In 1946, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) introduced the world to the “Eames Plywood Chair” with a show called New Furniture Designed by Charles Eames*. The exhibition featured a tumbling drum that arduously flipped the chairs around, demonstrating their extreme durability.
MoMA’s director of Industrial Design, Eliot Noyes, lauded the Eameses’ molded plywood furniture as “a compound of aesthetic brilliance and technical inventiveness.”
It is helpful to consider what Charles and Ray thought about this design. For a 1954 San Francisco Museum of Modern Art television program called Discovery, the Eameses created a film about the chair’s development. Here is an excerpt of the narration:
In a more or less standard situation like sitting for eating or writing, we found that certain relationship of support gives optimum comfort to a surprisingly large number of people. We found that comfort depended more on the perfect molding to the body shape than it did on the way the bone structure was supported. And if the structure was supported properly, the hard and rigid material like molded plywood can provide a remarkably high degree of comfort. We limited the solution to a hard surface and concentrated on plywood. . . . We tried movement and found that if the back was allowed to move in relation to the seat, the latitude of comfort was greatly increased. First, the movement was mechanical. Then it developed into the idea of a rubber shocked mount and movable connection. In the design of any structure, it is often the connection that provides the key to the solution. The factor of movement also help to crystallize the idea of a chair in two pieces—the seat and a back. The two surfaces developed into petal-like form. Model, remodeled, test and re-test a hundred times. Contoured, repaired and lost it. Always checking the back and seat of many people. It seems practical to have a frame that would hold the two surfaces in relation to each other and in relation to the floor.
The complete text for this narration can be found in the book An Eames Anthology.
*Despite the title of the exhibition at MoMA, all Eames designs were made by Charles and Ray in equal collaboration. Charles had to clarify this point with considerable frequency, because such a partnership was considered inconceivable by most people from their generation.