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Otto Kuhler


Otto Kuhler (July 31, 1894 – August 5, 1977) was born in Remscheid, Germany, near the town of Essen.  He immigrated to the United States in 1923 and became one of the best-known industrial designers of American railroads.

As a youth, Kuhler showed a conspicuous drawing talent, and at age 19, he was commissioned to illustrate a catalog of steam loco-mobiles.  After emigration to the US, he worked as a commercial artist in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where his designs centered on industrial landscapes, steelworks, and locomotives.

In 1931, Kuhler was assigned to the advertising department at American Locomotive Company (ALCO).  He became world-famous for his streamlining design of the Hiawatha passenger train locomotives operated by the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad between Chicago and destinations in the Midwest and Western United States.  

The trains were known by Kuhler’s colored embellishments -- including the napkins and draperies used in the dining cars. The Hiawatha trains became the fastest passenger service in the world by 1935. Kuhler also styled ALCO’s first true production diesel, the DL-109’s, incorporating into his characteristic cab the trademark three-piece windshield design. 

In the late 1940s, Kuhler left ALCO and took up painting.  He found beauty in industrial scenes ranging from mines and factories to railroads, and he painted them with intricate attention to detail and accuracy.   His paintings can be seen in many American museums.  A wonderful example of his skill is illustrated by “Thunder on Horseshoe Curve”, pictured below --- a powerful composition depicting two Pennsylvania Railroad engines, belching smoke, pulling their cars up the steep Allegheny Front in Southwestern Pennsylvania.

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