Viktor Schreckengost; Designed Bicycles, Dinnerware and More

By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Viktor Schreckengost, 101, a celebrated industrial designer whose products included mass-produced dinnerware, riding lawn mowers, bicycles and coffins, and who revolutionized trucking by putting the cab over the engine, died Jan. 26 at his condominium in Tallahassee. He had respiratory arrest.

Mr. Schreckengost was one of the world's most prolific artists of commercial goods, and his impact on the economy once was calculated at more than $200 billion.

He spent decades as an independent contractor for such companies as American Limoges, Harris-Seybold and Sears & Roebuck. During World War II, he worked on a top-secret radar recognition project for the Navy.

His 1932 cab-over-engine truck for the White Motor Co. was a huge boon to laborers during the Depression, who were paid by the freight they could carry. The extra cargo space would allow the truckers to pay off their vehicle in a year.

He also influenced many generations of artists and industrial designers who passed through the industrial design department he founded in 1931 at what became the Cleveland Institute of Art. His students included Joe Oros, chief designer of the Ford Mustang.

"It's function. That's what I was always attracted to," Mr. Schreckengost said in 2006. "You get to the basic form first and then the color and texture and all the other stuff added to it so it becomes very complicated, even though it appears simple."

Mr. Schreckengost -- whose name means "frightening guest" in German -- was born June 23, 1906, in Sebring, Ohio. He learned clay sculpting from his father, a commercial potter, and said his parents expected their children to make their own toys.

One concoction of Mr. Schreckengost's was a plywood plane built from piano crates that had a 10-foot wingspan. He used a wound-up inner tube to power the propeller and showed perhaps greater ingenuity by having a friend test-fly it -- from an elementary-school fire escape three stories off the ground. The plane did not work, but the friend survived.

As a young man, Mr. Schreckengost's interest was cartooning, but he became interested in ceramics while studying at the Cleveland School of Art. After his graduation, in 1929, he went to Austria to continue his artistic studies. He became a proficient jazz saxophonist in Vienna.

Upon his return, he created for Cowan Pottery of Rocky River, Ohio, possibly his most famous work: an art deco punchbowl featuring images of New York nightlife.

Unknown to him at the time, it was commissioned by future first lady Eleanor Roosevelt as a gift for her husband. In 2004, the "Jazz Bowl" sold at Sotheby's auction house for $254,400.

In the early 1930s, he was hired by American Limoges to design what is widely believed to be the first modern mass-produced dinnerware. Its patterns had a Manhattan theme and became ubiquitous in homes of that era.

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