Viktor Schreckengost

by Don Boudreaux on January 29, 2008

in Standard of Living

Ever hear of
Viktor Schreckengost?  I hadn’t heard of him until this morning when I read his obituary in the Washington Post.  Mr. Schreckengost died recently, at the age of 101.

So why do I care?  Why should you care?

I care and you should care because Mr. Schreckengost likely has done more to make your life better and pleasant than has nearly any of the politicians you can name.  Measuring any one person’s contributions to a society whose essence is vast and on-going social cooperation is inherently difficult and often speculative.  Still, I’ll speculate.  I have a strong sense that the positive value of Viktor Schreckengost’s contributions to human well-being exceeds that of FDR, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, any Kennedy or Bush, Kofi Annan, Nancy Pelosi, Tip O’Neill — you name the political operative.

A good sense of Mr. Schreckengost’s contributions comes from the opening paragraph of the Post’s obit:

Viktor Schreckengost, 101, a celebrated industrial designer whose
products included mass-produced dinnerware, riding lawn mowers,
bicycles and coffins, and who revolutionized trucking by putting the
cab over the engine, died Jan. 26 at his condominium in Tallahassee.

Read the entire obit to learn more fully just how much this man has contributed.

His mass-produced dinnerware is especially interesting.  Here’s more from the obit:

Mr. Schreckengost — whose name means "frightening guest" in German —
was born June 23, 1906, in Sebring, Ohio. He learned clay sculpting
from his father, a commercial potter, and said his parents expected
their children to make their own toys…..

In the early 1930s, he was hired by American Limoges to design what is
widely believed to be the first modern mass-produced dinnerware. Its
patterns had a Manhattan theme and became ubiquitous in homes of that

So Mr Schreckengost contributed in a major way to a commercial enterprise that was in competition with his father’s profession.  With the advent of mass-produced dinnerware — designed, by the way, by a man whose work was sought after by the likes of Eleanor Roosevelt — millions of ordinary families could acquire higher-quality or lower-cost dinnerware from large-scale producers.  Surely this development wasn’t good for the business of most commercial potters.  But it was good for ordinary people.

So rest in peace, Mr. Schreckengost.  I salute you.  I salute your creativity, your work, your life.  Even though I, like most people, had never before heard of you, know that I am happy not only to have learned of you but, perhaps ironically, also to live in a society that encourages creative people such as yourself to work for my betterment without my having to grovel before you, to enslave you, or even to pay you the kind of modest homage that I offer here.

UPDATE: Steve Horwitz has these important reflections on Mr. Schreckengost over at The Austrian Economists.


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