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Master of Design: Coke and the Legacy of Raymond Loewy

By:  Ted Ryan Dec 21, 2012
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White Motor Truck at WOCC

Raymond Loewy is often called the “father of modern design,” and he played a significant role in the design of many of the classic items in the twentieth century. Some of his more well-known designs included the S1 Locomotive, the Sears Coldspot refrigerator, the Greyhound Scenicruiser and the distinct blue and white livery for Air Force One. Loewy was noted for his graceful and clean aerodynamic designs and was even featured on the cover of Time magazine in 1949. 

Giving Coca-Cola a Modern Look

Loewy also played a role in the design of some classics for The Coca-Cola Company. The company first hired Loewy to modernize its vending equipment, but he also worked on several items that are now considered classics, from the streamlined cooler to the Dole Deluxe fountain dispenser to the Hobbs truck body. 

In 1940, Loewy made modifications to the Coca-Cola cooler, but his changes were never fully realized, due to the beginning of World War II. But at the end of the war, Coca-Cola hired Loewy to reimagine the cooler. His design featured sweeping lines and rounded corners, along with several functional improvements. The lids were designed to open from the front rather than the sides, which made it easier for the merchant to stock and easier for the customer to access. Loewy added a bottle opener to the front of the machine with a container to capture the crowns and even added the “Have a Coke” message at the door. The company introduced the modernized cooler to the market in 1947.

Loewy also streamlined the soda fountain, giving the dispenser a modern look and enhancing the equipment to pour more servings per gallon. The ads of the time tout the fact that the improved machine would also increase profits for the soda fountain. When the Dole Deluxe Fountain Dispenser was introduced in 1947, it was an instant classic.

But Raymond Loewy and his design firm weren't done. They also redesigned the Coca-Cola delivery truck, incorporating in the design the feedback of the Standardization Committee of Coca-Cola, which conducted a nationwide survey of Coca-Cola Bottlers to determine the essential features of a delivery vehicle. As with his other projects, Loewy revamped the body design, adding a curved appearance. The biggest change, however, was the use of overhead doors that could be removed during the summer. The new door allowed an increased load capability and reduced the maximum height a case could be stored, making it easier on the deliverymen. Loewy even incorporated a weatherproof space on the truck to hold the advertising materials that were being delivered to the stores. A few years ago, The Coca-Cola Archives acquired a 1949 White Motor Company truck that featured the Loewy body design. The truck was displayed at the World of Coca-Cola for a period of time, and the company is looking for new display opportunities.

The Truth About Coca-Cola's Famed Contour Bottle

Loewy created several additional designs for the company (including the design for the original Fanta bottle), but no discussion on the design great would be complete without addressing the famous contour bottle. Many people have mistakenly attributed the bottle design to Loewy. He did not play a role in the design of the original 1915 bottle, which was created by the Root Glass Company, but he was part of a team that created the King Size and Family Size packages in 1955 and worked to slenderize the quart-size package in the 1960s.

Loewy did share his thoughts on the iconic bottle: In a letter from Loewy to The Coca-Cola Company, he described the contour bottle, saying, “The Coke Bottle is a masterpiece of scientific, functional planning. In simpler terms, I would describe the bottle as well thought out, logical, sparing of material and pleasant to look at. The most perfect ‘fluid wrapper’ of the day and one of the classics in packaging history.”

Loewy died in 1986 at the age of 92, but his design legacy lives on.

Slideshow: Master of Design