Henry Dreyfuss


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Henry Dreyfuss was an American industrial design pioneer. Dreyfuss is known for designing some of the most iconic devices found in American homes and offices throughout the twentieth century, including the Western Electric Model 500 telephone, the Westclox Big Ben alarm clock, and the Honeywell round thermostat. Dreyfuss enjoyed long-term associations with several name-brand companies such as American Telephone and Telegraph, John Deere, Polaroid, and American Airlines.

Dreyfuss, a native of Brooklyn, New York City, is one of the celebrity industrial designers of the 1930s and 1940s who pioneered his field. Dreyfuss dramatically improved dozens of consumer products look, feel, and usability. Sometimes compared to Raymond Loewy and other contemporaries, Dreyfuss was much more than a stylist; he applied common sense and a scientific approach to design problems, making products more pleasing to the eye and hand, safer to use, and more efficient to manufacture and repair. 

His work helped popularize the industrial designer's role while also contributing significant advances to the fields of ergonomics, anthropometrics, and human factors. Dreyfuss began as a Broadway theatrical designer. Until 1920, he apprenticed under Norman Bel Geddes, who would later become one of his competitors. In 1929, Dreyfuss opened his own office for theatrical and industrial design. His firm met with commercial success and continued as Henry Dreyfuss Associates for over four decades after his death.

In 1955, Dreyfuss wrote Designing for People. A window into Dreyfuss's career as an industrial designer, the book illustrated his ethical and aesthetic principles, including design case studies, many anecdotes, and an explanation of his "Joe" and "Josephine" anthropometric charts. In 1960 he published The Measure of Man, a collection of ergonomic reference charts providing designers with precise specifications for product designs. 

In 1965, Dreyfuss became the first President of the Industrial Designers Society of America (IDSA). In 1969, Dreyfuss retired from the firm he founded but continued serving many of the companies he worked with as a board member and consultant. In 1972 Dreyfuss published The Symbol Sourcebook, An Authoritative Guide to International Graphic Symbols. This visual database of over 20,000 symbols continues to provide a standard for industrial designers worldwide.

On October 5, 1972, the bodies of Henry Dreyfuss (aged 68) and his wife and business partner Doris Marks Dreyfuss (aged 69) were found dead in the garage at 500 Columbia Street in South Pasadena, California by Dr. Edward Evans, the family physician. They committed suicide together. Authorities reported the cause of death as carbon monoxide poisoning. Lieut. John R. Simmons, chief of the detective bureau of the South Pasadena police, reported that notes had been left. 

A note instructed the Dreyfuss's maid to call Dr. Evans upon her arrival this morning. Another note held the key to the carriage house and instructions to enter. Dr. Evans reported the deaths to the police at approximately 8:10 A.M. The couple was survived by their son, John A., and their two daughters, Ann and Mrs. George C. Wilson Jr. Mrs. Dreyfuss was terminally ill at this time.

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Designing for People

Bret Victor