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The Herman Miller Story

The Herman Miller Story


Wendy Allen, marketing and communications at MJF Office


The MidWest furniture company that changed the way the world worked

Many people know a little about the design and ergonomics of Herman Miller furniture but not many know the story behind its inspirational growth and history. 

In 1923, a young businessman called DJ De Pree (Pictured in opening image), decided to name the company after his father in law, after he bought out what was originally known as the Michigan Star Furniture Company. That’s how Herman Miller Ltd. originates from Zeeland, Michegan in the American Midwest.

De Pree had been working at the company, founded in 1905, since 1909 as a desk clerk. It was with the help of his father in law, Herman Miller, who he considered to be an honorable businessman that he bought out the furniture company and named it after him.


Evolution of the company

 (1948 Advertisement)

Until 1930 the company only made wood furniture. 
However, threatened by financial ruin after the Great Depression, there was a need to expand the product range. Herman Miller hired an architect named Gilbert Rohde to create more modern furniture, which was revealed at the Century of Progress exposition in Chicago in 1933. 


A long line in design

(George Nelson)

In 1942, Rohde died and George Nelson took over as architect. For four decades Nelson made a huge impact, not only on the modern design of Herman Miller furniture but also with the designers he brought to Herman Miller, including Charles and Ray Eames, leading to the style of design in Herman Miller we see today.


Innovation and creation

By the middle of the 20th century many knew the Herman Miller company for its modern furniture. Designers, such as as Nelson, and Eames, produced furniture that was and continues to be regarded as central to industrial design.

Since then the company has collaborated with other such designers as:

•    Alexander Girard – started companies textiles division, 1952
•    Isamu Noguchi – Noguchi table, 1948
•    Robert Propst – 1960- leads companies research division and began work to recreate office work space with Action Office - 1968
•    Bill Stumpf – designed Ergon (1976) and then Equa (1984) with Don Chadwick
•    Don Chadwick – started modular seating, 1974

Herman Miller is still seen as an innovator in modern indoor design, as well as for healthcare environments and related technologies. 
DJ Depree remained as CEO of the company till the 1960’s when he relinquished power to his son Hugh and then to his brother Max till 1990. 
Nelson remained as architect until the 1970s when other architects joined the company including Don Chadwick and Bill Stumpf.


Pride of the past, present and future

(Zeeland, Michegan, Herman Miller headquarters)

Since its humble beginnings in Zeeland, Michigan, today the Herman Miller operation extends worldwide from China to Italy. 

The company operates several brands and businesses across the world, like Herman Miller, Herman Miller Healthcare, Nemschoff, and Geiger International. Most recently in 2014, Herman Miller agreed a buyout deal for the retailer Design Within Reach, DWS.

How proud would the original Herman Miller be of his son-in-law and the current success of the company that honors his name? Take a look at some of today’s products and see for yourself


•    Pina, Leslie (1998). Classic Herman Miller
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Wendy Allen, marketing and communications at MJF Office discusses The MidWest furniture company that changed the way the world worked/

If you enjoyed this article, please take the opportunityn to read the first MJF installment, How important is an ergonomic work environment… and what does ergonomic mean anyway?

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