Industrial designer Raymond Loewy’s career spanned six decades, from about 1920 to 1986, during which he was active in Europe and the United States, with offices in Paris, London, New York, and Chicago. By 1951, he directed a design staff of over one hundred and forty. Loewy and his firm are noted for their prodigious output, which ranged from advertising graphics to designs for appliances, locomotives, cars, aircraft passenger cabins, and even the interior of a space station.
The German porcelain manufacturer Rosenthal engaged Loewy in the early 1950s, at a time when the firm was recovering from material shortages and lagging sales after World War II. The Rosenthal company was founded in the 1890s by Philip Rosenthal, Sr., who lived in the United States for about ten years before returning to his native Germany. From its earliest days, Rosenthal exported its products to the United States, where the company enjoyed strong sales. Among its innovative marketing techniques, the firm sold its wares in shops that offered Rosenthal exclusively, and developed the idea of “open stock,” so consumers could buy individual pieces rather than full sets.
However, in the late 1930s, the Rosenthal family was forced to cede control of the company to “Aryan” management. At the end of the war the Nazi-era administrators relinquished control and by 1950, Philip Rosenthal, Jr. was in charge of the business. To restore the firm and help increase postwar sales, he sought to update the company’s designs.
The Rosenthal-Loewy association came about after Richard Latham, chief designer in Loewy’s Chicago office, met Philip Rosenthal who was visiting the United States to revive the company’s exports. Rosenthal offered Loewy part interest in the Rosenthal china production venture, and appointed Loewy chief designer. Loewy and Latham collaborated on the designs. The Model 2000 line, one of three Loewy designs for the company, was introduced in 1954. Rosenthal created the line’s name to evoke the idea of a classic modern design for the next century. The sleek simple forms, including the hourglass-like shapes of the coffee pot and creamer, and the inverted cone of the sugar bowl with circular foot and slightly domed lid, showed a sophisticated organic modernism that appealed to American postwar consumers. Model 2000 was extremely popular, with 20 million pieces produced by 1962 and a production run—in a variety of glazes and over 200 surface patterns—that lasted until 1978.
Cynthia Trope is the Associate Curator of Product Design and Decorative Arts at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.