A 60-Year and Still Rolling History of the Fiberglass Shell Chair Production — All Wrapped Up in A Very Brief Timeline
Irv Green and Sol Fingerhut work at Zenith Plastics, in Gardena, California. Both were hired by the company specifically to develop new markets. Mr. Green and Mr. Fingerhut drive two hours to Venice and meet with Charles Eames to discuss a chair project.
Production was set up at Zenith Plastics, with Sol Fingerhut as the engineer. In the spring of 1950, the first chairs were ready and offered for sale in Herman Miller showrooms.
The process for making shell chairs can be seen in the original 1970’s Charles Eames film; “The Fiberglass Chairs”. The following is an excerpt taken from “The Story of Eames Furniture” by Marilyn Neuhart: “In 1970 the Eames Office completed an 8 1/2 minute film entitled ‘The Fiberglass Chairs: Something of How They Got the Way They Are.’ …. shot at Century Plastics throughout the day, and an all-night session as several of its production staff, move through the preform and molding processes.”
After 30+ years, Herman Miller discontinues Fiberglass chair production with Sol Fingerhut at Century Plastics.
Frank Novak and Jay Novak purchase 12,000 shells stacked unceremoniously in the parking lot of Century Plastics. The first couple hundred they bought had shocks-mounts, the rest were without shock-mounts. None of the shells had bases. The brothers begin to develop and manufacture rubber shock-mounts and chair bases. The first base offered was a rocker base.
Modernica is incorporated and begins its first official year as a manufacturer of furniture.
Modernica begins manufacturing the Eames Fiberglass Chairs with Sol Fingerhut at Century Plastics. Modernica uses all the original equipment used for the Herman Miller production of the Charles Eames shell chairs. Modernica and Mr. Fingerhut use the original mold-maker, used by Zenith Plastics, to cast an arm shell mold.
Modernica offers the arm shell chair design. The arm shells were produced in white, indigo, California blue, pink, red, orange, yellow, grass green, army green, moss, chocolate, ochre, terra-cotta, jet black, charcoal, elephant hide, and purple. Additionally at this time, Modernica is offering six base designs; Eiffel base, Dowel Base, Low Rod, Dowel Bar Stool, Rolling-Base, and the X-Base.
To improve upon their durability, the rubber shock mounts were modified to a synthetic rubber form.
Modernica and Sol Fingerhut oversee and build the side shell mold. The mold is sourced at the original mold-maker used to create the first molds for Zenith Plastics. The side shell design was added to production. The side shells were offered in; eggshell, white, charcoal, red, and orange.
Modernica’s shell chair color options shift through the years, the current color options are available for both arm shell and side shells are; white, ocean, natural, orange, oatmeal, grass green, baby blue, mustard, chiffon, red, jadeite, moss, pink, terra-cotta, celery, and charcoal.
In celebration of Modernica’s 20th anniversary, artist Peter Shire collaborates with Modernica to create the “Prince Charles” base. Now available are twelve bases to choose from: Prince Charles, Rocker, Low Rod, Eiffel, H-Base, Stacking, Rolling-Base, H-Base Counter Stool, H-Base Bar Stool, Dowel Base, Dowel Counter Stool, and Dowel Bar Stool.
Shortly after his 87th birthday, Sol Fingerhut passes away on December 23, 2009. He worked with Modernica up until his passing.
Modernica staff members begin apprenticeship with Century Plastics staff members.
All of the original Fiberglass shell chair manufacturing equipment, including the Eames-specific Preform machine designed by Sol Fingerhut, is transferred to Modernica. Modernica purchases a new 5-acre compound in Los Angeles and begins construction on the Fiberglass Chair facilities.
Modernica begins a new era of Fiberglass chair production and for the first time ever the chairs are manufactured and sold through one company.
Images shown from top to bottom:
Irv Green and Sol Fingerhut, Zenith Plastics, 1950 | View of Century Plastics while manufacturing for Herman Miller | Film Still from the 1970 Ray and Charles Eames Film: The Fiberglass Chairs | Stack of Fiberglass Chairs taken at Modernica’s Factory | Close up of Shock-Mounts, photo by OldBrandNew | Shot of PreForm Machine at Century Plastics while manufacturing for Modernica, 2009 | Array of Modernica colors offered, collage by modernconscience.com | Irv Green and Sol Fingerhut, 1996 | Case Study Fiberglass shell Chair in Celery on a Prince Charles Base | Modernica’s Saco Street Fiberglass Chair Plant Exterior View, 2011 | Modernica’s First Chair at Saco Street Plant, December 16th, 2011 | Press 13 with an Arm Shell Mold at Modernica’s Saco Street Plant