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Raymond Loewy: Father of Industrial Design

Posted November 05, 2009 6:01 AM by ShakespeareTheEngineer

Today is the birthday of Raymond Loewy, father of the field of industrial design. Born in France on November 5, 1893, Loewy is known as "the man who shaped America" because of his many iconic designs. His achievements include the S-1 locomotive, the Studebaker Avanti, and NASA's Skylab.

Early Life

Raymond Loewy was already a business owner and aeronautics inventor by the age of fifteen. His life and career, however, were upended by World War I. Burned by mustard gas, this corporal in the French Corps of Engineers earned seven medals and four citations. He was also awarded the distinguished Legion of Honor, established as the highest decoration in France by Napoleon Bonaparte.

The end of the war did not mean the end of Raymond Loewy's hardships, however. Tragically, the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918 claimed the lives of both of his parents (the war had already claimed most of their estate.) Penniless, Loewy managed to finish school at École Centrale, France's prestigious technological institute, at the age of 26.

We're Coming to America

In the fall of 1919, Raymond Loewy decided to follow his two brothers to New York City. He arrived with $40, some letters of introduction, and little knowledge of the English language. Despite this humble beginning to life in the United States, Loewy landed a job as a fashion illustrator with Vogue magazine, a post he held for ten years until intellectual boredom led him to advertise his own engineering design philosophy - that a better designed product would outsell a product that was equal in price, quality, and function. In 1929, British manufacturer Sigmund Gestetner found one of the cards that Loewy handed out to advertise his services.

The Beginnings of a New Engineering Discipline

A maker of duplicating machines, Gestetner hired Loewy to redesign one in three days before taking a trip to his native England. Gestetner was so impressed with the clay model that Loewy designed that he paid a $2,000 fee. By 1931, Raymond Loewy had signed a lucrative deal to design the 1934 Hupmobile. Some in the company didn't approve of Loewy's innovative designs, however, and the business eventually went under.

Next, Loewy offered his services to the Pennsylvania Railroad, offering to redesign their locomotives. But first he had to prove his mettle to the company president by redesigning the trash containers in New York City's Pennsylvania Station. After impressing the executive with his trashcan designs, Loewy designed a new diesel locomotive (the S-1) that literally changed the face of American railroading.

Later, Raymond Loewy opened a Fifth Avenue office and added clientele from all over the world, including Sears and Roebuck. Wisely, the Chicago-based retailer awarded Loewy the contract to redesign, both from a style and functionality standpoint, the 1934 Coldspot refrigerator. This resulted in unprecedented consumer demand.

Pairing with Studebaker Automobile Company

In 1937, Raymond Loewy began what would be a fifteen year association with Studebaker. Although World War II nearly halted consumer automobile production in the U.S., Loewy's sleek designs helped inspire the automotive craze of the post-war period. The most famous of his designs was the Studebaker Avanti, which inspired an entirely new style of performance car. Financial problems, however, kept Studebaker from realizing the vehicle's full sales potential. Although rights to the Avanti design were bought and sold often, vehicles that resembled Loewy's design were still produced until 2007.

Reflecting on His Achievements

When Raymond Loewy decided to retire at the age of 87, he could reflect upon a career where he had presided over offices in New York City, Chicago, South Bend, Los Angeles, London, and Paris. His studios designed "all modes of transportation, department stores, supermarkets, corporate and brand identity, packages, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Skylab".

The first advocate for the field now known as industrial design, Loewy convinced manufacturers that beauty and simplicity meant higher sales. He also trained more than 2,000 industrial designers and brought them into this new discipline. Fittingly, Raymond Loewy was paid tribute by the Smithsonian in 1975 when the museum ran a retrospective exhibit of his work.

Raymond Loewy died from natural causes on July 14, 1986 at the age of 92.

Resources:

"Raymond Fernand Loewy."The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives, Volume 2: 1986-1990. Charles Scribner's Sons, 1999.
Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale, 2009. http://galenet.galegroup.com/servlet/BioRC

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spanish_Influenza

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Studebaker_Avanti

http://www.avantimotors.com/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raymond_Loewy

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#1

Re: Raymond Loewy: Father of Industrial Design

05/10/2010 11:27 AM

Hemmings Motors News has a great - and rarely seen - picture of one of Raymond Loewy's streamliner cars.

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Re: Raymond Loewy: Father of Industrial Design

05/10/2010 11:33 AM

He was really great at "sleek"

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Re: Raymond Loewy: Father of Industrial Design

07/20/2010 10:08 PM

Thanks to Raymond Loewy because of his foundation and designed we establish a better transportation, dept store, and NASA.

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Re: Raymond Loewy: Father of Industrial Design

05/10/2010 7:47 PM

I had a close Designer friend who went out of his way to make clear to me that he was a "designer", and not an engineer. However it sure did seem to me that he could do either.

I was under the impression that Mr. Loewy designed the iconic little Coke bottle that was a shape that influenced supersonic aircraft shapes dealing with shock waves et al.

The relationship between pure design, and engineering as two complimentary or different disciplines is of interest. I'd sure be interested in knowing how those mechanics working at keeping the S-1 locomotive found it to work on. If you've ever opened up the sides of a Diesel Electric Locomotive, or had to take a cowling off an airplane engine, you sometimes appreciate the functional over the beautiful.

Wonderful when they are the same on both counts.

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