for the firm were their passenger locomotives. He designed a streamlined shroud for K4s Pacific #3768 to haul his newly redesigned 1938 Broadway Limited. He followed by styling the experimental S1 locomotive, as well as the T1 class.
Later, at the PRR’s request, he restyled Baldwin’s diesels with a distinctive “sharknose” reminiscent of the T1. While he did not design the famous GG1 electric locomotive, he improved its appearance by recommending welded construction rather than riveted and added a pinstriped paint scheme to highlight its smooth contours.
In addition to locomotive design, Loewy’s studios performed many kinds of design work for the Pennsylvania Railroad including stations, passenger-car interiors and advertising materials. By 1949, Loewy employed 143 designers, architects and draftsmen.
While Loewy established his reputation as a designer, he boosted his profession by showing the practical benefits to be derived from the application of functional styling. In the book Industrial Design, Loewy notes,
“Success finally came when we were able to convince some creative men that good appearance was a salable commodity, that it often cut costs, enhanced a product’s prestige, raised corporate profits, benefited the customer and increased employment.”
Loewy also had a long and fruitful relationship with American car maker, Studebaker. Studebaker first retained Loewy and Associates and Helen Dryden as design consultants in 1936, and in 1939, Loewy began work with the principal designer Virgil M. Exner. Their designs first began appearing with the late-1930s Studebakers. Loewy also designed a new logo which replaced the “turning wheel” that had been the trademark since 1912.
During World War II, American government restrictions on in-house design departments at Ford, General Motors and Chrysler prevented official work on civilian automobiles. Because Loewy’s firm was independent of the fourth-largest automobile producer in America, no such restrictions applied. This permitted Studebaker to launch the first all-new, postwar automobile in 1947, two years ahead of the “Big Three.” His team developed an advanced design featuring flush-front fenders and clean rearward lines. The Loewy staff, headed by Exner, also created the Starlight body which featured a rear-window system wrapping 180° around the rear seat.
While Loewy introduced slanted windshields, built-in headlights and wheel covers for automobiles, he also advocated lower, leaner and more fuel-efficient automobiles long before fuel economy became a concern. “He waged a long war against the worst extravagances of Detroit styling,” commented Edward Lucie-Smith a Times Literary Supplement. “He could take a production-line monster and make it an infinitely better-looking ‘special,’ with comparatively minor rebuilding. What he could not do was to alter the industry’s fundamental attitudes. Gas-guzzlers remained gas-guzzlers, and no fancy-pants designer was going to be allowed to change that.”
Loewy’s final commission of the 1950s for Studebaker was the transformation of the Starlight and Starliner coupes into the Hawk series for the 1956 model year.
In the spring of 1961, Studebaker’s new president, Sherwood Egbert, recalled Loewy to design the Avanti. Egbert hired him to help energize Studebaker’s soon-to-be-released line of 1963 passenger cars to attract younger buyers.
While designing the Avanti, Loewy posted a sign that said, “Weight is the enemy.” The Avanti design eliminated the grill, which he argued, “In this age of fuel shortages you must eliminate weight. Who needs grills? Grills I always associate with sewers.”
In 1972, a poll of stylists representing the Big Three automakers named one of his works an industry best. Reporting the results, Automotive News announced, “The 1953 Studebaker, a long-nosed coupe, with little trim and an air of motion about it, was acclaimed the top car of all time.”
Raymond Loewy is also known for designing President Kennedy’s Air Force One.
After he laid out some sketches on armchairs against a wall, President Kennedy chose one that featured a red-and-gold design, but asked for it to be rendered in blue, which he said was his favorite color.
Mr. Loewy recalled that Kennedy also chose the Caslon typeface — which resembles the one used in the heading of the Declaration of Independence — that was used for the legend “United States of America.”
During their meetings, Kennedy also asked Mr. Loewy to consider how the federal government’s visual imagery could be improved, and Mr. Loewy’s firm was retained for a feasibility study, which led to the orange stripe used by the United States Coast Guard.
The new Air Force One entered service in the fall of 1962. Its color scheme and graphics proved to be timeless, and they survive today on the current presidential Boeing 747s, combining sky blue with what Mr. Loewy called “a luminous ultramarine blue,” with an American flag on the tail and a presidential seal on each side, near the nose.
The impact of the reimagined aircraft was evident on the morning of Nov. 22, 1963, when the Kennedys were landing at Love Field in Dallas, and a local television announcer told viewers, “Here comes the big jet — Air Force One, ladies and gentlemen, with the seal on the side,” adding, “Beautiful sight!”
Just as Mr. Loewy’s logos and designs helped to differentiate commercial products in the marketplace, his work on Air Force One helped to make the plane a world-famous symbol of presidential majesty and power. For instance, on election eve 1976, hoping to benefit from its aura, Gerald Ford’s campaign advisers had the President address American voters from Air Force One on live television, over engine noise, with opening and closing images of the plane soaring above clouds.
From 1967 to 1973, Loewy was retained by NASA as a habitability consultant for the Saturn-Apollo and Skylab projects. They needed him “to help insure the psycho-physiology safety and comfort of the astronauts” under the “exotic conditions of zero-gravity.” His innovations, including simulating conditions of gravity and a porthole for vision contact with earth, made it possible for three men to inhabit a space capsule for 90 days.
George Mueller, NASA’s deputy administrator for manned space flight, wrote in a letter of appreciation:
“I do not believe that it would have been possible for the Skylab crews to have lived in relative comfort, excellent spirits and outstanding efficiency had it not been for your creative design, based on a deep understanding of human needs.”
In Mueller’s estimation, Loewy’s efforts had “provided the foundation for man’s next great step – an expedition to the planets.” Loewy agreed, later citing the work he did for NASA as his most important and gratifying assignment.
Over the course of his life, Loewry touched many aspects of our lives today. So, what can we learn from him? In addition to Loewry’s never-ending curiosity into different industries, we can learn how important it is to streamline design. You may have a fantastic idea, but, before you submit, ask yourself how you can design it to make it as simple, yet efficient, as possible.
“It all must start with an inspired, spontaneous idea.”