Headquarters: Zeeland, Michigan. West Michigan Factories: Zeeland, Holland, Grandville, and Spring Lake. COMPANY HISTORY
1923: Michigan Star Furniture Co. changes ownership and name to Herman Miller Furniture Co.
1957: Herman Miller begins sales in Europe.
1960: Company incorporates and changes its name to Herman Miller, Inc.
1970: First offering of company stock to the general public.
1976: Star Industries, later called Integrated Metal Technology, becomes a wholly owned Herman Miller subsidiary.
1979 – 1986: Company operates training program for corporations, know as the Facility Management Institute.
1982: Tradex, Inc. becomes a Herman Miller Co. and changes its name to Phoenix Designs; Herman Miller acquires Vaughan Walls, Inc.
1983: Herman Miller acquires Miltech.
1985: Company’s Health Science Division becomes a wholly owned subsidiary known as Milcare.
1986: Herman Miller purchases Helikon Furniture Co. of Connecticut; Milcare acquires Fairfield Medical Products.
1990: Herman Miller acquires Meridian, Inc. of Spring Lake, Michigan.
1992: Company begins Powder Coat Technology subsidiary in Spring Lake; Miltech dissolves and merges into Herman Miller.
1994: Herman Miller acquires Righetti of Mexico.
The company was named for its first major shareholder and president, Herman Miller. His son-in-law, D.J DePree, who had been president of the Michigan Star Furniture Co. before it changed ownership, became general manager. In 1950 he changed the company’s management by adopting the Scanlon Plan, still an important part of Herman Miller’s corporate culture. DePree remained the primary corporate leader of the company until 1962, when he was succeeded by Hugh DePree, who served as president and CEO until 1980. Hugh took over the job of chairman of the board from D.J. in 1969, and was succeeded in that position by Max DePree in 1971. He served as CEO from 1980 until 1987, and president from 1982 until 1986. Glenn Walters became the first non-family member to serve as president from 1980 until 1982. Another non-family member, Ed Simon, served as president and chief operating officer from 1986 until 1990. Richard Ruch became CEO in 1987 and president in 1990. In 1992 Kerm Campbell became the company’s 5th CEO and president, and the first from outside the company to assume those positions. In 1995 Mike Volkema became CEO and president.
Grand Rapids free-lance designers Edgar Somes and Aurelio Bevelaqua created many of the Herman Miller Furniture Co.’s period revival residential designs in the 1920s. In 1931, New York designer Gilbert Rohde visited Herman Miller’s Grand Rapids showroom, and sold D.J. DePree on the idea of switching the company’s design emphasis to Modernism. DePree agreed to this gamble of fear that the company would fail during the Depression without a new and compelling reason for it to thrive. Rohde became the company’s design leader until his death in 1944.
Rohde’s Modern design leadership was succeeded by George Nelson in 1945. Nelson remained a key design consultant for the company until his death in 1986. In 1958 Nelson served as principal architect for the first phase of the company’s headquarters and factories, in Zeeland, Michigan. Charles and Ray Eames began to create designs for Herman Miller in 1946, and continued their relationship with the company until their deaths (in 1978 and 1988, respectively). In 1985, 2,000 designers from around the world named Charles Eames the most influential designer of the 20th century.
Alexander Girard directed the company’s use of colors and textiles from 1950 into the 1970s. In 1952 he was made head of the newly formed Herman Miller Textile Division. Robert Propst was hired in 1960 to head the Herman Miller Research Division, which later became the Herman Miller Research Corporation. In 1961 he began scientific studies of human performance in the office environment. PRODUCTS
The Michigan Star Furniture Co. made “Princess dressers” and other bedroom pieces, which were sold by Sears, Roebuck & Co. and other retailers. The Herman Miller Furniture Co.’s first products were ornate, wooden, period revival bedroom suites for the home. After seeing an exhibition of French Modern furniture, DePree was inspired to produce his own version in 1927. Herman Miller’s Art Deco-style “Modern French” furniture was made from Honduran mahogany and sequoia burl with ivory inlay. Herman Miller’s Modern furniture by Rohde debuted at the Chicago Century of Progress exhibition in 1933. Rohde’s residential designs included modular seating, and a number of lines of bedroom furniture in mahogany, walnut, birch, steel, and glass. By 1945 all traditional designs had been phased out of production.
By 1939 Rohde had begun to turn his attention to designing modern furniture for offices that matched the architecture of modern office buildings. In 1942 the company introduced its first office furniture, the modular Executive Office Group system, or EOG. The EOG utilized a minimum of components, which could be configured in a variety of ways to create individualize workstations. The EOG was updated a number of times by George Nelson, and remained in production until 1978.
George Nelson’s “Comprehensive Storage System” was produced between 1959 and 1973. This system hung various storage, surface, and lighting components from metal floor-to-ceiling uprights. He designed numerous lines of residential and office systems and seating for the company from the 1940s through the 1970s. Several of his seating designs, including the “Coconut Chair” (1955 – 1978) and the “Marshmallow Sofa” (1956 – 1965) are now considered pop culture classics.
In 1946 Charles and Ray Eames designed the award-winning molded plywood chairs, sometimes know by their nickname “potato chip chairs,” for affordability and mass production. Manufacture of these chairs was done by Evans Manufacturing until 1949, when Herman Miller assumed production. In 1950 they began to produce Eames’s molded fiberglass chair designs. In 1956 the leather and molded veneer “Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman” were introduced live, on national television. The first of a number of seating lines designed by Eames and using tension-stretched fabrics on aluminum frames debuted in 1958.
Sculptor Isamu Noguchi designed his famous wood and glass-topped coffee table for Herman Miller in 1947. Verner Panton’s “Cantilever Chair,” which was molded as one continuous form of plastic, was introduced in 1967 and sold until 1975. The Poul Kjaerholm Group, which was produced in Denmark from 1955 – 1965, was made and sold in the U.S. as a Herman Miller product between 1973 and 1977. Many of Herman Miller’s classic modern designs from the 1940s through the 1960s were reintroduced in 1994 as the “Herman Miller for the Home’ collection.
In 1964 the company began production of a group of freestanding units supported by cast aluminum legs and frames, which was called “Action Office I.” AOI was developed based on ergonomic studies by Robert Propst and George Nelson at the Herman Miller Research Corporation. In 1968 “Action Office II” was launched, by hanging work surfaces, storage compartments, and other components from open plan panels. AOII and the panel-based system revolutionized the office furniture industry. AOI was discontinued in 1970. In 1976 acoustical conditioners were added to the line, to create “white noise” or the sound of rolling surf in the office environment. A revision called AOIII was introduced in 1991.
The 1984 “Ethospace Interiors,” designed by Bill Stumpf and Jack Kelley, was based on tiles of fabric, wood, laminate, window glass, bulletin board, and other materials hung on frames, rather than panels. The 1990 “Relay” office furniture system of Geoff Hollington was designed for use by people who work together in groups.
The “Coherent Structures,” or “Co/Struc System,” also developed based on Propst’s research, was first marketed in 1971 for use in hospitals and other health and science settings. Co/Struc was replaced as the company’s health and science product by Action Environments in 1981.
A modular seating group know as "Chadwick Seating" was designed by Don Chadwick and introduced in 1974. Based on five different forms of upholstered foam seating, Chadwick Seating could be configured in nearly any free-flowing, continurous shape. In 1976 Herman Miller began production of William Stumpf's Ergon Chair for use in offices. The company's next generationof ergonomically designed chairs came with the "Equa Chair" in 1984. The "Aeron Chair," introduced in 1994, was produced in multiple sizes to fit the demographics of office workers.
In 1989 a consortium of fourteen American Museums was formed to receive more than five hundred pieces of Herman Miller furniture. Principal recipients were the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan (which also received a large archival collection), The Grand Rapids Public Museum, and the Grand Rapids Art Museum. Herman Miller, Inc. continues to maintain an extensive photo and archive collection at its headquarters in Zeeland. The Design of Herman Miller, written in 1976 by Ralph Caplan, is an excellent source of information on Herman Miller products and designers. Numerous books, articles, and exhibition catalogs have been published about the designs of Herman Miller and its well-known designers. MARKS and LABELS
According to an article in the May 24, 1994 issue of Herman Miller’s newsletter Connections, the company adopted its first corporate logo in 1923, when the name changed from Michigan Star to Herman Miller. It featured a circle surrounding the monogram “HMFCo” written in script, with the “M” centered and about twice the size of the other letters. The name “The Herman Miller Furniture Company” was printed on the right side of the logo, and both were place between horizontal lines.
In 1936 the logo changed to all upper-case letters with the words “HERMAN MILLER” printed above and twice as large as ”FURNITURE COMPANY” below. Irving Harper, under the direction of George Nelson, conceived the current stylized capital “M” trademark, which looks like two sloping triangles, in 1946. Nelson also initiated the use of the company’s distinctive “Herman Miller red.”
The source, with permission of the author, is Grand Rapids Furniture: The Story of America’s Furniture City by Christian G. Carron, published by the Grand Rapids Public Museum. 1998.