Raymond Loewy archive1903-1982
- Loewy, Raymond, 1893-1986 (Person)
40.5 Linear Feet
After distinguished service in World War I, Loewy immigrated to the United States in 1919, hoping to find work at General Electric. He settled in New York City and for the next decade had a varied career as a fashion illustrator, window dresser, and costume designer, but primarily as a commercial artist, specifically an advertising illustrator. His clients included Saks Fifth Avenue, Bonwit Teller, the White Star Line, and Renault, and his images appeared in Harper's Bazar, and Vogue. Advertising illustration made Loewy a well-paid professional, but his real interest was in industrial design.
In 1929 Loewy received his first significant product design commission from Sigmund Gestetner (1897-1956), an Englishman who was seeking to modernize the look of his mimeograph machine. Loewy encased the machine's working parts inside a sleek, modern-looking shell and sales were dramatically increased. This project launched Loewy on his new career of industrial design. During the early 1930s, Loewy also worked for Westinghouse and the Hupp Motor Company, where he designed the prize-winning Hupmobile. His major breakthrough came in 1934 when he received the opportunity to redesign the Sears Coldspot refrigerator, and signed a contract with the Pennsylvania Railroad that launched a two-decade relationship with the "Standard Railroad of the World."
Loewy's work for the Pennsy did much to establish his reputation as the leading figure in the century's most noteworthy American design style: streamlining. His streamlined locomotives and passenger car interiors came to symbolize machine age modernism, a look that defined his body of work and industrial design during the interwar years. His interiors, designed for ships of the Panama Lines, Lord & Taylor department stores, and the Missouri Pacific Eagle railcar were stylish and comfortable. Loewy's "Transportation of Tomorrow" exhibit at the Chrysler Motors Pavilion at the 1939-1940 New York World's Fair included a streamlined taxi, liner, car and trucks, as well as a rocket ship that would travel between New York and London.
Loewy reached his peak in the post-war decades when his office focused on the American consumer and the suburbs. His company expanded to its greatest dimensions at mid-century. It had hundreds of contracts with a wide array of consumer product companies for which Loewy and his associates designed home appliances, bottles, kitchen utensils, living room furniture, dinette sets, dishware, silverware, food and beverage packaging, radios, television, and stereo systems. By this time the Loewy firm employed a large staff of designers, but it was the Raymond Loewy name that attracted clients. During this period Loewy's partner William Snaith (1908-1974) and the firm's in-house architects designed shopping centers, department stores, hotels, and supermarkets.
Loewy opened his first international office in London in the mid-1930s. The firm designed petrol pumps and scales for the Avery Hardoll Company and automobiles for the Rootes group, and various packaging and appliances The London office was closed in 1939 due to World War II, but was reopened in 1947. He formed Compagnie de l'Esthétique Industrielle (CEI), in Paris, in 1952. CEI, a separate operation from the New York office, had been established to bring American-style industrial design to Europe. The office produced designs such as the Elna sewing machine, Le Creuset cookware, the Concorde for Air France, and various projects for Shell (such as corporate identity, gas attendant uniforms, and gas stations).
Transportation, particularly automobiles, was always one of Loewy's passions. After his design of the Hupmobile in the early 1930s, Loewy began work for Studebaker in 1936. His first project for Studebaker was the re-styling of the body of the 1938 President. A year later, the Champion was introduced, and both models boosted the company's image. The postwar Studebakers, particularly the 1947 Champion Regal Deluxe and the 1953 Regal Starlight coupe, had a strong influence on automotive design. Loewy's innovative design of the Avanti in 1962 was widely acclaimed.
Loewy's firm worked on a number of projects for the public sector, including habitability studies for the Navy, and trademark and identity programs for the Coast Guard, the Post Office, and other federal agencies. In 1962, Loewy redesigned Air Force One for President John F. Kennedy (1917-1963), changing the lettering and color scheme on the exterior, and redesigning the interior. Loewy believed that his most significant project for the government was his work with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). From 1967 to 1973 Loewy was retained by NASA as a habitability consultant for the Saturn-Apollo and Skylab projects. His recommendations for Skylab included the inclusion of a window through which the astronauts could view earth, as well as proposals for the comfort and privacy of crew members.
In November 1973, Loewy traveled to the Soviet Union to negotiate an industrial design contract with Licensintoge, a government agency, and the All Union Research Institute of Industrial Design. This was an effort to assist the Soviet Union in an attempt to create consumer goods that could compete successfully in American and Western European markets, and to expand the Soviet capacity in industrial design. Loewy and the Soviets signed a multi-year agreement calling for scientific and design technology collaboration. In 1975, a five-year agreement between the U.S.S.R. and Raymond Loewy, International, Inc., USA was signed that broadened the original pact to include transportation design. Loewy was actively involved with the design of the proposed Moskvich automobile, but it was never produced.
Loewy's experiment with the Soviet Union marked the end of his industrial design career. Financial difficulties had beset the firm in the early 1970s and in 1975, Loewy attempted to stave off the monetary problems by merging all of his corporations into a firm called Raymond Loewy International. The following year, he and his wife Viola Loewy, had sold their shares in that business, and by 1977 Raymond Loewy International declared bankruptcy. The Loewys moved to France and entered retirement. In 1979 his book Industrial Design: Raymond Loewy was published and a portfolio of lithographs of some of his best-known designs were released. Loewy died on July 14, 1986 in Monaco at age 92.
Loewy's life was chronicled in magazines and newspapers. His homes, particularly Tierra Caliente in Palm Springs, appeared in numerous architecture publications. In 1931 he married Jean Thompson (1909-?), who was a partner in the design firm and played an important role in his early successes. They were amicably divorced in 1946. He married Viola Erickson (1922-1995) in December 1948. During their marriage, she played an increasingly significant role in managing company operations. Their daughter, Laurence Loewy (1953-2008), is the CEO of Loewy Design, a firm that is reintroducing Raymond Loewy's designs to a new generation.
Scope and Contents
The General Office series consists of the general files of Lowey's New York and Paris offices. It is arranged into three subseries: New York correspondence and subject files; Financial records; and Paris (CEI) files.
The New York correspondence and subject files subseries includes records that were generated by and/or filed in Loewy's New York office documenting prospective clients, Loewy's schedule, upcoming and current projects, and office administration. Subjects include Loewy's work as a consultant for the United Nations in the 1960s; the Loewy retrospective exhibit at the Smithsonian Institute's Renwick Gallery in 1975; the "Russian Contract" (1973-1976), his design agreement with the Soviet Union; design proposals for the U.S. government; and professional memberships. It is arranged alphabetically by subject. The files date from 1931 to 1980, though the bulk of the files date from 1960 to 1977.
Financial records subseries consists of tax returns, expenses records for Loewy and William Snaith, and stock transactions. Correspondence describes the financial difficulties experienced by the firm in the 1970s with the eventual sale of Raymond Loewy International. This series is arranged chronologically and date from 1955 to 1976.
The Paris (CEI) files consists of correspondence, memoranda, and financial records documenting the establishment and administration of Loewy's design firm in France. Subjects include the hiring of designers, financial matters, corporate restructuring, and strategies regarding their client Shell International. These files are arranged chronologically and date from 1952 to 1982.
The Public Relations series has been arranged into five subseries: Client/Project files; Scrapbooks; Publicity clippings; Speeches; and Department files.
The Client/Project files subseries consists of press releases, photographs, trade literature, and some correspondence documenting Loewy's role in helping to create the modern consumer society and his work on more than 200 projects for clients such as Exxon, Shell Oil, and Coca-Cola. The materials date from 1934 to 1981, with a majority of the materials dating from 1947 to 1963.
Scrapbooks contain articles that appeared in magazines, newspapers, and trade publications. Topics include the Avanti, stores (interiors and exteriors including Gimbels, Lord & Taylor, Foley's, and Wanamaker's), dinnerware (Fostoria, Limoges, Lucent Corp, Rosenthal), fabrics, furniture, cars (Studebaker and Avanti as well as Loewy's personal automobiles), Snaith/Project Home, supermarkets, housewares, transportation (including Pennsylvania Railroad, TWA, Panama Lines, Air France, United Air Lines), and packaging.
Several scrapbooks contain clippings pertaining to Loewy's public appearances and speeches, and his social life, a valuable resource since most of Loewy's business correspondence during the 1930s and 1940s had been destroyed. The materials date from 1934 to 1970. Volume 15 is missing.
Publicity clippings subseries consists of newspaper, magazine, and trade publication clippings; magazine and trade publication reprints; and complete issues of magazines that detail Loewy design projects, including his homes. Subjects include Armour & Company, the Avanti, Canada Dry, Nabisco, NASA, packaging, Pennsylvania Railroad," Project Home," and United Air Lines. Publications also include articles that were written by Loewy and William Snaith. This subseries is arranged alphabetically by subject and dates from 1921 to 1980.
Speeches subseries contains transcripts of radio and television programs on which Loewy was interviewed, drafts and text of speeches delivered by Loewy and company officials, and clippings and press releases used as background material for future speeches. The materials date from 1941 to 1980.
Department files subseries contains some of Betty Reese's correspondence, the firm's client lists, Loewy's biography and resumes, and articles and quotations about Loewy. This subseries is arranged chronologicaly and dates from 1939 to 1975.
Personal papers series are papers that were primarily generated and maintained by Loewy and have been organized into five subseries: Correspondence and subject files, Financial papers, Books, Scrapbooks, and Clippings.
Correspondence and subject files contains information about a number of Loewy's patents from 1930 to 1962 and reflects the wide range of his product designs. Several files pertain to Loewy's personal automobiles and their maintenance. There are also several files of Viola Loewy's correspondence pertaining to her itinerary, travels, finances, and invitations. The earliest papers in this subseries are photoprint copies of Loewy's illustrated "Le Journal de Plombieres Memories" that reflect his early interest in transportation and travel. The materials are arranged chronologically and date from 1903 to 1982, with a bulk of the dates from 1950 to 1973.
Financial papers subseries include bills and receipts for Loewy's personal expenses, income tax returns, stock transaction, and bank statements. Materials are arranged chronologically and date from 1963 to 1975.
Books consists of correspondence, drafts, mock-ups for Loewy's publications, the autobiography Never Leave Well Enough Alone (1951) and Industrial Design (1979). Also included is correspondence and drafts for Loewy's proposed, but unpublished books. This subseries is arranged chronologically.
Scrapbooks subseries consists of three scrapbooks. One scrapbook documents the Loewys’ visit to Germany in October 1955 and contains newspaper clippings (in German, with English notations), photographs, text of Loewy’s speech at the opening of the Essen International Exposition, and a client list. The second scrapbook contains photographs of Loewy (circa 1970s), and images of some of his best-known designs, including the Avanti, Pennsylvania Railroad locomotives, the Gestetner duplicating machine, the Sears Coldspot, and Lucky Strike. The third scrapbook includes correspondence and photographs pertaining to Loewy’s work on Skylab.
The Clippings subseries consists of newspaper and magazine clippings about Loewy designs and activities that were personally maintained by Loewy. Subjects include Air Force One, cars, boats, NASA, railroads, Shell Oil, the Soviet Union, and the Renwick Gallery. The subseries is arranged alphabetically by subject and dates from 1942 to 1981.
The National Endowment for the Humanities provided financial support for the arrangement and description of these materials
- Loewy, Raymond, 1893-1986 (Person)
Finding Aid & Administrative Information
- Raymond Loewy archive
- Description rules:
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description:
- Script of description:
- The National Endowment for the Humanities provided financial support for the arrangement and description of these materials. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this finding aid do not necessarily reflect those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.