Few men had such an influence on midcentury American design as Raymond Loewy.
The French-born industrial designer, who fought in World War I and started his American career as a window designer for department stores in New York, had his hand in everything from the design of the iconic Coca-Cola bottle to the livery of John F. Kennedy’s Air Force One.
Trains got Loewy noticed. He designed a streamlined shroud for the Pennsylvania Railroad’s Broadway Limited — the train service between Chicago and New York — as well as the iconic S1 and T1 steam locomotives.
After World War II, Loewy and his company were hired by Studebaker. The 1953 Starliner they helped design is still considered one of the most beautiful cars ever built. Loewy also revamped the Studebaker logo.
For Greyhound, Loewy designed a double-decker bus that became the iconic Scenicruiser.
Loewy designed the now-distinctive curved Coca-Cola bottle with its white logo, the first Coca-Cola steel can in 1960 and the company’s streamlined fountain dispenser.
In 1961, the new president of Studebaker, Sherwood Egbert, recalled Loewy to design a luxury coupé to attract younger buyers: the Avanti. Loewy accepted the job, even though he was given only forty days to complete the design.
Loewy hired a team and a house in Palm Springs, California to finish the work in time. He did — but the car couldn’t save Studebaker. Fewer than 6,000 Avantis were built before the Studebaker factory in South Bend, Indiana had to shut down.
In 1962, Loewy was consulted at the recommendation of President John F. Kennedy’s wife, Jacqueline, to design the livery and interiors of the new presidential jet: a modified Boeing 707 that became Air Force One. The red and metallic gold color scheme of the Air Force made way for the now-familiar blue, which was both Kennedy’s favorite color and the color of his political party, the Democrats.
Kennedy also chose the Caslon typeface for the “United States of America” text on the sides of the aircraft, which resembles the font used in the heading of the Declaration of Independence.
Between 1967 to 1973, Loewy consulted for NASA on the design of its Apollo modules and Skylab. His innovations included simulating conditions of gravity, a wardroom and a porthole, so the astronauts could see Earth. Loewy’s creative input was credited by top NASA officials with making it possible for the astronauts to live and work together in space for ninety days.
One of Loewy’s final jobs was for Air France. He and his studio designed every detail of the supersonic Concorde’s interior, from the lighting fixtures to the cutlery. His stainless flatware proved so popular, many passengers took it home with them. One of the passengers who stole a fork, knife and spoon was pop artist Andy Warhol.
Loewy retired at the age of 87 in 1980 and lived out his final years in France.