In the early 1900s, a furniture salesman named Herman Miller had a dream to build a successful business. He was born in Zeeland, Michigan, in 1876. Unfortunately, his family was poor; his father died when he was only seven. Luckily for Herman, his mother remarried, and they moved to Grand Rapids, where he went on to study at the University of Michigan. After graduating with an engineering degree, he worked as a salesman for the Michigan Star Furniture Company in 1905, where he met Louise Burden—a young woman who would later become his wife and mother of their four children (two sons and two daughters). The success of their Jack Cartwright table led her husband to establish the Herman Miller Furniture Company in Zeeland shortly after World War I ended (in 1922). Their company has been around ever since, producing high-quality workstation furniture for offices throughout the United States!
He was born in Zeeland, Michigan, in 1876.
Herman Miller was born in Zeeland, Michigan, on January 26, 1876. His family was Dutch-American and had settled in the area before his birth. As a child, he grew up on a farm with his parents; his mother was a homemaker, and his father worked as a farmer.
Herman didn’t have an easy childhood; he had asthma throughout his life, which hindered him from working outside all day long like most other children did when they were growing up. He also suffered from severe migraines, which would leave him bedridden for several days when they came around.
In addition to those health problems that plagued Herman as a small child (and continued throughout his life), some tragic events occurred during his childhood: Herman’s siblings died while still children themselves! One brother died from pneumonia at just 2 years old, while another died from diphtheria at age 4 – both deaths happened within one week in 1889!
He worked as a salesman for the Michigan Star Furniture Company in 1905.
Herman Miller was a salesman for the Michigan Star Furniture Company in 1905. He wasn’t happy with his job and wanted to start his own business. On a visit to Chicago, he saw an oak table that reminded him of furniture he had seen in Europe, but it was too expensive to buy. He thought that if he could make something similar, it would be popular with customers, and he’d have the beginnings of a new business.
He began by making a prototype table, which he sold to a friend for $5.00. After that, he made another table and sold it for $10.00 to a local furniture store owner, who ordered more tables. A year later, Miller had a growing business making European-style oak furniture in his basement workshop on the corner of Grove and North streets in Grand Rapids, MI.
In 1907, Miller moved his business to a larger facility on the corner of Grove and North streets in Grand Rapids. The building was previously occupied by a lumber mill, which provided Miller with plenty of scrap wood for furniture making. He continued selling tables out of the backroom of his new workshop until 1911 when he built an addition to the building to accommodate sales and showrooms.
The success of the Jack Cartwright table led to the establishment of Herman Miller Furniture Company.
Jack Cartwright is the inventor of the Jack Cartwright table. He was born in 1814 in London, England and lived there until he was 18. Cartwright then moved to America, where he lived for the rest of his life.
He invented this table in 1851 when he was 37 years old. He devised the idea for this table while working as an engineer on a train line in Ohio. He had been tasked with finding ways to make trains safer, faster, and more efficient–and one day, while sitting at his desk thinking about this problem, he realized that if you could somehow make your desk into a chair so that it would move along with your train ride–it would make things much easier! So that’s exactly what he did: he created a desk that could be folded into a chair so that people could sit down while travelling on trains!
Jack Cartwright’s invention was so successful that by 1900 over 100 million copies had been sold worldwide!
The success of the Jack Cartwright table led to the establishment of Herman Miller Furniture Company. Founded in 1923 by D. J. De Pree, a former sales rep for Bassett Furniture Company and son-in-law of Alferd Martin, founder of Bassett Furniture Company. The company’s first headquarters was at 222 Grand Rapids, Michigan. It remained until 1960, when it moved to its current location at 6800 Pyramid Drive in Zeeland Township, north of Grand Rapids, Michigan.
In 1937 Herman Miller began producing office furniture for government agencies under contract through the WPA (Works Progress Administration) during President Franklin D Roosevelt’s New Deal program that helped lift America out of its Great Depression.
His sons took over managing the company’s affairs after his death in 1944.
Herman Miller’s sons were not involved in the business and needed the skills to run it. They were not interested in running the company but wanted to ensure it continued running without their father. This meant that Herman Miller had been a very hands-on leader who had kept all information about the company under his control. His sons were left with little knowledge about how to run things when he died suddenly at age 54 in 1944 after suffering a stroke while working on his boat in Lake Michigan.
He created a successful furniture business and died happily.
He felt it was important to give back to society through his work, and he did so by creating affordable furniture for everyone.
And he did so by creating beautiful furniture that was affordable for everyone. He knew he might not live long enough to see the result of his work, but he also knew that if he could make a difference in one person’s life, that would be enough.
We can all learn something from this man’s story. He started with nothing but made something of himself through hard work and dedication. He turned his passion into a successful business that still operates today. It shows what you can achieve if you have enough determination!
- Herman Miller website: https://www.hermanmiller.com/about-us/
- Herman Miller: A Way of Living by Amy Auscherman, Sam Grawe, and Leon Ransmeier (2019)
- Herman Miller: The Purpose of Design by John Berry (2004)
- Herman Miller, Inc. History by fundinguniverse.com: https://www.fundinguniverse.com/company-histories/herman-miller-inc-history/
- “Herman Miller: A Brief History of the Iconic Brand” by Lauren Schwartzberg, Inc.com (2018): https://www.inc.com/magazine/201805/lauren-schwartzberg/herman-miller-history-nyse-mlhr-furniture.html