A Brief Note Regarding Dreyfuss and the Skyline


It is well known among pen collectors that the Eversharp Skyline was designed by the firm of Henry Dreyfuss, one of the great names of 20th-century industrial design. Why, then, does Dreyfuss’ work on the Skyline receive no mention in the literature on the history and practice of design, starting with Dreyfuss’ own Designing for People of 1955?

The answer is contained in this same volume, where Dreyfuss writes about the pioneers of industrial design: "Unfortunately, their inexperience led them into strange detours during those early days. As if under a spell, they accepted the half-truth of streamlining. Hearses and fountain pens and pencil sharpeners were stupidly modeled after the teardrop, which was held up as an ideal form. . . ." And later: "The specter still haunts industrial design, for some manufacturers still find that 'streamlining' sells products, despite twenty years of scoffing by engineers and aesthetes. But out of the era of so-called streamlining, the designer learned a great deal about clean, graceful, unencumbered design" (second edition, 1967, pp. 74-75).

Not surprisingly, Dreyfuss' manifesto glosses over his own earlier role as a streamlining pioneer. Commissions too famous to be ignored - the 20th Century Limited, for example - are discussed solely in terms of functional considerations. Lesser commissions, such as the Skyline, are simply passed over. This rejection of his own previous work is all the more striking given that the Skyline and other classics of streamlining had been proudly illustrated not long before in a Dreyfuss-published volume, A Record of Industrial Designs by Henry Dreyfuss: 1929 through 1946 (New York and Pasadena, undated).

Ironically, now it is Dreyfuss’ prewar work as a streamliner that is most widely admired. Nonetheless, the Skyline, poor outcast, still remains all but forgotten by historians of design.


Copyright © 2002 David Nishimura. All rights reserved