Alex Steinweiss The First Album Cover Designer and the Father of the Album Cover
Alex Steinweiss revolutionized how vinyl records were packaged and marketed to the public. His genre-defining work in the visual expression of music transformed both the graphic design and the record industries
Until the end of the 1930s records were sold in plain brown packaging which served only to inhibit scratches and other damage to the record. Then a 23 year old graphic designer working as the Art Director at Columbia Records revolutionized the record industry by creating the illustrated album package. This 23 year old was Alex Steinweiss, and his concept was to put a visual image on the record packaging that would advertise the musicians and the musical content of the record. His idea was a huge success, increasing record sales significantly and spawning an entire new field of illustration and graphic design called “Album Cover Art”.
Steinweiss grew up in New York and started his graphic arts training in high school. After graduating from the Parsons School of Design, a world famous art college in New York, Steinweiss worked for the famous poster designer, Joseph Binder. He left his work with Binder to become the Art Director at Columbia Records. And then he conceived what was destined to become the modern day album cover.
Steinweiss was the first king of this new genre of graphic designed now know as Album Cover Design., and over his long and successful career, Steinweiss created iconic album covers for many of the great musicians of his time, including Bing Crosby, Bela Bartok, Count Basie Louis Armstrong, Leonard Bernstein, Benny Goodman, Kate Smith, Duke Ellington, and Igor Stravinsky.
Steinweiss not only invented the graphic art of album cover design, but he also developed and perfected many of its early techniques and style. Steinweiss had his own unique approach, much of which resulted from his own translation of the skills that he learned as a poster designer. He fused lively typography with dazzling illustrations, and vibrant color schemes to give each album cover its own unique character. He also became noted for his signature font, the “Steinweiss Scrawl,” which first appeared on his album cover designs in the late 1940s. Later in his career, Steinweiss also introduced photography, die cuts and collage to album cover design.
Steinweiss retired to Sarasota, Florida in the mid 1970s, although he still did some design work on the side including some book covers, CD covers, liquor bottles, and posters. Steinweiss died on July 17, 2011. At the time of his death, Steinweiss was 94 years old.
Alex Steinweiss and his contributions to the graphic arts field of album cover art and the record industry are now legendary. Imagine a world in which vinyl records (and CDs) were still being sold in plain brown packages. I think it would be a world a little less beautiful. Fortunately, because of Alex Steinweiss our world is a little more beautiful with a very special form of art – Album Cover Art.
Some Album Covers Designed By Alex Steinweiss