Brooks Stevens

Last updated

Clifford Brooks Stevens (June 7, 1911 January 4, 1995) was an American industrial designer of home furnishings, appliances, automobiles and motorcycles as well as a graphic designer and stylist. Stevens founded Brooks Stevens, Inc. headquartered in Allenton, Wisconsin.


In 1944, along with Raymond Loewy and eight others, Stevens formed the Industrial Designers Society of America. [1] Upon his death in 1995, The New York Times called Stevens "a major force in industrial design." [1]

Background and personal life

Stevens was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on June 7, 1911. Stricken with polio as a child, he was encouraged by his father to practice drawing while confined to his bed, perhaps motivating his career in design. He studied architecture at Cornell University from 1929 to 1933, and established his own home furnishings design firm in 1934 in Milwaukee. [2] His son, Kipp Stevens, ran the Brooks Stevens Design Associates until late 2008, when he stepped down.

In 1959, Stevens opened a 12,500sf automotive museum in Mequon, Wisconsin, which became a repository for his own designs as well as others—and became a production facility in the late 1980s for the Wienermobile fleet. The museum closed in 1999, four years after his death. [3]

Stevens died on January 4, 1995, in Milwaukee. He was survived by his wife Alice, sons Kipp, William, and David, a daughter, Sandra A. Stevens, and five grandchildren. [1]


The Stevens-designed Skytop Lounge with its distinctive glassed-in observation area. Skytop Hiawatha trains Chicago Milwaukee and St Paul Railroad.jpg
The Stevens-designed Skytop Lounge with its distinctive glassed-in observation area.
The 1949 Harley Davidson FL Hydra-Glide Harley Davidson FL Hydra-Glide 1949 RSideFront Lake Mirror Cassic 16Oct2010 (14877219855).jpg
The 1949 Harley Davidson FL Hydra-Glide
The 1962 Studebaker Hawk Gran Turismo Flickr - DVS1mn - 62 Studebaker GT (3).jpg
The 1962 Studebaker Hawk Gran Turismo
The Jeep Wagoneer was designed by Brooks Stevens. Jeep Grand Wagoneer 001.JPG
The Jeep Wagoneer was designed by Brooks Stevens.

His designs in home and kitchen appliances were popular, and he is recognized as the originator of the robin's-egg-blue phase of 1950s kitchen appliances, [4] as well as the iconic Skylark laminate design popularized by Formica. He also practiced architectural design and graphic design. Of note is his design of the Miller Brewing logo and he is also credited with convincing the company to switch from traditional brown bottles to clear bottles. [1]

As an automobile designer, Stevens redesigned the 1962 Studebaker Gran Turismo Hawk on a minuscule budget. [5] :p257 The fast, elegant GT remained until the end of American production. According to Hendry, Stevens also styled "three innovative products for family car use for the 1964-66 period" (which were never manufactured). [5] :p257 He then designed Harley-Davidson motorcycles including the 1949 Hydra-Glide Harley, one of his first, helping create the new suspension forks in the front, bucket headlight, and the streamlined design. All Harleys since, including models in production now, are based on Stevens's body designs.

He designed the Jeep Wagoneer, which was introduced for 1963 by Willys-Jeep. This model was so popular that it was offered in basically the same form by Jeep's subsequent owners, including Kaiser Jeep, AMC, and finally Chrysler, until 1991.

Stevens designed the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile, an American pop-culture icon. He designed engines for Briggs and Stratton. He also designed the university logo for the Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE) in 1978 as a part of "The Diamond Jubilee" celebration. The logo remains in use today. [6]

Stevens designed the post-war Skytop Lounge observation cars for the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific Railroad's Hiawatha passenger trains. He also designed a series of "Excalibur" racing sports cars in conjunction with Kaiser Motors. [7] Beginning in the mid-1960s he and his sons began production of the Excalibur, styled after the 1930s-era Mercedes roadsters. He modernized the Aero-Willys sedans that were offered in Brazil in the 1960s, and there is a very Studebaker Hawk-ish look to the body of these cars.

Stevens's design contributions to the recreational boating industry included collaborations with Outboard Marine Corp. to style the Evinrude Lark and Johnson Javelin outboard motor series. He also designed the Evinrude Lark concept boat, eventually produced as the Cadillac Sea Lark. Together with Bob Hammond's 1956 Lone Star Meteor, these designs may be credited with introducing post-world war automotive styling to leisure craft. [8] Other work in the marine industry include designs for Owens Yacht Company and Cutter Boats as well as a line of stainless steel marine hardware for the Vollrath Company.

Planned obsolescence

Though he is often cited [9] with inventing the concept of planned obsolescence (the practice of artificially shortening product lifecycle in order to influence the buying patterns of consumers in favor of manufacturers), he did not invent it but rather popularized the term. Stevens defined it as "instilling in the buyer the desire to own something a little newer, a little better, a little sooner than is necessary". His view was to always make the consumer want something new, rather than create poor products that would need replacing. [10] There is some debate over his role in this controversial business practice. [11] [12]

See also

Related Research Articles

Industrial design Process of design applied to products that are to be manufactured through techniques of mass production

Industrial design is a process of design applied to products that are to be manufactured through techniques of mass production. A key characteristic is that design precedes manufacture: the creative act of determining and defining a product's form and features takes place in advance of the physical act of making a product, which consists purely of repeated, often automated, replication. This distinguishes industrial design from craft-based design, where the form of the product is determined by the product's creator largely concurrent with the act of its creation.

Studebaker Former car manufacturer

Studebaker was an American wagon and automobile manufacturer based in South Bend, Indiana. Founded in 1852 and incorporated in 1868 as the Studebaker Brothers Manufacturing Company, the firm was originally a producer of wagons, buggies, carriages and harnesses.

Excalibur (automobile)

The Excalibur automobile was a car styled after the 1928 Mercedes-Benz SSK by Brooks Stevens for Studebaker. Stevens subsequently formed a company to manufacture and market the cars, which were conventional under their styling.

Virgil Max "Ex" Exner Sr. was an automobile designer for numerous American companies, notably Chrysler and Studebaker.

Raymond Loewy French-born American industrial designer

Raymond Loewy was a French-born American industrial designer who achieved fame for the magnitude of his design efforts across a variety of industries. He was recognized for this by Time magazine and featured on its cover on October 31, 1949.

Harley Earl American designer

Harley Jefferson Earl was an American automotive designer and business executive. He was the initial designated head of design at General Motors, later becoming vice president, the first top executive ever appointed in design of a major corporation in American history. He was an industrial designer and a pioneer of modern transportation design. A coachbuilder by trade, Earl pioneered the use of freeform sketching and hand sculpted clay models as automotive design techniques. He subsequently introduced the "concept car" as both a tool for the design process and a clever marketing device.

Studebaker Wagonaire

The Studebaker Wagonaire was a station wagon produced by the Studebaker Corporation of South Bend, Indiana, from 1963–1966. It featured a retractable sliding rear roof section that allowed the vehicle to carry items that would otherwise be too tall for a conventional station wagon of the era.

Studebaker Lark

The Studebaker Lark is a compact car that was produced by Studebaker from 1959 to 1966.

Milwaukee School of Engineering

The Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE) is a private university in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The campus includes 22 acres (0.089 km2) in the East Town neighborhood of downtown Milwaukee. The school's enrollment of 2,820 includes 224 graduate students. As of Fall 2018, the university has a total of 138 full-faculty with over 33% who are women. The student-to-faculty ratio is 15-to-1.

Automotive design

Automotive design is the process of developing the appearance, and to some extent the ergonomics, of motor vehicles, including automobiles, motorcycles, trucks, buses, coaches, and vans.

Dick Teague American automotive designer

Richard Arthur Teague was an American industrial designer in the North American automotive industry. He held automotive design positions at General Motors, Packard, and Chrysler before becoming Vice President of Design for American Motors Corporation (AMC), and designed several notable show cars and production vehicles including AMC's Pacer, Gremlin and Hornet models, as well as the Jeep Cherokee XJ and either designed or assisted in the designing of later cars for Chrysler such as the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Neon after American Motors' buyout.

Sherwood Harry Egbert, was a former U.S. marine. He served as president of the Studebaker-Packard Corporation and Studebaker Corporation from February 1, 1961 to November 24, 1963.

<i>Olympian Hiawatha</i>

The Olympian and its successor the Olympian Hiawatha were passenger trains operated by the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad between Chicago and the Pacific Northwest. The Olympian operated from 1911 to 1947 and was, along with its running mate the Columbian, the first all-steel train to operate in the Pacific Northwest. The streamlined Olympian Hiawatha operated from 1947 to 1961 and was one of several Milwaukee Road trains to carry the name "Hiawatha." The Olympian Hiawatha was designed by industrial designer Brooks Stevens and included the distinctive glassed-in "Skytop" observation-sleeping cars. It later featured full-length "Super Dome" cars.

David Judd Nutting was an industrial design engineer who played a role in the early video game industry. He was a graduate of the Pratt Institute with a degree in industrial design.

Brooks Stevens, Inc., also known as Brooks Stevens Design Associates and Brooks Stevens Design, is a product development firm headquartered in Allenton, Wisconsin. Brooks Stevens's services included research, industrial design, engineering, prototyping, project management,and graphic design.

William S. Harley

William Sylvester Harley was an American mechanical engineer and businessman. He was one of the co-founders of the Harley-Davidson Motor Company.

Theodore Wells Pietsch II

Theodore Wells Pietsch II was an American automobile stylist and industrial designer who, with little formal education, managed to launch a career in automobile design that took him over a period of 38 years to nearly every major automobile company in the nation.

Frederick Morrell Zeder was an American automotive industry engineer and a member of the Automotive Hall of Fame. He made material contributions to Allis-Chalmers and Studebaker. Along with Carl Breer and Owen Skelton, he was one of the core engineering people that formed the present day Chrysler Corporation. He was a key engineer that came up with innovations like rubber motor mounts that contributed to Chrysler's success. He was Chrysler's Institute of Engineering first president.

Skytop Lounge

The Skytop Lounges were a fleet of streamlined passenger cars with the parlor-lounge cars built by the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad and sleeper-lounges built by Pullman-Standard in 1948. The cars were designed by famed industrial designer Brooks Stevens. The fleet included both parlor-lounges and sleeping cars. The lounges entered service in 1948 on the Twin Cities Hiawatha, while the sleeping cars were used on the long-distance Olympian Hiawatha. In 1964 the Milwaukee Road sold the sleeping cars to the Canadian National Railway, which operated them until 1977. The parlor cars continued in service with the Milwaukee Road until 1970, when they were retired.

Duncan McRae (1919-1984) was an American industrial designer who spent the majority of his career designing automobiles. After spending a couple of summers working as a laborer and clay modeler for Ford Motor Company, McRae was hired as a designer at Kaiser-Frazier Corporation in September, 1949 where he was involved with the development of the 1951 Kaiser. He went on to work at Studebaker Packard Corporation beginning in August, 1955, where he became chief stylist. Along with other designers at Studebaker, McRae helped design several models, including the 1958 Packard Hawk and the 1959 Studebaker Lark, a small car which sold in sufficient numbers to keep Studebaker afloat for several more years. McRae left Studebaker in 1960 and worked for a year at Curtiss-Wright Corporation. He then operated his own design studio in Muskegon, Michigan, working on various freelance design projects.


  1. 1 2 3 4 "Brooks Stevens, 83, Giant in Industrial Design". The New York Times, John Holusha, January 7, 1995. January 7, 1995.
  2. Stevens, Brooks 1911-1995 in online Dictionary of Wisconsin History (Wisconsin Historical Society)
  3. "Lost Museums: Brooks Stevens Automotive Museum, Milwaukee, Wisconsin". Hemmings Motor News.
  4. Tyler Friedman, "Happy Birthday Brooks Stevens: Industrial Design Gallery Turns Twenty," Milwaukee Express, 9 Oct. 2013. Retrieved 5 July 2014.
  5. 1 2 Hendry, Maurice M. Studebaker: One can do a lot of remembering in South Bend. New Albany: Automobile Quarterly. pp. 228–275. Vol X, 3rd Q, 1972.
  6. "Whole Student Life Handbook" (PDF). MSOE. September 2006. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2006-09-01. Retrieved 2006-10-05.
  7. "Excalibur J". at
  8. Bowen, Ezra. High-seas Hot Rods in Sports Illustrated June 17, 1957, at SI Vaults
  9. Glenn Adamson and David Gordon, Industrial Strength Design: How Brooks Stevens Shaped Your World (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2003), 4-5. Retrieved 5 July 2014.
  10. "The Modern Hygiene Vacuum Cleaner".
  11. "Industrial Strength Design". Archived from the original on 2009-11-15.
  12. "The Light Bulb Conspiracy".