During the Loewy Institute dedication ceremony at Lehigh University's Whitaker Lab on Friday, April 29, 2016, Brigitte Loewy Linz, President of the Loewy Family Foundation -- and the only daughter of Erwin and Margret Loewy -- told the captivating story of the Loewy brothers.
Read the extended transcribed speech from Ms. Loewy Linz below:
Thank you, Dr. [Pat] Farrell and Professor Misiolek for your kind introduction.
When Kathy Zimmerman asked me if I would like to say a few words today, my first reaction was, “do I really have to?”
On second thought, I realized that as President of the Loewy Foundation, it would be most appropriate, not only to present a short review of the history of the Loewy Family and the origins of the Foundation, for those of you who may not be familiar with the story, but also to thank the many people at Lehigh who have made the creation of the Loewy Institute a reality – administration, faculty, students, and staff. Your current President, John Simon, whom I had the pleasure of meeting over lunch in New York City a few weeks ago, pointed out that he was my fourth president. Peter Likins was my first.
The Loewy family was Jewish, and grew up in a small town called Becov, near Pilsen, in what at the time was Bohemia, part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In 1918 it became the republic of Czechoslovakia. The Loewy’s always considered themselves Czechs. My grandfather, Leopold Loewy, was a salesman, I believe dealing in leather goods, and my grandmother spent her time having and looking after their thirteen children.
Two of these children were especially gifted; my uncle Ludwig, born in 1887, and my father Erwin, ten years his junior, born in 1897. At a very early age, they both made life difficult for their parents by taking all matter of things apart to find out how they worked, and putting them back together again, at which they didn’t always succeed. (Of course, there was no TV or internet to hold their attention.) Among these items was a piano and a watch. The piano seemed to have survived the dissection without incident, however when it came to the watch, there was a screw left over. Oddly, it kept better time than it had before being dismantled.
Both boys got their engineering degrees from the Charles University in Prague. In 1913, Ludwig initially worked for a German shipbuilding firm in Berlin where he designed huge diesel engines for the first transatlantic ocean liners, among them the Leviathen and Bellengaria. A year later, he joined the firm of Edward Schloemann in Duesseldorf where he designed machine tools, rolling mills and hydraulic presses. He became a partner in the company in 1921. The idea to build hydraulic presses germinated around the years 1910-1912.
When Ludwig joined Schloemann, the construction of complete hydraulic presses was begun. Only one year after his arrival, Edward Schloemann passed away, and Ludwig, together with Mr. Schloemann’s nephew, ran the company. In 1921, Ludwig bought the majority interest and thus became the controlling partner.
In 1924, the scope of production was expanded and a department of rolling mill design was added. The Loewy presses gained international renown, and Ludwig had to travel extensively to procure orders for the company.
When Erwin concluded his studies in 1923, Ludwig invited him to join him at Schloemann, but, not wishing to work under the aegis of his brilliant older brother, Erwin declined and went to Paris, France. Needing employment, he checked the want ads in the local newspapers, and made an appointment for the position of General Manager at the renowned perfume making firm of Lentheric. Not having a clue about the manufacture of perfume, he spent the next twenty-four hours studying all about it, proposed two new formulas for innovative scents at his interview, and got the job.
It should be noted that Erwin was fluent in nine languages. If you want to know where and when he learned them all, you might be able to find the information in the materials in the archives. I just remember it as a fact. Erwin finally joined his brother at Schloemann as Sales Manager in 1925, and helped look after things during his brother’s extended absences.
With the rise of the Nazis in the mid 1930’s, Ludwig left Germany and went to England where he established the Loewy Engineering Company Limited. Erwin stayed behind and managed Schloemann until the fateful day in 1935 when a Nazi took a potshot at him when he was on his way to visit my mother, Margret Zander, in Eller, a suburb of Duesseldorf. Their romance was rather unconventional. Due to the tenure of the times, it was not seen as politically correct for a good Catholic girl to be going out with a Jew, so their meetings were kept a secret from her father, yet supported by her mother and brother. My mother would say good night to her Dad and go upstairs as if to retire. She would then either climb out of an upstair’s window and climb down into the back yard over the roof assisted by her brother, or he would carry her down the front stairs and out of the house. (movie script material). It was on one of these occasions that my father was ambushed.
He left for England immediately. With due foresight, my mother had hidden a valid passport and travel documents behind some wallpaper, and left Duesseldorf post haste to join my father in England. They were married on November 12, 1935 in Bournemouth. They settled in Paris, France where my father established a new engineering company by the name of Spidem, the acronym for "Societe Pour Invesstisement D’Etablissement Metalurgique."
It is also the place where I was born, and to which my father’s parents, Leopold and Charlotte, and two of his siblings escaped. My Aunt Erna went to England to look after her brother as she had done for many years in Germany. Both Ludwig and Erwin actively worked on persuading the governments of their adopted new homes to build extrusion presses for the production of airplanes for national defense. These aircraft were later decisive in the outcome of World War II.
On June 10, 1940, my father left his office on the Champs Elysee early to go home, when he unexpectedly met the Czech Consul General, Mr. Vochoc on the street, who was shocked to see him. He told him that he must leave immediately with the whole family, as the Germans were at the gates of Paris.
That very same evening, six family members squeezed into our car with bicycles suspended from the back and a mattress on the roof, and the exodus to the U.S. began. My old grandfather thought we were going away on vacation.
We traveled by car to the French border to Spain until we ran out of gas. From there we had to abandon the car, climbed over the Pyrenees like the Von Trapps, and continued from Spain to Portugal. A very tense moment occurred when my mother was searched and made to strip completely at the French border. She was wearing a turban with many folds into which she had sewn as much money as possible. Fortunately, it was not detected.
The first night after leaving Paris, we spent in a courtyard in Chartres. One memory of that night remains with me, but at the time I didn’t know what it meant. I remember sleeping stretched out on the front seat of the car, my grandfather in the back, and being awakened by bright orange and yellow lights , like fireworks in the night sky, and lots of noise. I only found out a few years ago when sorting through papers in the archives here, that what I remember is the Germans bombing the Chartres railroad station that night. At some point, my father took off on his own to Vichy to acquire identity cards for everybody, needed to pass the border into Spain. He was neither aware that the Germans were looking for him, nor that they had put a price on his head. At some point, he also acquired passports with fictitious names and entry visas to the United States. Major Albert Cudebec of the U.S. Army, who was the representative of the Loewy Engineering Company in New York, was instrumental in procuring those entry visas through his connections at the State Department, assuring the family’s survival. To express our eternal gratitude, the 50,000 ton press is named "Major."
We traveled to the U.S. on a Liberty Ship, the “Excambion”, arrived in America on November 6, 1940, and passed through Ellis Island, where all immigrants were registered and vaccinated against smallpox. I was terrified of the needle and still have the scar to show for it. We moved into an apartment on Central Park West in New York City and my father founded another new design company, Hydropress, which opened offices in the General Electric Building. Several engineers who also successfully made it to the States and had been in the employ of the Loewy brothers, joined the firm.
Tragically and unexpectedly, Ludwig was diagnosed with stomach cancer just three weeks before his demise on October 10, 1942, the day he had planned to arrive in New York for a visit. He left his estate in equal parts to his siblings.
Erwin continued to build on Ludwig’s legacy, and guided the three existing companies, one in the U.S. and two abroad, throughout the war and thereafter. The size of the extrusion presses during the ensuing years kept increasing in tonnage, working toward a goal of creating a 50,000-ton press.
I will always remember the morning when I came into the kitchen where my father was preparing breakfast, almost bursting with joy. When I asked him what had happened, he said that during the night he figured out how to solve the last remaining problem in order to build the big press. He showed me a tiny scrap of paper on which he had noted his idea in the dark so as not to wake my mother. It consisted of two gears, some lines, and two arrows. The press was designed, the parts constructed and assembled, and the press completed in 1955.
What amazes me is that the press is still functioning to this day, although modernized over time, producing the airplane parts needed for the industry, and that it made possible the advent of the jet age. Loewy-Hydropress subsequently entered space age technology with designs for the first motion simulator for the Polaris Missile and the launch-pad for the Vanguard rocket. The company was sold to Baldwin Lima Hamilton in 1954 and Erwin remained as President and CEO of his division until his death on July 13, 1959, two months before he was scheduled to retire.
Two more important chapters remain. What is the basis of the Loewy Foundation and why is there now a Loewy Institute at Lehigh?
After the death of both Ludwig and Erwin, six of their remaining brothers and sisters decided that they wanted to honor the significant achievements of Ludwig and Erwin in the field of engineering in the 20th century and the values they stood for by leaving their combined estates to a Foundation that would support philanthropy in the areas of innovation, education, public service, etc. It came into existence with the death of Erna Loewy in 1986. My late husband, Andrew, became the first President of the Foundation , (with me as a silent partner), and they began to look for a university that would welcome an endowed chair. The board approached many of the major engineering schools such as MIT, Harvard, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, etc., and no one was interested.
One day, the family accountant, who was a member of the Board, was telling his daughter, Karen Pantleon, a Lehigh alumna, about the situation, and she suggested that we contact Peter Likins, who was most receptive to the idea. Christine Smith sent us a wonderful proposal, Betz Avizur was the first Professor to hold the Loewy Chair, and Wojtek Misiolek has been the captain of the ship that has led us to this day.
As I have previously indicated, there have been many people at Lehigh who have been instrumental in achieving this milestone, some of whom are here today. Names that come to mind are Steve Cutliffe and Gail Cooper, who helped organize a Loewy Exhibit that graced the entry hall of Whittaker for a time, which has been in storage for too long, and hopefully will be resurrected at some point.
Of great importance was the assistance of the librarians. When my father died, my mother dispatched me to his office to pack up his personal papers, and the cartons were stored in the basement of our summer home in Lake Placid for many years. After my mother’s death and the projected sale of that house, I was forced to confront those cartons and discovered the contents were historically far too important to discard, but I didn’t know what to do with them, so they went back into storage. Then came the day when our partnership with Lehigh began, and it solved my problem. The papers became a part of Special Collections, 30 boxes to be exact, first logged in by Mary Bolz and Phil Metzger, and currently shepherded by Lois Fischer Black and Ilhan Citak.
Most important of all have been the ladies in the Development Department who have all become dear friends. I already mentioned Christine Smith, then came Rochelle Goodman, and recently her successor Kathy Zimmerman, who is responsible for organizing this entire event. I am grateful to all of them, but particularly to Kathy for the fact that the dedication of the institute is taking place this year, two years before the Foundation has completed providing the grants, and I am still around for the celebration.
I would also like to acknowledge the efforts of my son-in-law, Scott Wyckoff, for creating the original design of the Foundation logo, and the group of design students who were inspired by it to create the logo for the Institute. It was to be a surprise for me, and it succeeded.
I have presented to you the essential historical story of two incredibly talented engineers who were driven out by persecution, were able to use their tremendous intellectual and technical gifts in the service of public good through national defense in wartime, and through radical innovation in peace time. The family established the foundation to honor them and their achievements.
In 1993, Peter Likins wrote me a personal letter before the Chair in Metals Forming was finalized, in which he expressed the hope that there would be opportunities in the future to celebrate a new and permanent union of our two great traditions. The creation of the Loewy Institute in Materials Forming is the culmination of that vision for partnership with Lehigh. It is my hope that it will continue to fulfill that mission for many years to come.