Glitzy, great but essentially show-biz

Today’s Google doodle is a homage to Raymond Loewy, born on 5th November 120 years gone:


Clever, huh? It contains the name of Google, with nods at:


“The Torpedo” may look new and exciting, as she was meant to, and did, in 1936, but Loewy’s tin suit was merely eye-candy surrounding Wallis, Gibbs and Vogt’s highly-successful sequence of Pacifics built between 1914 and 1928. #3768 was one of the batch of fifty produced at PRR’s Juanita shop as early as 1920. Here she is, in the nude:


  • and all those designs Loewy sketched out for Studebakers, for one late example the 1963 Avanti —


Shop-Window design

There was a factor in common between Loewy and his contemporary rivals. Let’s have a few name-checks here:

  • Norman Bel Geddis, the patron saint of Art Deco, all the way from the New York Met to the case for the IBM Mark I computer ;
  • Walter Dorwin Teague, whose work included the Ford Building (among others) at the 1939 New York World’s Fair and the Kodak Bantam camera (while his son did war service in producing the B17 bomber);
  • 20th_lrgHenry Dreyfuss, the designer who put a gloss equally upon New York Central’s 20th Century Limited, Hoover vacuum cleaners, and much, much more;
  • Harold Van Doren, who imprinted his ideas on household products, was the originator of “white goods” (with the Maytag Washer of 1939), as well as those classic Wayne Pumps at filling stations across America;
  • Lurelle Guild, who left his imprint on the Electrolux cleaner and aluminium kitchen appliances for Kensington Ware
  • Donald Deskey, with Frankl domestic furniture and lighting, and Proctor and Gamble’s personal hygiene products (Gleem toothpaste, Joy washing liquid).

That common factor was commercial art, rather than engineering. Several of them came from theatre (Bel Geddis worked for DeMille as well as the Met) and window-dressing (as with Loewy for Saks and Macy’s).

Form and function?

The architect Louis Sullivan, dean of the Chicago School, is probably the source of the modern truism that “form follows function”. That notion is not that of the mid-20th century Art Deco movement; and it was Loewy who most closely defined the difference.

Loewy’s thesis amounted to his MAYA formula (“most advanced, yet acceptable“). The difference with “form follows function” amounts to “planned obsolescence”.

So Loewy and his like are the progenitors of the throw-away society.


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Filed under advertising., History, railways, United States

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