You may have never heard of him, but chances are you have seen his work. Viktor Schreckengost was an industrial designer who designed everything from dinnerware to pedal cars to flashlights. He died last January 26 at the age of 101.
Viktor Schreckengost was born on June 26, 1906 in Sebring, Ohio to a family of commercial potters. He attended the Cleveland School of Art (now the Cleveland Institute of Art). After graduation he studied ceramics at the Kunstgewerbeschule in Vienna. There everyone spelled his name with "Viktor" instead of "Victor," which he started doing himself. He returned to the States a year later and at the age of 25 became the youngest instructor at the Cleveland Institute of Art. In 1933 he started the Institute's industrial design programme, the first of its kind in the United States. His work would be displayed at the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco, among other places. Among his most famous pieces was the "Jazz" bowl, a large bowl decorated with New York City's skyscrapers, ships, and so on, which he made for the soon to be First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.
During his career as an industrial designer, Schreckengost created designs for some of the best known products in 20th century America. He created the first modern mass produced dinnerware for American Limoges, called Americana. Schreckengost created many other patterns of dinnerware, including Flower Shop and Jiffy Ware. Schreckengost's best known items may well be the many bicycles and pedal cars he designed for Murray, Ohio, over the years. For Murray he designed the Mercury bicycle in 1938, which utilised the look of a motorcycle in its design (even down to the chrome). He also designed the Champion pedal car in 1938 for Murray, perhaps the first truly affordable pedal car. Over the years for Murray he would design the Murray Torpedo pedal car, the Murray Pursuit Plane pedal car, the Murray tricyle and the Beverly Hills lawn chair. As their chief designer, Schreckengost saw Murray, Ohio become the world's biggest bicycle and pedal car company. He also designed he Sears Spaceliner, the 1968 Campus Compact, and the 1948 J.C. Higgins bicycles. For Delta he designed various flashlights, including the Delta Buddy light and the Delta Rocket Ray bicycle headlamp. Early in his career, in 1932 he designed the first cab over engine truck for White Motor Company. Schreckengost's career spanned over seventy years, during which time he designed everything from dinnerware to bicycles to toys to printing presses.
Schreckengost served in the Navy during World War II, helping design radar-recognition systems and later prosthetic limbs.
Although he may not be as well known as Buckminister Fuller, Charles and Ray Eames, or Harley Earl, Viktor Schreckengost was every bit as influential. In fact, for most of the Twentieth century his work was ubiquitous in the American landscape. Children rode bikes and pedal cars designed by him. Adults served their meals on dinnerware designed by him. And everyone sat in his lawn chairs (when I was growing up I know we had a set of the Beverly Hills lawn chairs). Of course, it wasn't simply that Viktor Schreckengost designed so many products. Quite simply Schreckengost was of the great masters of Art Deco and Streamline Moderne. Today his bicycles and pedal cars are even displayed in museums. He was truly was one of the great industrial designers of the 20th century.