Clifford Brooks Stevens

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Clifford Brooks Stevens

Milwaukee, Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, USA
Death 4 Jan 1995 (aged 83)
Milwaukee, Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, USA
Burial Milwaukee, Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, USA
Plot Section 37, Block 2, Lot 8
Memorial ID 68094231 View Source
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New York Times, Jan. 7, 1995

Brooks Stevens , 83, Giant in Industrial Design

Brooks Stevens, an industrial designer whose works ranged from corporate logos and clothes dryers to the Oscar Mayer Weinermobile, died on Wednesday in Milwaukee at 83.

The cause was heart failure, said his son William.

Mr. Stevens was a founder of the industrial design business in the 1930's, along with men like Raymond Loewy, who designed the Coca-Cola logo and John Vassos, who modernized the exterior appearance of radios.

Unlike them, he resisted the temptation to move to New York, keeping his business, Brooks Stevens Design Associates, in the Milwaukee area.

In later years he recalled how difficult it was to persuade companies to pay him to redesign their products during the hard times of the Depression. "I had to fight my way in to talk to anybody in the 30's," he said. "I had to not only justify myself, but justify my profession."

But gradually he convinced manufacturers to engage his services, often with memorable results. The front fender design he did for the 1949 Harley-Davidson Hydraglide motorcycle is still used by the company in its Heritage Classic series of motorcycles.

One of his early successes was with a prototype clothes dryer, which had been developed by Hamilton Industries in Two Rivers, Wis. At the time, the only way to dry clothes was to hang them on a line.

Hamilton's engineers had developed a metal box with an electrically powered rotating drum inside and equipment for gas heating. The device was featureless except for an on/off switch.

"You can't sell this thing," Mr. Stevens recalled telling the developers. "It's just a sheet metal box." Mr. Stevens suggested putting a glass panel in the front and loading it with the most brightly colored boxer shorts the manufacturer could find for demonstrations in department stores. That is what happened, and modern clothes dryers still follow the same basic layout.

"He did everything from cigarette lighters to pavement rippers," said Gary Wolfe, curator of the Brooks Stevens Gallery of Industrial Design at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design. "His specialty was to make products more user-friendly. He was best at understanding how products were meant to function and modifying them so the customer could use them more easily."

Mr. Stevens worked for a total of 585 different clients, designing lawn mowers for Briggs & Stratton and Lawn Boy, outboard motors for Evinrude and the civilian Jeepster after World War II.. He designed the corporate logo for Miller beer and persuaded the company to use clear bottles, rather than the traditional brown, to go with its advertising slogan "the champagne of bottled beer."

Automobiles were a favorite of Mr. Stevens, who both designed and collected them. He designed a two-seat sports car called Excalibur for the ailing Kaiser-Frazier company in 1964, and later formed a company to produce cars bearing that name that had styling vaguely reminiscent of a 1930's Mercedes-Benz. Although they looked exotic, they were thoroughly conventional under the skin and drew mixed reviews.

"He was a fine industrial designer, but he had quirky ideas about cars," said David E. Davis Jr., editor of Automobile magazine. "He said he was a friend of sports cars, but I said if you have a friend like that, you don't need enemies."

Mr. Stevens also designed the last prototypes for Studebaker, including a station wagon with a sliding roof to permit hauling tall objects. The cars were never produced, but the prototypes wound up in the Brooks Stevens Car Museum in Mequon, Wis., along with the 75 antique cars he had collected. In 1958, he designed the "Weinermobile," with a giant hot dog replica on the top, for the Oscar Mayer Company.

Mr. Stevens was born in Milwaukee in 1911 and attended local schools. He contracted polio as a boy and was encouraged by his father to develop his talent for drawing while bedridden.

He attended Cornell University from 1929 to 1933, studying architecture, but he returned to Milwaukee without graduating because the Depression had put a stop to most building. At the suggestion of his father, who was a vice president of the Cutler-Hammer Company, a producer of industrial equipment in Milwaukee, he opened an office in 1934 as a design consultant. One of his first projects was to design a line of electrical controls for Cutler-Hammer and a corporate logo for the company.

In 1944, along with Raymond Loewy and eight other men, he helped form the Industrial Designers Society of America, which today has thousands of members.

Mr. Stevens turned the design company over to his son Kipp in 1979, but continued to speak and teach.

. . .Mr. Stevens is survived by his wife Alice; (ed.-3 living children), and five grandchildren.

Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, WI) - January 6, 1995


Brooks Stevens, who applied his streamlined designs to Studebakers, Harley-Davidsons and hundreds of other products, was remembered as a source of inspiration after his death at the age of 83.

''Brooks was a national treasure,'' said Terrence J. Coffman, president of the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design, where Stevens taught in recent years.

''This was a man who overcame polio in his youth and never allowed it to stop him,'' he said. ''He continued to travel throughout his life, to promote quality design, to produce great design products that have touched all of our

lives.'' And what was it like to have the designer of the whimsical Oscar Mayer Foods Wienermobile as a father?

''Fantastic. Exciting. Exhilarating,'' said his son, William C. ''Steve'' Stevens of Milwaukee. ''New thoughts and ideas every day ... Think of the concepts he came up with in his lifetime.''

The elder Stevens, a Milwaukee native, was credited for producing designs for about 585 companies throughout the world in a career that started when he and two employees opened an industrial design office in Milwaukee in 1933.

In 1944, he was one of 10 founders of the Society of Industrial Designers, later known as the Industrial Designers Society of America.

Among his automotive designs were a civilian version of the Jeep, produced for Willys-Overland Co., and later Jeep station wagons, through the Jeep

Cherokee. His 1950 motorcycle design for Harley-Davidson of Milwaukee is the model for Harley's Heritage Classic model of today.

Honored by the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design in 1985, he said he got the most satisfaction from his design for the Evinrude outboard motor because it eventually helped so many people enjoy their leisure time.

In Stevens' design, the bulky, square shape of the early outboards -- Stevens called them ''functional but crude looking'' -- were enclosed into a streamlined, compact and portable product that became a big seller.

Another of his favorite designs was the Wienermobile, a vehicle with a fiberglass body in the shape of a hotdog used as a promotional tool for Oscar Mayer of Madison.

His work for Studebaker led to development of the Excalibur luxury touring car, which combined classic lines of the past with modern technology. His sons formed Excalibur Automobile Corp. in 1964 and began production of the autos.

Stevens underwent open-heart surgery in 1978 and later lost sight in one eye. After his son, Kipp Stevens of Milwaukee, took over management of his Mequon design firm, the elder Stevens focused his energies on teaching at Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design.

He died Wednesday night at Columbia Hospital of apparent heart failure, the family said.

Survivors include his wife, Alice K. Stevens, (ed.-3 living children).

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