Raymond Loewy, the hugely influential industrial designer who put his mark on the American automobile industry with groundbreaking vehicles such as the Studebaker Champion, Starliner and Avanti, dies on this day in 1986 at his home in Monte Carlo at the age of 92.
Born in France, Loewy served as an engineer in the French army during World War I before completing his degree in engineering and moving to New York City. He had found success as a fashion illustrator by 1929, when Sigmund Gestetner, a British manufacturer of duplicating machines, commissioned him to improve the appearance of his company’s product. Loewy revamped the look of the Gestetner duplicator, covering its protruding parts with a smooth shell mounted on a simple base. The design’s success earned him a product design job at the Hupp Motor Company, where he began his long association with American automobile manufacturers.
Loewy advocated longer, lighter vehicles that would be more fuel-efficient, a bias that was ahead of its time and clashed with the prevailing attitudes in Detroit. Among his design contributions over the years were slanted windshields, built-in headlights and wheel covers. The Loewy-designed 1947 Studebaker Champion, was dubbed the “coming or going” Studebaker, as it looked very similar whether viewed from the front or the back. His 1953 Starliner Coupe made a splash with its clean lines, lightweight body and relative lack of chrome—quite a contrast from the large, shiny vehicles popular in that era. (In 1972, a poll of American car stylists would pick the Starliner as the industry’s best: As 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.”) Loewy also designed the classic Avanti and Avanti II sports cars for Studebaker.
Founded in the 1930s, Raymond Loewy Associates grew into the largest industrial design firm in the world. Among Loewy’s other famous designs were the Lucky Strike cigarette package, the slenderized Coca-Cola bottle, the U.S. Postal Service emblem and the Exxon logo. His signature streamlined look spread to hundreds of products, from toothbrushes and ballpoint pens to refrigerators, but was particularly influential in the transportation industry. Loewy went from streamlining the trash receptacles at New York’s Pennsylvania Station to designing the first all-welded locomotive (in 1937). Loewy also designed the modern Greyhound bus (and logo), the interior of NASA’s Saturn I, Saturn V, and Skylab spacecraft, and Air Force One, which he redesigned for President John F. Kennedy, giving it the sleek white missile-like exterior it has today.
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