Herman Miller History: The Story of the Herman Miller Company

Who Is Herman Miller? The Herman Miller Story

If you work in any type of office setting, then you may have heard of the name Herman Miller. Sound familiar? You're probably sitting in one of his chairs right now. If you're not, then you should be. Herman Miller has been the leading ergonomic office chair manufacturer since the 1990s. For over twenty years, no other office chair manufacturer has been able to top the Herman Miller design.

But how did this happen? How could one company create the perfect chair like the Herman Miller Aeron? You're right, that's a loaded statement. Ok, if not the perfect chair, it's obviously the best chair on the market. Like a lot of products, the Herman Miller Aeron chair did not become the best selling office chair overnight. The Herman Miller company spent decades perfecting their craft.

Where is Herman Miller From? The Star Furniture Company's Beginnings

Although the stars may have aligned for the Herman Miller company, it all seemed to be by chance. The man himself, Herman Miller, had no intention of creating office furniture. In fact, the history of the Herman Miller company doesn't even begin with Herman Miller.

Are you familiar with Zeeland, Michigan? If you are, that is oddly surprising. The 2010 census counted Zeeland's population at 5,504. Picture a small town sitting not too far from Lake Michigan, close to Canada, the weather is cool, and the influences of Canadian culture are prevalent. The streets, although paved, are tightly compacted and reminiscent of a time before the Baby Boomers and Millennials.

Now take away the paved roads and the prevalence of Canadian culture. Take away the modern shops that line the streets of downtown Zeeland. Look at all of the people you see passing by in contemporary clothing and imagine them in early 1900s garb. You are now in Zeeland Michigan, 1905. A smaller population resides here and just across the lake in the city of Chicago, like the rest of the United States, race relations are volatile. The Russo-Japanese War was raging and the Portsmouth treaty had not yet been signed.

In this small corner of the world, in the small town of Zeeland, The Star Furniture Company opened for business. Star Furniture Company specialized in the creation of high-quality bedroom suites. Star Furniture Company was renamed Michigan Star Furniture Company four years later in 1909. That same year, Dirk Jan (D. J.) De Pree began working for Michigan Star Company as a clerk.

Herman Miller History: How The Herman Miller Company Began

D. J. De Pree began working for Star Furniture Company at the age of 18. Ten years later, in 1919, De Pree had climbed up the ranks and became the president of Michigan Star Furniture Company. Soon after assuming his role as president, De Pree approached his father-in-law with a business proposition.

In 1923, De Pree convinced his father-in-law, Herman Miller, to buy most of Michigan Star Company's shares. After the transaction, Michigan Star Company was renamed Herman Miller Furniture Company. De Pree was the company's first president.

Like Clockwork: The Herman Miller Brand

Although Herman Miller is a big name, the average person most likely knows nothing about the Herman Miller company. Those who at least know of the name may only know of the office furniture. What most people don't know is that in 1927, De Pree founded the Herman Miller Clock Company.

The Herman Miller Clock company created traditionally designed clocks. Later on, the company incorporated Gilbert Rhode designs to their production, giving their customers more variety. Their versatility and willingness to adapt to different markets had gained Herman Miller its popularity.

The Herman Miller Company's ability to adapt was not by choice, however. Like many companies in the 1930s, Herman Miller suffered grave financial losses due to the Great Depression. It was one of the Herman Miller showrooms where Rhode approached De Pree and suggested a shift in production. Rhode convinced De Pree to create furniture that people actually needed, rather than the traditional furniture that Herman Miller was known for.

Convinced that this shift in production could improve Herman Miller's sales, De Pree and Rhode teamed up. They worked diligently to create a new line of furniture, and, in 1933, Herman Miller presented its Rhode-designed furniture in Chicago.

Office Hours: Modern Furniture and Furniture Design

With Rhodes designing new furniture for De Pree, the company found its newest niche in industrial design. One of the first designs that Rhodes created for Herman Miller was the Executive Office Group. This signified the company's new production direction, which was office furniture. As a result of the Great Depression, De Pree decided to target big companies as his primary customer.

The switch proved to be beneficial. After switching from home furniture to office furniture, De Pree noticed that Herman Miller was doing well. Sales had increased and the company was able to stay afloat despite the Depression.

Tragedy struck however in 1944 when Rhode died leaving De Pree and the Herman Miller company without a design leader. De Pree knew how crucial it was for him to have a new lead design leader, so he immediately searched for new talent.

In the following year, De Pree read an article in Life magazine about George Nelson. Nelson's Storagewall design prompted De Pree to hire him as Herman Miller's first design director.

The Nelson Office: Creating Modern Design with the Eames Chair and Eames Lounge Chair

While working for Herman Miller, The Nelson Office completely changed the company's corporate image. One way of changing the company's corporate image was by creating the new Herman Miller logo, the "m" logo that we see today.

Nelson designed the Nelson platform bench and other iconic pieces of furniture. After Charles and Ray Eames introduced their molded plywood furniture, De Pree and Nelson decided to recruit the Eames. From there, the Eames' works were molded in the Herman Miller fashion creating the famous Eames chair and Eames lounge chair which comes with an ottoman.

The plywood products of The Nelson Office gained such popularity that they won prestigious awards. Herman Miller then gained market and distribution rights, which allowed the company to grow and secure their place in the office furniture market.

The Nelson Office also designed and created a bound, hardcover Herman Miller catalog in 1948. The catalog went on to become a collector's item, being the first furniture catalog to be sold instead of distributed for free. The fact that a furniture catalog could sell for any amount of money speaks volumes to the weight that Herman Miller continues to hold.

De Pree and Herman Miller were able to monopolize the office furniture industry with relative ease. The molded plywood manufacturing plant that was based in Grand Haven, Michigan, was relocated to a Herman Miller facility. This ensured the Herman Miller company complete control over the sale and production of molded plywood furniture. The company's monopolization did not end in Michigan, however. Nearing the end of the 1940s, Herman Miller opened a place in Venice, California, expanding the brand from the mid-west to the west coast.

Miller In The Mid 20th Century: Contemporary Design

Do you know what a Scanlon plan is? It would not be surprising if you were to reply with no. A Scanlon plan is a profit-sharing program. Employees are rewarded with a certain amount of money that has been established prior to the plan's implementation. It's a competitive system based on rewards. De Pree worked with Dr. Carl Frost in order to establish this plan within the company. Dr. Frost had a long-lasting relationship with Herman Miller as a result of this collaboration. Frost helped guide the company in its endeavors for years to come.

Herman Miller experienced a high volume of production in the 1950s. Both The Nelson Office and Charles and Ray Eames created modern, innovative pieces of furniture that revolutionized the market. Some of their designs were so interesting, like the Eames molded plywood coffee table, which was discontinued, but then put back on the market in 1994, is still sold today at costs upwards of $1,000.

At this time, Herman Miller is winning awards across the globe, creating plants and showrooms all across the U.S., and is implementing the talents of colorist Alexander Girard and researcher Robert Propst. Collaborating with such talented individuals only enhanced their work and increased their monopolization of the office furniture market. As indicated with the coffee table mentioned in the previous paragraph, Herman Miller was able to revisit the production of home furniture. In addition to coffee tables, the Herman Miller company created home lounge chairs, various types of tables, and storage units for the home.

Herman Miller's Expansion

Following the success that the company experienced in the 1950s, Herman Miller vastly expanded. In 1960, the company became known as Herman Miller, Inc. Additionally, the Herman Miller Research Division opened in Michigan, and was run by Robert Propst.

The Herman Miller Textile and Objects shop opened in New York in 1961. Although the shop closed only six years later, this serves as another testament to the power of the Herman Miller company.

In 1962, D. J. De Pree became Chairman of the Board. De Pree's son, Hugh De Pree became the new president of Herman Miller, Inc. The same year, the Eames tandem sling seating was introduced. The O'Hare Airport in Chicago installed these chairs in their facility, and now these chairs are used in various airports still today.

Nelson, Eames, and Propts created unique furniture that revolutionized the furniture market and afforded Herman Miller, Inc. to stake its claim in the future of home and office furniture. Herman Miller, Inc. had gained such popularity by this time that the company had dealers in Africa, Central and South America, Japan, and many more.

Herman Miller continued to live up to its name throughout the 60s. Nelson, the Eames brothers, and Propst worked diligently to create the next better piece of office furniture, and/or office layout. Nelson and Propst then introduced AO.

AO stands for Action Office. The Action Office system was created by Nelson and Propst, and introduced by Herman Miller in 1968. The AO was the first open floor plan office setting. This type of office setting is much more common nowadays. Had it not been for Herman Miller, the open floor plan might not have ever been created, or it might have been created decades later.

Herman Miller: Designer Office Furniture

In 1969, D. J. De Pree stepped down as Chairman of the Board and passed the title along to his son, Hugh De Pree. Hugh De Pree followed in father's footsteps, maintaining Herman Miller's name at the forefront of office and home furniture. Over the past 50 years, Herman Miller, Inc. has remained the leading company in its field. With its Herman Miller Aeron chair, Ergon Chair, Equa chair, and Sayl chair, the company has been the leading manufacturer in office chair ergonomics for over 20 years.

Think back to the beginning of this article. Honestly, had you ever really heard of the name Herman Miller? Maybe you had, maybe you hadn't. Either way, did you know that the actual man, Herman Miller, himself had almost nothing to do with the company? Without D. J. De Pree, however, the name Herman Miller would not be as prominent as it is today.

D. J. De Pree, the man behind the name Herman Miller, died in 1993. He left behind a legacy and one of the longest-lasting companies in recent history. Over the past few decades, we've seen companies rise and fall; some falling at the turn of the century, and others falling shortly thereafter. Herman Miller, Inc. however, still remains. Their versatility and ability to adapt to the times have secured the company's survival.

Modern Design For a Newer Market

With a name like Herman Miller, you know the furniture is going to be high quality. This means that not everyone will have the opportunity to experience the comfort and luxury of a Herman Miller chair, or other pieces of furniture with their name. Today, however, Beverly Hills Chairs offers used Herman Miller Chairs, as well as other brands of ergonomic office chairs, standing desks, and Herman Miller Chair replacement parts at discounted prices. Beverly Hills Chairs does its part to provide many more customers with the privilege of owning their own Herman Miller office chair.

Now that you know the history behind Herman Miller, you can be confident in deciding to buy their product. And since you now know where to find Herman Miller chairs at affordable rates, you'll be more inclined to buy your new office chair from Beverly Hills Chairs.


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