I want you to meet one of the most influential people in my life: Professor Ed Zagorski.

And not just my life... thousands of others like me have been inspired by this man. He taught Industrial Design between 1951 and 1988. He was - and is - affectionately known as "Zigs."

September 20, 2011 is Ed's birthday. He is 90 years old!

Ed grew up in Chicago. I found out much later, was a contemporary of my father. They knew some of the same people but not each other. Ed served 38 months in Army Signal Corps in the South Pacific in WW2. When he came home, he entered college and graduated with a degree in Industrial Design from the U of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana.

Professor Ed Zagorski was the head of the Industrial Design Department at the U of I when I met him in 1962. I wanted to design little vehicles with wings and wheels. Ed said, "Great!" and invited me into Industrial Design. My life immediately took the biggest, most important turn of my 20 year existence.
Who was this man?

Even tho he was my father's age, Ed Zagorski seemed like he might be younger than me. He had never really grown up. Zigs had - and still has at 90 years old - a naive, almost childish way about him.

As our teacher, Zigs was there to encourage us. I cannot recall him ever telling a student that a design would probably not work. For all Zigs knew... It just might work. Failure in a project would only come from a lack of effort or lack of craftsmanship. As we moved through the ID program, we always thought we were designing for Ed. He always cared, too. To be a designer for Ed was to be somebody special.

Let me share a quick Zig's story. In 1962, John Glenn and Wally Schirra were being launched into space and splashing down into the ocean. I was an ID student working as the "Shop Assistant." in the ID room. Ed asked me if I could design and make some kind of catapult that would launch raw eggs into space to splash down in the pool at the front of the ID building.

The eggs would be astronauts. The pool was the ocean. We would design the protective environment for them. I made the launcher.

We loved Ed for projects like this.

He inspired us

Pontiac leaf spring Launch Vehicle

Launch Day in March 1963, captured everyone's fancy, including a reporter from Life Magazine.

Eventually, we would graduate and have to leave Ed and his wonderful world of Industrial Design. Some of us (me, especially) were worried that work in the "Real World" might not live up to our dreams and expectations. Would our employers make us grow up? How could that be a good thing?

One night in 1966, three graduating ID students and myself wrote a letter on a big piece of brown wrapping paper (4 foot long, actually) and sent it to Mattel. With big felt pens, we explained that Ed Zagorski had been our instructor and mentor... that we were special designers... not corrupted by the real world... and that Mattel ought to hire us and protect us so we could continue to be special designers.

Mattel did not respond.

(I almost cannot believe that we did that.)

Me, brother, Bruce, Jim Voorheis and Jim Miller - all students of Ed Zagorski
The fact is, Ed's Industrial Design schooling had equipped us with the basic disciplines we needed to... well, do anything we wanted. And what I wanted was to design things for my motorcycle that would make it better transportation, which is exactly what I did. Which brings us to the point:

Everything on this web site happened because of my mentor, instructor and friend, Ed Zagorski.

Without Zigs, there would have been nothing on this web page.

Happy Birthday, Ed

My hero, Ed Zagorski

One man can change the world.

Saturday evening, Sept. 24, 2011 Zigs threw a party for us at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana
People I had not seen in years showed up. Jeff Breslow was our MC.

Dale Fahnstrom
Frank Gallo and Jeff Breslow
Joe Ballay
I got to talk about what this Great Man meant to us

( Text at bottom of this page)

And then Ed got his chance to tell his stories
For the first time that I can remember, Ed was pretty much speechless. Obviously, this was a major moment for him. It was a major moment for all of us.

But he finished upbeat and encouraging, asking us to mark our calendars for September 20, 2021 when he will be 100.

My calendar is marked. Next time, we will throw the party for him. Thank you, Professor Ed Zagorski. You changed our world..

These are the notes I read from that evening:

"I asked you for some of the things that might not have happened if Ed had not been your teacher:

You answered with the following:

“Knowing Ed is to know that anything is possible.”

“Ed showed me, mostly by example, how to think and live creatively, and how living creatively could be so much fun.”

“Ed’s easy going nature and sense of humor stands out for me. “ 

“I would never have gotten into teaching if it hadn't been for Ed's mentorship and encouragement.”

“Ed taught my professor, who in turn taught me…  who in turn is teaching a lot of folks at Northwestern (3 times removed). I just heard from a student who is becoming a teacher, meaning a fourth generation is learning from Ed. “

“The program I started at Northwestern University has been cited as one of the top 30 in the world. If not for Ed, none of this would have happened.

“Ed is the only guy I know who gets younger as he gets older.”

The last comment just might be the most important… and the secret of his success.

I came out of high school with dreams of: Things with wings, wheels and little engines. I went thru the AF Academy… Engineering, differential eqations… probation… Student Union display in 1962...Models of cars… scooters… It said Ed Zagorski – Industrial Design, Fine and Applied Arts Building. I headed straight to the Fine and Applied Arts Building.

I found Ed Zagorski showing students how to sketch transistor radios... turning white paper into what looked like Rosewood. This was not differential eqations…  This was Industrial Design. This was what I was made for.

I was 20… Ed was my father’s age - 41. But he was so much younger than my dad. He was younger than me. Dean Link let me into the ID program  - and my life changed forever. All those dreams I had?   Ed showed me how to do them. Here was a child… in a man’s body. In his eyes, everything had some kind of wonderful possibility beyond what was there. One day: “Here is a piece of wood to “feel” good" Another day he handed us some wire and little squares of glass and said:  “Make a structure”  Another day he brought in some weather balloons and said “Lets stretch this rubber over structures and put fiberglass on it…”

Zigs was teaching us how to: Imagine…  Create…. Fantasize… Ed was always encouraging…   always teaching us to see what possible… Ed would never tell you that your idea might not work… For all he knew… it might work.

He introduced me to Bucky Fuller… the Measurement of Man, the International Design Conference at Aspen, the IDSA... Ed Zagorski introduced me to everything I needed to fulfill my dreams. As a result, I was able to spend my life making little machines with wings, wheels, and little engines. Most important, I learned  - just like you - that I would not have to grow up either."

In Matthew 18:2-6. Jesus said:   “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven."

Ed Zagorski has his ticket to heaven.

Page posted Sept 20, 2011

Ed Zagorski's Birthday

Updated Oct 3, 2011