Design Icon: 8 Works by Raymond Loewy

The godfather of industrial design streamlined the look of midcentury America.

In 1951, industrial designer Raymond Loewy was so prolific, and so highly regarded by the captains of industry, that this humblebrag could go unchallenged: "The average person, leading a normal life, whether in the country, a village, a city, or a metropolis, is bound to be in daily contact with some of the things, services, or structures in which R.L.A [Raymond Loewy Associates] was a party during the design or planning stage."

Cover photo by Julius Schulman.

According to daughter Laurence Loewy, the stylish and talented designer liked "a stiff drink, a good smoke, and a hearty laugh."

Considering the then-boom in post-war consumer products, Loewy’s streamlined saturation of the American experience becomes all the more impressive. While industrial design icons such as Jonathan Ive or Phillipe Starck revolutionized a product category, or put their stamp on numerous industries, Loewy’s mark on everyday experiences across the spectrum of design has rarely been duplicated. How many people can, in the space of one career, say they created not only recognizable packages (Lucky Strike Cigarettes) and legendary logos (Shell and Exxon, to name two), but also completed a transportation trifecta with planes (Air Force One), trains (the PRR S1 Locomotive) and automobiles (Studebaker)?

PRR S1 Locomotive for Pennsylvania Railroad (1939)

"It flashed by like a steel thunderbolt, the ground shaking under me, in a blast of air that almost sucked me into its whirlwind." Loewy’s description of this one-off locomotive he designed for the Pennsylvania Railroad company belies his talent for self-promotion. It also captures the excitement of this steel behemoth, a projectile at rest that’s more steampunk than anything Jules Verne could have imagined. Sadly, after debuting at the 1939 World’s fair, Loewy’s creation had a short career, retiring from the rails in the mid-1940s due to performance issues.

The Parisian-born designer got his start designing window displays and doing fashion illustration for the likes of Macy’s and Vogue, before a chance commission to rework the Gestetner, a duplicating machine, established him as a up-and-coming industrial designer. His user-centric philosophy, MAYA ("most advanced yet acceptable"), which sought to balance radical advancement with the public’s level comfort, may explain why so much of his work was so well received.

Studebaker Avanti (1963)

Italian for forward, the Avanti was created by Loewy and a team of designers during a 40-day crash course at the behest of Studebaker President Sherwood Egbert. Sporting a sleek look during a period of automotive overindulgence, the Avanti also boasted numerous safety features ahead of its time.

Coca-Cola Products

According to the Coca-Cola company, Loewy did not redesign the contoured bottle created by the Root Glass Company in 1915, which he called "the most perfect ‘fluid wrapper’ of the day and one of the classics in packaging history." He did, however, rework different versions of the bottle, as well as retool a variety of packing and promotional material for the soft drink giant, including soda fountains, coolers and delivery trucks.

Air Force One Livery (1962)

According to this Forbes article, Loewy told an Air Force general that the President’s plane had a terrible paint job, and an overhauled jet could become a symbol of the office. After collaborating with Kennedy, Loewy concocted a new, elegant color scheme that remains in use.

Skylab (1973)

Not content to design just Earth-bound modes of transportation, Loewy worked as a Habitability Consultant for NASA and helped bring design thinking into orbit with his plans for the Skylab interior. With flourishes big and small, including a triangular table to encourage non-hierarchical interactions between the three-person crew, he brought a human element to long-term space exploration.

Pencil Sharpener (1933)

Looking like a ray gun from an early sci-fi serial, Loewy’s prototype pencil sharpener has been an icon for decades, memorialized (as depicted in the stamp above) as a teardrop-shaped catalyst for streamlined industrial design.

Greyhound Scenicruiser (1954)

A midcentury highway icon, Loewy’s domed bus design gave thousands a more picturesque view of roadside America during a golden age of motorcoach travel.

Coldspot Refrigerator (1934)

Loewy’s signature touch even added grace and style to home appliances, including this reboot of Sears’ classic refrigerator.


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