75 Years Young: Eames Molded Plywood Development, Part One Posted January 18, 2021 by Daniel Ostroff

We celebrate the Eames Molded Plywood Chairs, first introduced in 1946, 75 years ago this year, for versatility, the economy of form, comfort, and the honest and practical use of a humble, low-cost material. For Charles and Ray Eames, the process of developing this design was evolutionary, and it began with schoolhouse chairs.

In 1938, architects Eliel and Eero Saarinen were chosen to collaborate on The Crow Island School, a new institution to be built in Winnetka, Illinois. They asked Charles Eames, who was then running the Industrial Design Department at Eliel’s Cranbrook Academy, to co-design the seating with Eero.

Charles and Eero devised a stand-alone chair, that came in two sizes for the younger kids, and a floor-mounted chair with an attached desk for the older students. The stand-alone chairs were paired with a matching desk, with dowel legs, just like the chair. 

The seats of all three were made of molded plywood, shaped the only way plywood could be molded at that time, in a linear fashion. The plywood at the top of the chairs curve gently back and the seats are formed by a curve that bends up at approximately a 90-degree angle. All of the curvature is done along the length of the plywood from which the chair is formed.

Photos of chair and desk courtesy of Wright20.com

The Crow Island school has long been celebrated as one of the earliest examples of the “International Style” of architecture built in America. Its well-designed environment reflects the child-centered philosophy that is the core of the Winnetka educational experience.

Photo by Albert Herring.

You can read more about the school at their own website.

The U.S. Department of The Interior designated The Crow Island School as a National Historic Landmark in 1990. We mark it as a landmark along the path that led to the Eames design which was celebrated by Time Magazine as the single greatest design of the twentieth century.

Here’s a page from the July 1946 issue of House & Garden magazine showing Charles and Ray with their first molded plywood chairs.  Stay tuned for additional blogs on other stages towards this development.

Read part two of this molded plywood development series and check back for future installments soon.