Of all of the pioneering industrial designers, including Norman Bel Geddes, Walter Dorwin Teague, and Henry Dreyfuss, Raymond Loewy is by far most well-known to the American public. His designs for the original Coca-Cola contour bottle and logo, the Exxon logo, and the Avanti car are icons of 1950s and 1960s design. Lesser known is his work for the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR), from 1934 through 1952.
Like his competitor Henry Dreyfuss, who was hired by the New York Central Railroad, Loewy designed everything from locomotives (K4 class, S-1, GG-1, and T-1) and car interiors to dinnerware, napkins and menus. In 1937, Cooper-Hewitt’s Drawings, Prints, and Graphic Design Department already had in possession four Loewy drawings and one Photostat of re-designs of the K4 class of PRR locomotives that were donated by the PRR soon after they were executed. All of these, however, represented exterior views of or logo designs for the engines. So, when this drawing and one other recently came on the market, revealing Loewy’s early schemes for PRR passenger car interiors, the Museum leapt at the opportunity to add the pair of drawings to the collection.
This 1935 drawing represents Loewy’s concept, radical for its time, for a streamline sleeper car and compartment with a double seat, one of which folds out to form a bed. The rolled seats, porthole windows, and speed lines on the walls are all characteristic elements of 1930s streamlining. While this streamline interior illustrates an idea that PRR was not ready to embrace at this time, the second drawing, Interior Color Treatment for “MP-54” Coach Passenger Car, dating from 1936, represents a more practical—if less beautiful—solution to updating a car interior. This drawing shows a more acceptable and less costly design for the MP-54 passenger car, in which Loewy has merely restyled an existing commuter car by adding a streamline panel to the ends of the seats, changing the seat color to bright yellow and adding linoleum on the floors. While the earlier design was never implemented, the later design may have been carried out in some form. These important drawings, from relatively early in Loewy’s career, illustrate the two design approaches: one an advanced concept drawing and the other a more pragmatic solution to modern styling.
Today is Raymond Loewy’s birthday.