The History of THE Mr. Chair by Designer George Mulhauser
As far back as the early 1950s, furniture manufacturers have been marketing the concept of chairs for him and her, or 'Mr.' and 'Mrs.' chairs, based on the rather dated stereotype of men having larger and different proportions from their female counterparts.
"...usually accompanied by an ottoman - and this just might cause an argument. The wise thing to do would be to buy two of them and be on the safe side."
The Mr. Chair
Reading the article above, it all seems pretty funny now, but one eye-catching chair design became The 'Mr. Chair'. The designer was George Mulhauser, who was fresh from working with George Nelson at Herman Miller where he designed the famous 'Coconut Chair':
Designer George Mulhauser had also been involved with the design development of Paul McCobb's faceted fiberglass designs through Directional:
The Debut of Mr. Chair
The Mr. Chair first debuted at the International Home Furnishings Market in Chicago in January of 1960.
Source: Detroit Free Press Jan. 5th, 1960, p.12
It was at this stage described as being designed for and produced by B. G. Mesberg, who had started Directional Industries with Paul McCobb in 1950.
Source: Galesburg Register-Mail (Galesburg, Illinois) Jan 5th, 1960, p.6
George Mulhauser also designed a slimline folding chair for Mesberg, as featured in Arts & Architecture Magazine in March 1960:
Mr. Chair by Plycraft
Plycraft was initially known for making boats in the early 1950s (hence the name 'Plycraft'). They were also briefly subcontracted by Herman Miller to manufacture the George Nelson Office's Pretzel Chair attributed to John Pile in walnut ply. This arrangement only lasted from 1957 to 1958, after which the agreement was terminated with only 100 chairs ultimately produced, according to the George Nelson Foundation website.
According to furniture historian Jonathan Jay Goldstein, B. G. Mesberg brought George Mulhauser together with Plycraft. At the time, Plycraft was eager to break into furniture in their own right, utilizing their own technology. They became the bent ply manufacturer for Directional with Mulhauser designing a whole line for Plycraft around 1959. It appears that the Mr. Chair was their first truly mass-produced (and successful) piece of furniture.
Plycraft was first mentioned as the producer of the Mr. Chair below:
Source: Redlands Daily Facts, October 1st, 1960, p.7
The chair also appears a month later in the advert below. This ad includes other known Plycraft designs by Norman Cherner (side chair and armchair), although Plycraft is not explicitly mentioned in the text.
Source: Independent Press-Telegram Nov. 20th, 1960, p.72
Mr. Chair II: Version 2.0
Mulhauser changed both the bases the following year (1961):
Source: Arizona Daily Star (Tucson, Arizona) Oct 29th, 1961, p.30
The new design was christened 'Mr. Chair II' and was clearly manufactured by Plycraft Inc.
Source: Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, New York) Jan. 7th, 1961, p.17
1961 also provides the first mention of the "Mrs." version of the Plycraft chair:
Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) Aug. 6th, 1961, p.30
Source: The Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) Feb 2nd, 1962, p.13
Mulhauser went on to leverage the modular qualities of the base and added tabletops. In this way, he created tables specifically designed to fit the Plycraft range of chairs designed by Norman Cherner.
Later in 1962, a version with an adjustable headrest (movable cushion) and the chrome-plated base was produced. For this version of the chair, the base was also changed to a six-pointed star-shaped base.
Source: Independent Press-Telegram (Long Beach, California) April 22nd, 1962, p.59
NOT a Plycraft or Mr. Chair:
This variation often appears attributed to Mulhauser and Plycraft but it is neither and is actually made by Murphy Miller.
While the Mr. Chair line was undeniably Plycraft's most successful chair, many other designs by Mulhauser made it onto the showroom floor. Several of these showcased his fondness for experimenting with large bent plywood forms while others showcased a more delicate application, such as in Mulhauser's curlicue form 'Fancy Free' collection around 1966:
Source: The Baltimore Sun (Baltimore, Maryland) Aug. 11th, 1966
Mulhauser's experimentation with plywood continued, as you can see in the furniture advertisement below.
George Mulhauser passed away in 2002 at the age of 80, leaving behind a legacy of incredible design. You can find a touching tribute to his work and life on his son's website HERE.
Source: New York Times, Jan. 10th, 1967
At the time of writing, a pair of Mr. & Mrs. Chairs by George Mulhauser are for sale at the Trystcraft Shop. Click through to see them and other vintage mid-century seating options.