Story of the Week

Posted: 11.30.2016
Marie Luhring: First female truck designer
By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images courtesy of the National Automotive History Collection

 

As an automotive researcher for many years, I have tried to find automotive material regarding some of the early women pioneers that were part of our automotive and industrial design history.

I knew about the late Margaret E. Knight, an engineer who helped design the K-D automobile in Brookline, Mass., which was later constructed by the Coach-Builder Company, Moore & Munger.

I also knew about Ms. Helen Dryden, who helped design many great looking early Studebaker models during the late 1930s-1940s; there is also Betty Thatcher Oros who had joined Hudson and later the popular “Damsels of Design” who were all hired by the great Harley Earl for General Motors during the early 1950s.

Recently, however, quite by accident, I discovered another major milestone that should be added to the timeline of those early female industrial designers. 

During the 1920s, a young lady by the name of Marie Luhring made history by becoming the first female truck designer and distinguishing herself as one of the top designers in the country.

 

 

Luhring’s story began after she had graduated from Hunter High School in New York where she studied interior decorating, however it was architecture drawing that she loved most of all. Later on life, it is a passion that would assist in her advancement in the world of creativity and industrial design. 

Her first assignment was with the Sage Foundation Homes Company at Forest Hills. Later, her career veered into the world of animation and cartoon illustrations with the International Film Company for several months. Luhring was eventually noticed by Mr. Edward Hewitt, and Hewiit suggested that she look into the Cooper Union Drawing School. Luhring did in fact attend the prestigious school and graduated with very high honors in architecture and mechanical drawing. 

Luhring said of her time at school, “I graduated with the highest honors and all the rest were men.” 

 

 

Later one particular college instructor at the Cooper Union school had suggested that she become a member of the Society of Automotive Engineers and on a historical note, Ms. Luhring was the first female in American history that was offered this prestigious recommendation. Unfortunately some of the men at the Cooper Union school along with some of the members at the Society of Automotive Engineers had objected to a female becoming a part of this popular and prestigious organization. 

Luhring was later offered a position with the Mack Truck Company as a designer during the early 1920s. Once again, Luhring was met with opposition as she continued to make her way in a very male-dominated field. Most of the men at the Mack Truck Company felt that she was in a man’s world and Mack trucks should be designed by men only. 

 

 

As her great career would continue, however, Luring became a very successful designer at the Mack Truck Company. She designed many truck parts along with bus and engine parts as well. She felt the greatest achievement whenever a finish product was completed. 

Luhring once stated “…this work requires a great deal of patience. I’m not inclined to be talkative, that’s why I got into it. A certain amount of work was given to me, and I worked it out.” 

Luhring never expected nor desired special treatment at Mack Trucks, she worked faithfully and was very happy at what she did. Her creative ideas were very well received within the Mack Truck establishment. 

 

 

As a young woman, Luhring was able to open the door for other women interested in automotive and/or industrial design work. Many have said she had become a passionate and creative designer who became an important part of the industrial design community. 

Today, Luring is a part of our automotive heritage and culture, history, that many generations will always remember. In 1939, Luhring had passed away and today she leaves behind a great legacy for people everywhere.


A special thanks to Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher, for contributing this story to the MotorCities Story of the Week Program. 

For further information on photos please visit http://www.detroitpubliclibrary.org/ or email nahc@detroitpubliclibrary.org. Please do not republish the story and/or photographs without permission of MotorCities National Heritage Area. (Bibliography: Sabine, Lillian. “She Designs Trucks the story of Marie Luhring of Mack.” Motor show Annual 1930. Pg. 103.)

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