Shortly after midnight, I opened up a new tab in Chrome and started punching in a search term when I noticed what I unmistakably recognized as a faux early-to-mid 20th century sketch of a streamlined locomotive. My untrained eye guessed Loewy, and one click later, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that it's his 120th birthday today.
L: PRR K4S; R: Loewy with the S1
First of all, I'm glad that Google (at some point over the past few months, IIRC) decided to include the whimsical art logos above the search field in new tabs: Since they've enabled searching through the navigation bar, I rarely if ever go to google.com any more—I've probably missed out on a couple years' worth of Google Doodles before they saw fit to add it to 'blank' tabs in Chrome. Upon clicking on the image, I was also interested to see that the Google News results for "Raymond Loewy" listed a few hits down, included several stories about the Google Doodle itself. The Guardian suggests that it resembles the S1 steam locomotive, while the Independent elaborates:
Among his main clients was the Pennsylvania Railroad, for whom he designed passenger locomotives, developing a distinctive shroud design for K4s Pacific #3768 to haul his newly redesigned 1938 Broadway Limited... Today's doodle shows a locomotive bearing a resemblance to the K4s Pacific #3768 shroud design.
Insofar as Google has taken some creative liberties with the streamline form factor, they're both right: The Pennsylvania Railroad commissioned S1 to be a next-generation K4S—which was exhibited with a "one-off streamlined casing" as the World's Fair in 1939—but, as "the longest and heaviest rigid frame reciprocating steam locomotive ever built," the S1 never took off. (A quick Google search for further info turned up a few discursive notes on both engines here and the image below.)
Curious to see if the Doodle is actually based on an extant Loewy sketch, I attempted to learn more using Google's "Search by Image" feature (not to be confused with Image Search), which turned up underwhelming results... besides, of course, the meta-matches for the Doodle itself, which has been reproduced on several other sites today.
Mainstream media aside, my colleague hipstomp pegged the Loewy homage right away:
I guess we ID'ers ought be thankful it happened at all: Today's Google Doodle is of a Raymond Loewy design modified into the search giant's logo, and while it's a bit small and underwhelming, we're impressed that they did it at all.
Those of you who were paying attention in History of Industrial Design class will recognize the design, butchered as it is: That's a class K4 locomotive (specifically, model #3768) that Loewy designed, or re-designed we should say, for the Pacific Railroad in 1936. Number 3768 was an early example of the Streamline Moderne design movement and is often held up as an archetype of that style, but here are two things you may not know about it:
1. It certainly wasn't the first mass-produced vehicle done up in the Streamline style. For that we have to go back two years to see Chrysler's 1934 Airflow, a car designed by engineer (not designer, sigh) Carl Breer. Breer was interested in aerodynamics, or at least the 1930s' primitive understanding of such. (However, the car's swept shape was so radical for the time, so different from the blocky offerings by competitors, that the car was a complete sales disaster for Chrysler.)
2. The #3768 design, as influential as it was on us starry-eyed student sophomores, can be considered a style-over-substance failure. Take a look at a side view of the design:
Now look at the #1120 design that the Pacific Railroad replaced the #3768 with by the early 1940s:
Notice anything different? Yep, Loewy's shrouding, as cool as it looks, greatly hampered maintenance; they're covering up the bits the mechanics need to get to on a regular basis. You can clearly see that the 1120, in contrast, leaves the mechanicals exposed, reducing maintenance time. But again, and perhaps sadly, as industrial designers not used to seeing our vocational forefathers' names in the news, we're thankful Google has drawn any attention to it at all.
I was also interested to learn, via Wikipedia, that train engineers would use aural cues to gauge their throttle control but the S1's duplex engine design meant that one engine would mask any errant sounds from the other. And if you missed 'em the first time around, check out these photos of Loewy's party crib.