Edward J. Zagorski, FIDSA (1921-2021)

Jul 7 2021 - 10:05am


IDSA mourns the loss of Edward J. Zagorski, FIDSA from Cerro Gordo, IL. The author of Get Ten Eagles (2011) and a widely admired industrial design educator, Ed was inducted into IDSA's Academy of Fellows in 1979 and received the IDSA Education Award in 1989. Ed passed away on January 10, 2021 at age 99 ¼.

Writes Ed's longtime friend, Jeffrey Breslow: "Ed would say that young children, when asked their age, would often tell you that they are 3 ½ or 5 ¾. Ed said that when you are over 90, you can start using fractions again. To say that Ed was extraordinary, would be an understatement. When Ed was born, the mold was broken." 

An Extraordinary Life 

Ed was born in the Bridgeport neighborhood in Chicago on September 20, 1921. From October 1942 to November 1945, Ed served as a U.S. Army Tech Sgt. in Australia, New Guinea, the Leyte and Luzon islands in the Philippines, and Okinawa, Japan.

In 1949, Ed graduated with honors from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with a degree in industrial design. He received a Master of Science degree from the University of Wisconsin and taught at the university from 1951 to 1956. In the spring of 1952, Ed introduced his freshman students to designing box kites. According to Jeffrey Breslow, this was "a first for the university and shocked the administration, but has since become a common exercise in basic design in schools across the nation." Ed was the head of the industrial design program at the University of Illinois from 1956 to 1988, when he retired and became Professor Emeritus. In 1980 he received an award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching from the University of Illinois.

Ed was president of Industrial Designers Education Association (IDEA) in 1963. In 1965, he became a Fulbright Scholar, lecturing for one year in New Zealand and becoming an Honorary Member of the Designers Institute of New Zealand (DINZ). He was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts to write a series of articles on basic design, and in 1985 appeared in an article in Smithsonian magazine on creativity in the classroom. In 1986 the University of Alberta, Canada awarded him the Distinguished Visiting Professor of the Endowment Fund for the Future “because of his contribution to the development of industrial design on this continent that has been far and wide since his appointment at the University of Illinois,"

Ed wrote many articles about innovation, including for IDSA's INNOVATION magazine. He also conducted workshops and lectured in New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Mexico, Poland, Russia, Italy, and the Netherlands. 

Making a Difference as an Educator (exercepts from an obituary written by Jeffrey Breslow):

Many know of Odysseus, but few know of Telemachus, Odysseus’ teacher, mentor and guide. Similarly, Steven Spielberg, André Watts, and Leonardo da Vinci need no introduction, but few could name the teachers who spent hours with them sharing the basics and fine points of their craft—along with unconditional, life-long friendship, and guidance. This tribute could have been written by any one of the thousands of students whose lives Ed touched over nearly half a century. With grace and humility, he continued to share his gifts, time, love for his art, and profound love for his students. This is a man who dined with the likes of Buckminster Fuller, but his greatest joy remained watching the fruits of his labor blossom, generation after generation. He gave his gift and talent to young people. What career, anywhere in the world, is more important than that?

If you or your children ever participated in the “Egg Drop Problem” in school, you were touched by the mind of Ed Zagorski. In 1963, inspired by John Glenn’s pioneering orbit of the earth, Ed devised a problem for his students which reflected the issues NASA had to solve in getting a man into orbit and safely returned to earth. The students had to design a “package” for a raw egg (the astronaut), which would be catapulted into the air (the launch) and safely returned to earth (the re-entry and splashdown), all while not damaging the egg. The tests of the students’ solutions, which were conducted with great fanfare using the reflecting pool outside Krannert Art Museum, caught the eye of Life magazine photographer Art Shea. This resulted in a three page spread in the April 12, 1963 issue of Life. Since then, the “Egg Drop Problem” has found its way down to high school, grade school, and even kindergarten students all over the country. 

Ed was a brilliant Industrial Designer who could have chosen a professional career in industry. The design and invention of many of the items and knowledge we encounter on a daily basis can be traced back to Ed Zagorski through the “family tree” of generations of his students who became teachers and designers. His unique mind will continue to have a broad and lasting influence on our culture for years to come.

On a personal note, this amazing man has been my mentor and best friend for the past 57 years. I’m now 77 and Ed was hoping for 100, and didn’t quite make it. What Zagorski did make though is a difference in the young lives of thousands of his students over a lifetime devoted to teaching. His students respected him, learned from him, and loved himm as I did, for all those wonderful years. Zagorski changed their lives for the better. That is what he was born to do, what he loved to do, and what he did do.

Ed is survived by his wife, Vivian Faulkner-King; three children, Susan Zagorski of Urbana, IL, David Zagorski of Chicago, IL, and Rebecca Zagorski of Portland, OR; three step-children; three step-grandchildren; five step-great-grandchildren; and brother, Richard E. Zagorski. Ed's parents, Albertus (George) Zagorski and Elizabeth Formella, as well as five brothers and two sisters, predeceased him. 

The Ed Zagorski Visitors Fund, established in Ed’s honor in 2010, has been used to bring visiting artists, designers, lecturers, and critics of national and international reputation to campus to lecture, conduct workshops, and critique student work within the College of Fine and Applied Arts at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Ed enjoyed meeting and interacting with many of these “Zagorski Visitors” over the past 10 years.

Memorial contributions may be made online to the Ed Zagorski Visitor’s Fund (336349) in the School of Art + Design at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign by visiting https://art.illinois.edu/index.php/givingChoose “other” and fill in the Fund name and number, or checks can be sent to University of Illinois Foundation, P.O. Box 734500, Chicago, IL 60673-4500 with the Fund name and number on the memo line.