Meet Raymond Loewy: The man who took industrial design to the next level.

Raymond Loewy was a french born industrial designer which achieved fame for his design efforts across a variety of industries. He was recognized for this by Time magazine and featured on its cover on October 31, 1949.

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. His career spanned seven decades.

PRR S1 #6100 hauling the Trail Blazer, PRR’s premier, luxury all-coach train between New York and Chicago in Nov 1942

In 1937, Loewy established a relationship with the Pennsylvania Railroad, and his most notable designs for the firm involved some of their passenger locomotives. He designed a streamlined shroud for K4s Pacific #3768 to haul the newly redesigned 1938 Broadway Limited. He followed by styling the experimental S1 locomotive, as well as the T1 class. In 1940, he designed a simplified version of the streamlined shroud for another four K4s. In 1942, he designed the streamlined shroud for the experimental duplex engine Q1 which was his last work of streamlining PRR’s steam engine.

In 1946, at the Pennsylvania Railroad’s request, he restyled Baldwin’s diesels with a distinctive “sharknose” reminiscent of the T1. He also designed the experimental steam turbine engine V1 “Triplex” for PRR which was never built. While he did not design the famous GG1 electric locomotive, he improved its appearance with welded rather than riveted construction, and he added a pinstripe paint scheme to highlight its smooth contours.

In addition to locomotive design, Loewy’s studios provided many designs for the Pennsylvania Railroad, including stations, passenger-car interiors, and advertising materials. By 1949, Loewy employed 143 designers, architects, and draftsmen.

Loewy with Sherwood Egbert and the Avanti. Circa 1950

Loewy 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 Exner. Their designs first began appearing with the late-1930s Studebakers. Loewy also designed a new logo to replace the “turning wheel” that had been the Studebaker 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 that wrapped 180° around the rear seat

The Starlight has consistently ranked as one of the best-designed cars of the 1950s in lists compiled since by Collectible AutomobileCar and Driver, and Motor Trend. The ’53 Starliner, recognized today as “one of the most beautiful cars ever made”, was radical in appearance, as radical in its way as the 1934 Airflow. However, it was beset by production problems.

To brand the new line, Loewy also contemporized Studebaker’s logo again by applying the “Lazy S” element. His 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. The photo to the right actually shows a Starliner hardtop, which does not have the “C” pillar.

Raymond Loewy’s 1930s era Studebaker logo

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.

Despite the short 40-day schedule allowed to produce a finished design and scale model, Loewy agreed to take the job. He recruited a team consisting of experienced designers, including former Loewy employees John Ebstein; Bob Andrews; and Tom Kellogg, a young student from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. The team worked in a house leased for the purpose in Palm Springs, California. Each team member had a role. Andrews and Kellogg handled sketching, Ebstein oversaw the project, and Loewy was the creative director and offered advice.

Raymond Loewy worked for NASA from 1967 to 1973. Loewy was employed as a Habitability Consultant by NASA when they designed the Skylab space station, launched in 1973. One of NASA’s goals in hiring him was to improve the psychology, safety, and comfort of manned spacecraft.

Astronaut Centric Designs by Loewy
Habitability study for extra vehicular activity by Loewy
Loewy design for artificial gravity studio

Loewy also played a role in the design of some classics for The Coca-Cola Company. The company first hired Loewy to modernize its vending equipment, but he also worked on several items that are now considered classics, from the streamlined cooler to the Dole Deluxe fountain dispenser to the Hobbs truck body. 

In 1940, Loewy made modifications to the Coca-Cola cooler, but his changes were never fully realized, due to the beginning of World War II. But at the end of the war, Coca-Cola hired Loewy to reimagine the cooler. His design featured sweeping lines and rounded corners, along with several functional improvements. The lids were designed to open from the front rather than the sides, which made it easier for the merchant to stock and easier for the customer to access. Loewy added a bottle opener to the front of the machine with a container to capture the crowns and even added the “Have a Coke” message at the door. The company introduced the modernized cooler to the market in 1947.

Cavalier 96 Vending machine by Loewy

Loewy also streamlined the soda fountain, giving the dispenser a modern look and enhancing the equipment to pour more servings per gallon. The ads of the time tout the fact that the improved machine would also increase profits for the soda fountain. When the Dole Deluxe Fountain Dispenser was introduced in 1947, it was an instant classic.

But Raymond Loewy and his design firm weren’t done. They also redesigned the Coca-Cola delivery truck, incorporating in the design the feedback of the Standardization Committee of Coca-Cola, which conducted a nationwide survey of Coca-Cola Bottlers to determine the essential features of a delivery vehicle. As with his other projects, Loewy revamped the body design, adding a curved appearance. The biggest change, however, was the use of overhead doors that could be removed during the summer. The new door allowed an increased load capability and reduced the maximum height a case could be stored, making it easier on the deliverymen.

1949 oil painting used for advertising showing the Loewy designed Dole Deluxe fountain dispenser.

Author: Jesus Padilla

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