Streamlined Tractor Design: Raymond Loewy and Henry Dreyfuss

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The Farmall F-22 in 1938 when it was beginning to look more like the subsequent production Farmall H. Courtesy Wisconsin Historical Society, image ID: WHi-27595.
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A Farmall F-12 tractor, owned by Fred Long, Shreve, Ohio, predating the Raymond Loewy influence. Photo by Sam Moore.
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 An example of Dreyfuss’ efforts: An early styled John Deere Model B owned by Gary Gray, Butler, Pa. Photo by Sam Moore.
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The Farmall F-22 tractor in 1937 when it still somewhat resembled the F-12. Courtesy Wisconsin Historical Society, image ID: WHi-12201.
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A wood-and-clay model showing the basic lines of the new design in three dimensions is the next step in the process. From Science Illustrated magazine, December 1946.
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Henry Dreyfuss’ preliminary sketches were the first step in the new John Deere tractor design. From Science Illustrated magazine, December 1946.
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In the 1920s, American designers such as Henry Dreyfuss and Raymond Loewy established the first important industrial design studios in the U.S. They emphasized the beauty in functionalism, elimination of unnecessary decoration and simplified rearrangement of components. Among the first products to reflect this aesthetic planning were automatic refrigerators designed by Loewy, and telephone equipment and clocks designed by Dreyfuss.

Raymond Loewy was born and educated in France and served as an engineering officer in the French army during World War I. After the war, he immigrated to the U.S., where he became an industrial designer with a reputation for a flamboyant lifestyle.

At the 1937 International Exposition in Paris, Loewy won awards for his designs for the Coldspot refrigerator and the legendary streamlined GG-1 electric locomotives that served the Pennsylvania Railroad for many years. He was responsible for the radical 1934 Hupmobile with headlights that were streamlined and made part of the fenders. Loewy continued his futuristic automobile designs with the 1939 Studebaker Champion and the revolutionary 1947 Studebaker Starlight Coupe, as well as the 1961 Studebaker Avanti. Even the familiar pinched-center Coca-Cola bottle is a Loewy design.

Loewy’s main claim to fame among rusty iron lovers, however, is the work he did for International Harvester Co. In the mid-1930s, tractor builders were beginning to see the advantages of making their products more attractive by adding streamlined sheet metal. Oliver led the way with the streamlined row crop 70 in 1936. IHC management invited Loewy to design a new line of Farmall tractors then being developed by the company. He spent a couple of years perfecting the design and on Aug. 9, 1939, at a big Farmall Day celebration in Rock Island, Ill., the all-new Farmall H and M models were introduced to the public. Loewy’s classic styling of the new Farmalls helped make IHC a leader in row crop tractor sales until the 1950s.

Raymond Loewy also designed the new IHC logo with block letters consisting of a lower case “i” superimposed upon an upper case “H.” The resulting symbol roughly resembled the front view of a (square-headed) man driving a Farmall tricycle tractor (with square tires). The logo was adopted in 1946 and became famous all over the world as the identifying symbol of International. In fact, a slanted version of the old “man on a tractor” logo still can be seen on every Case-IH machine made today. The standardized dealership buildings with the familiar red central pylon bearing the IH logo and the dealer’s name were also Loewy’s work. Strangely, I can find no evidence that Loewy had a hand in designing the beautiful 1937 D and 1941 Model K International trucks.

Henry Dreyfuss was teaching art at a New York school in 1924 when one of his students bit him. That convinced him to give up teaching and he became a theatrical designer before entering the industrial field in 1929. Dreyfuss designed the streamlined, Hudson-type steam locomotives built by Alco for New York Central’s famous 20th Century Limited passenger trains as well as airplanes and buses. His credits include designs for nursery furniture, bathroom fixtures, kitchen appliances, the Princess™ phone, the Perisphere at the 1939-40 New York World’s Fair and the Strategy Rooms at the Pentagon. However, Dreyfuss is best known among 2-cylinder enthusiasts for his design of the 1939 Model A and B John Deere tractors.

In the fall of 1937, a Deere tractor engineer (named Elmer McCormick, of all things) was sent to New York to ask Dreyfuss to redesign the tractors. Legend has it that Dreyfuss was so intrigued by the project that he took a train to Waterloo that very night. Dreyfuss learned to operate the tractors and worked with them in the field to gain firsthand knowledge of the changes that needed to be made. He worked fast: In November 1937, he unveiled a wooden mockup of a streamlined Model B. Dreyfuss’ men and the Waterloo engineers perfected the styled design that was used on John Deere tractors with only minor changes until the New Generation machines of 1960.

Dreyfuss also was responsible for design of many Deere implements, applying his “streamline should be cleanline” philosophy to the 12A combine, among others. Dreyfuss continued to do work for Deere & Co. for many years. In 1956 he recommended to company President William Hewitt that Finnish architect Eero Saarinen should design the new Deere Administrative Center at Moline, Ill. And after Deere bought German tractor maker Lanz in 1956, Dreyfuss directed simple styling changes and a new paint scheme (the familiar green and yellow) that greatly improved the appearance of the dated Lanz Bulldog tractor line. Henry Dreyfuss Associates (now known as HDA) is still in business, and continues to design John Deere lawn and farm tractors and combines.

Besides the attractive and modern family appearance Loewy and Dreyfuss gave to IH and Deere tractors in 1939, the two designers also provided more comfort for the operator and easier, safer operation and maintenance. If they had only made all that pretty sheet metal less vulnerable to dents and rust, we tractor restorers would have a lot easier time of it. FC

Sam Moore grew up on a farm in western Pennsylvania. He now lives in Salem, Ohio, and collects antique tractors, implements and related items. Contact Sam by e-mail at letstalkrustyiron@att.net

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