Northup, Amos

Carroll Gantz
Birth/Death Age: 
Amos Northup

US automotive designer born in Bellevue, Ohio, and attended Cleveland Polytechnic Institute, where he studied design. He formally began his career in 1908 as a furniture and interior designer. In 1918, he joined Pierce Arrow as the company's truck designer, and soon was designing colors and interior trim for passenger cars. He left Pierce Arrow in 1921 and opened a private studio in Buffalo, New York, doing custom car designs for Pierce-Arrow, Leon Rubay, and Wills Sainte Claire. In 1927, he was hired as chief designer by Murray Corporation of America, Detroit's second-largest independent auto body manufacturer and had a hand in designing the 1928 Hupmobile. In 1928 he joined Willys-Overland in Toledo, Ohio. He designed the stylish 1930 Willys "Plaidside Roadster" and re-styled Willys's low-priced 1930 Whippet line. In 1929 he returned to Murray, where he designed the 1930 Hudson, several Hupmobiles, 1933 Willys , and the entire Willys-Overland line through 1938. Northup was not as flamboyant or extroverted as Harley Earl, or as handsome as Ray Dietrich, as he was somewhat academic-looking and quiet. But his influence on car design was just as great. Two production standouts of Northup's career were the 1931 Reo Royale and the 1932 Graham Blue Streak. The Royale started the trend for streamlining in the early 1930s, by replacing sharp angles with flowing lines. The Blue Streak blended all body surfaces into a unified, organic shape. Its unique feature was the valenced or skirted front fenders, the first to enclose and hide the "spatter zones" under all previous fenders. By 1934, there was not one US car without front, and sometimes, rear fender skirts. This car looked as different from other cars in 1932 as the Ford Taurus did in 1986. Another Northup triumph was his development of the "sharknose" hood design he patented in 1935, and which was used after his death on the 1938 Graham, and which strongly influenced the 1937 Willys "windswept" design. This creative design concept was copied by most manufacturers in the late 1930s, including the 1936 Lincoln Zephyr, 1939 Studebaker, Plymouth, Chrysler, and Ford. Northup died as a result of slipping on an icy sidewalk and fatally cracking his skull. His designs were a powerful industry influence of car design in the 1930s, as styling dramatically changed the appearance of all US cars.

100 Years of Design consists of excerpts from a book by Carroll M. Gantz, FIDSA, entitled, Design Chronicles: Significant Mass-produced Designs of the 20th Century, published August 2005 by Schiffer Publications, Ltd.
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