The Man Who Gave Air Force One Its Aura

Raymond Loewy, a pre-eminent commercial designer, told an aide to John F. Kennedy in 1962 that he could help transform the drab presidential jet.

Comments: 33

  1. A welcome and exciting glimpse at felicitous coincidence, in a designer's almost accidental glance at a familiar device and his irrepressible offer to improve its appeal, indeed its iconic function. My favorite Loewy stroke of this kind is his sleekly revised cocotte, dubbed "coquille," for Le Creuset, the ironworking kitchen supplier. But this report is notable also for the portrait from November 21st, 1963. For those who were living then, it will only reinforce the impression of good design in the aircraft's markings. Indelibly.

  2. It has been my fortune, good or ill, to run across Air Force One at airports around the world, purely out of serendipity. The aircraft is (well, actually, are) unmistakable even to the locals. Everyone knows the President is in town, and even if they don't like the United States it gives those locals a little pride that the President of the United States thinks they are important enough to visit. Air Force One is as recognizable as a Coca Cola bottle, and like that bottle will never change because of the instant recognition it provides. Mr. Loewy would be justifiably proud of that.

  3. The plane used by JFK, and several other Presidents, can be seen at Boeing Field in Washington (state). The VC-137B (707-120) aircraft is on loan from the National Museum of the United States Air Force. Museum guests are allowed to board the plane.

    Residents of Silicon Valley are used to seeing the current Air Force One parked on the runway apron at Moffett Field, Mountain View; which ceased active operation at the end of the Cold War (it was the base for planes flying Russian submarine tracking missions in the Pacific).

    Seeing the 747 parked on the tarmac by itself was an amazing sight. A plane of that size with it's own "private airport". In sight of the 101 freeway and the Santa Clara Light Rail line.

  4. Which Air Force One ended up enshrined in Simi Valley at the Reagan Library?

  5. And residents of Hilo, Hawai'i are used to seeing the backup 747 parked at the Hilo airport when President Obama is on Oahu. You can get to within a couple of hundred yards of it.

  6. Air Force One hasn't flown to Moffett Field in years. I'm not sure why, but the President always flies in and out of SFO now.

  7. The contrast that comes to my mind reading this is between Eisenhower who knew something about the exercise of majesty and power and Kennedy who knew how to project the appearance of it. Personally I have more confidence in the former.

  8. I think Kennedy understood both. His most important examples of that was his handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis, his handling of the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and his June 11, 1963 speech on civil rights. (The day after the speech on the Test Ban Treaty). He didn't get a chance to fully carry out his presidency.

  9. Personally, we don't care. How many countries wait to see what Canada will do in an international crisis, or any other situation? FYI: Both Eisenhower and Kennedy fought in WWII. Thanks for your input, though.

  10. I remember the 757 version of Air Force One on the tarmac at a local airport, too small to take the 747. What was amazing was the number of people who drove out to take a look at the plane. The president, GW Bush, was elsewhere, and nobody cared.

  11. Mr. Beschloss and NYT editors: I love stuff like this! Please keep 'em coming :-)

  12. I find "the Upshot" column always excellent!

    Thank you Mr. Michael Beschloss for this wonderful piece, which shows not only Jack and Jackie Kennedy's impeccable tastes and styles, but also the great contribution by French-born design genius, Mr. Raymond Loewy.

    We need more legal immigrants like Mr. Raymond Loewy as well as more great presidents and first ladies like the Kennedys!

    Speaking of a great nation founded on Immigration and Rule of Law!

    The Upshot becomes a new Must-Read for me going forward!

  13. Mr. Beschloss provides an interesting history of Air Force One but starts his story a little late and thus misses another aspect that most readers may find interesting: Air Force One was named by President Eisenhower's personal pilot, Colonel William Draper. Colonel Draper's wife, Ruth, passed away just last year, while the Colonel himself has been gone since the mid 60's...

    Growing up in Northern California I was friends with Colonel Draper's kids, including William Draper II (whom we all called "Bill").

    In their living room one could find several pictures of Ike and the Colonel and there were many personal letters that the Draper family displayed with pride.

    There's even more intrigue and history that surrounds Colonel Draper, his relationship with Eisenhower, and Draper's time in the Air Force, and I know the remaining Draper family members, including daughter Priscilla, would be very thankful if Mr. Beschloss would take on that task to tell that story...

  14. Thank you for sharing your story!

  15. Great and informative column!

    What I find hilarious is, that Russia - under Mr. Putin - follows America's lead with similar plane, State of the Union address and so on.

    JFK and Jackie were visionaries.

  16. RAYMOND LOEWY IS GOD! The photograph of him in this column is the first one I've ever seen with him smiling. All the other one I've seen previously had him with the same suave poker face. Also chuckled at the description of him as "normally no shrinking violet." Always thought he let his works speak for him.

  17. Loewy didn't design the iconic "pinched waist" Coke bottle. His work is reflected in the Coca Cola fountain dispenser and let's not forget his work for Studebaker. His most notable projects for the company were the 1953 Strarliner and Starlight (a.k.a "Loewy coupes') and, of course the Studebaker Avanti.

  18. Wish we could have both President Jack Kennedy and his most persuasive V.P., LBJ, to push through the Iran Nuclear deal! Times have changed though, and the fragmentation of American politics has produced people who could care less about what is good for the country as a whole, than for their own peculiar agendas.

  19. This article was fascinating. I have seen Air Force One a couple of times and it certainly is an iconic "brand". Is there anyone who can answer this question for me please:

    Is it true that Air Force One, when on the ground, is only allowed to be photographed from its left hand side?

    This is something I read once and I forget where and has been the subject of some debate. I would be most grateful if someone knew the answer!

  20. The aircraft always parks with its left side toward the "crowd," because that's the side with the main exit door. To get a photo of the right side, the photographer would most likely have to be standing out in the middle of the airfield.

    Do an online search for images of Air Force One, and you'll see plenty taken of the right side.

  21. Bob - thank you very much for this! I guess that explains it!. Obvious really.

  22. I really enjoy these vignettes. Thanks for publishing them.

  23. Mr. Beschloss is overstating Loewy's involvement with the Lincoln Continental of the 40's. The design was done in house at Ford and generally credited to chief designer Bob Gregorie.
    It is true that Loewy had at least one Continental modified for his personal use. But by "making his mark.... (on) the 1940s Lincoln Continental' and the implication that Loewy had some influence in the original design is simply incorrect.

  24. It was a coincidence of the calendar that the Kennedy's entered the White House the same year the exceptionally stylish 1961 Lincoln Continental was introduced.

    The X100 as the car is known, delivered to the White House in the spring of 1961, painted Crayola Crayon - Midnight Blue with a matching interior.

    This car also travelled with the Kennedy's to Texas via a military transport plane and sat waiting on the tarmac for there arrival at Love Field for the drive into Dallas and history.

  25. With regard to influential design, Mr. Beschloss failed to note the Loewy designed Studebakers of the early 1950s. Years ahead of their competitors, at least in looks, the Studebakers as spotted in motion pictures of the day appear other-worldly compared to the Chevis, Fords and Chrysler products beside them. They anticipated the 1980s 30 years in advance.

  26. And the Avanti, even today it looks great

  27. I thought Lowey designed the Avanti, but wasn't certain so I didn't cite it. And you're right, a restored Avant still looks great and largely undateable even today.

  28. Wow. Much better with Mr. Loewy's re-design!

  29. Don't think Ike needed any brand improvement. His brand was already pretty strong.

  30. The Air Force (and air traffic controllers) apply the name Air Force One to any airplane the president may be using (and Air Force Two for the vice president).

  31. I am wondering if Michael Beschloss can imagine writing a book about President Trump. (It is hard for me to imagine a President Trump.)

  32. As a member of the Raymond Loewy organization, this article brought back great memories. I started there in 1959 as a market researcher. Technical help was needed on a military project concerning mobile operational flight trainers for the navy. My three technical degrees from Columbia (three of my physics professors would later win a Noble Prize) and commission in the Navy were enough to land me the job. There were actually two separate groups at Loewy's main office at 425 Park Avenue in Manhattan when I started there straight from engineering school: Raymond Loewy Associates, a small group of senior executives, and Raymond Loewy/William Snaith Inc., which consisted of about 200 designers on the drafting boards in an open office, and perhaps 30 managers in separate offices. One of my main projects was noted in the article--the design of a new logo for the U.S. Postal Service. Switching from a drab khaki color scheme which then existed for collection boxes, trucks and uniforms to a brand new red, white and blue color scheme and a totally new logo--the existing stylized eagle--required extensive market research and cost analysis. The research and cost analysis were done prior to any design work. As I recall, Loewy himself presented the completed project to President Kennedy.