Hot Dogs, Hydra-Glides and Willie G.

In 1958, Madison, Wisc., meat packing company Oscar Mayer introduced a vehicle that became an iconic symbol of the company: the Wienermobile. The thing was so popular that in the late 1980s, they built nine more of them.

The same year, Milwaukee, Wisc., machine tool manufacturing giant Allen-Bradley was in search of identity; the designer of the Wienermobile came to the rescue, designing the famous A-B logo for the firm. But that was not the first—in 1935, he did the same thing for Cutler-Hammer, Miller Brewing (their soft cross logo in use to this day), and in later years, others.

Oscar Mayer Wienermobile, 1958
Oscar Mayer Wienermobile, 1958
Brooks Stevens (American, 1911-1995); Brooks Stevens Archive, Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of the Brooks Stevens Family and the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design

As long ago as 1941, the same designer created a prototype snowmobile that accurately anticipated the configuration of machines that came along more than a decade later. In 1942, he developed designs for streamlined three wheel cars, in 1947 came the design for the Globester scooter, Evinrude Sportwin outboard motor and in 1949, the tank badge and other design elements that appeared on the first generation of Harley-Davidson Hydra-Glide motorcycles.

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In his career that spanned more than four decades, he designed or oversaw the design of everything from the first wide-mouth peanut butter jar (1933), to flying boats (Evinrude Heli-bout 1961), snowmobiles (1965 Evinrude Skeeter) race cars (Excalibur Hawk 1962), the Briggs and Stratton hybrid/electric car (1979), kitchen appliances, buildings, lawn mowers, you name it.

Who was the genius of industrial design who could cross all product lines so successfully? Milwaukee’s Brooks Stevens.

When Willie G. Davidson graduated from Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles, his first industrial design job was not with Harley-Davidson, but rather was working with the same designer who created all the things mentioned above and many more.

Patent for a Motorcycle Nameplate, 1946
Brooks Stevens (American, 1911-1995); Brooks Stevens Archive, Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of the Brooks Stevens Family and the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design

In his book, “100 Years of Harley-Davidson,” Willie G. tells of the start of his career as a designer with Brooks Stevens Industrial Design.

“Fortunately, Brooks Stevens Industrial Design, a company that had a consulting relationship with Harley-Davidson, was headquartered in the Milwaukee area. Brooks hired me and I was able to cut my professional teeth doing design work on everything from furniture to outboard motors.

“This included work on automotive projects like Studebaker and Willys. On the two-wheel side, I did design work on Cushman scooters. I also moonlighted for Harley-Davidson.”

By 1963, Willie G. Davidson joined Harley-Davidson and the creation of a formal design department within the Motor Company would soon begin. The rest, as they say, is history.

To learn more about industrial designer Brooks Stevens, check out: “Industrial Strength Design-How Brooks Stevens Shaped Your World,” by Glenn Adamson (Published by The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA & London, England and the Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee, WI. ISBN: 0-262-01207-3.)

Special thanks to Rebekah Morin and the staff at the Milwaukee Arts Museum for the use of the following:

  • Oscar Mayer Wienermobile, 1958
  • Portrait of Brooks Stevens, 1961
  • Patent for a Motorcycle Nameplate, 1946

Brooks Stevens Photo Gallery