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Raymond Leowy: the Product Designer Who Made America Look Clean and Stylish

June 25, 2019

Smithsonian.com recently published a feature article on Raymond Leowy (1893–1986) an American product designer and successful businessman whose 20th-century fame diminished over the years. However, his mid-century style designs, which he referred to as “cleanlining,” continue to influence everyday living. Leowy was born in Paris, France, and moved to New York in 1919. He worked as an illustrator for 10 years before landing his first project for Sigmund Gestetner (1897–1956), a London-based businessman. He was commissioned to redesign a Gestetner duplicator, which resembled a mimeograph. Leowy’s design earned him $2,000 ($28,000 today) and he launched his firm with the income from this project.

Raymond Loewy Associates was built during a time when rapidly changing American consumer products influenced spending. Leowy and his firm would go on to produce designs for Sears such as the 1934 Coldspot refrigerator, Lucky Strike cigarette packaging, the Exxon logo, Coca Cola, the Concorde Supersonic airliner interior, and even Air Force One. After designing a garbage can for New York Penn Station, Pennsylvania Railroad asked Loewy to design locomotives including the S-1, the largest steam locomotive ever built. Thousands of visitors flocked to see it on display at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York. In the years following, Loewy became prominently known in the automotive world, best recognized as the main designer for the Studebaker Automobile Company. For years, he would design increasingly “forward leaning” car models while other automakers worked to keep up with Leowy’s designs and Studebaker’s sales curve. The 1963 Studebaker Avanti was his hallmark.

On October 31, 1949, Time magazine featured Loewry in a cover story titled “Modern Living: Up from the Egg,” reaching a pinnacle for his brand. Exactly 30 years later, he sold Raymond Loewy Associates, but his marketplace successes and mid-century product designs are remembered.

“Meet the Product Designer Who Made Mid-Century America Look Clean and Stylish,” Smithsonian Magazine, May 28, 2019.

In Nice on August 8, 1963, Raymond Loewy, his wife and their daughter posed before the 1953 Studebaker Starliner Avanti, drawn by him. (Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images)
Industrial designer Raymond Loewy influenced a number of brands. (Jean-Regis Rouston/Roger Viollet/Getty Images)
A view of the indoor/outdoor swimming pool at Raymond Loewy's Palm Springs, California home in 1947 (Peter Stackpole/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)