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Monday, August 6, 2012

Gideon Kramer

Gideon Kramer (1917-2012) was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Akron Institute and the Institute of Design, founded in 1937 by Bauhaus teacher László Moholy-Nagy, at Chicago's Illinois Institute of Technology. He is considered one of the most important industrial designers of our time. 

According to an insightful article by Peter Blecha, Kramer intentionally had a diverse career. He had a broad employment history, including work as a candlemaker and a high school art teacher, as well as jobs at a brass foundry, a furniture factory, an aircraft plant, a hydrofoil ferry project and a truck manufacturer. According to Kramer himself, he refused to identify with any single profession because it restricted his freedom "to be and to know." When interviewing for a consultant job with Kenworth Motor Truck Corporation, he said, "I know nothing about trucks. That's why you should hire me, because I'm going to ask questions you stopped asking 20 years ago." He worked with Kenworth from 1951-1961, developing patented designs that became the standard in the trucking industry.

Kramer's ION, the first truly ergonomic chair, was designed in 1946. Kramer started his own company to manufacture and market them, but in 1965, the rights were sold to the American Desk Corporation in Texas, and several new design configurations evolved. An armless model, a lounge chair model, a swivel dual-seat model, an upholstered model, a thickly padded model and a model with an articulated base with 360-degree rotation were produced. Some ION chairs had the twisted metal base, and some did not.

While Kramer is most famous for his design of the ION chair in 1946 and for radically new truck designs in the 1950s, he said, "I became stigmatized. Everybody thinks of me as designing trucks or seating. But that's not who I am."

He also designed museum and aquarium exhibits, a state-of-the-art projector, a hydromarine cruiser, offices, shopping centers and classrooms; he lectured at universities and wrote essays for architectural, industrial arts and design publications. He was a painter, a sculptor, a photographer, a film maker, an author and a jewelry designer. And he was a loving husband and father to seven children.

He was described as a true Renaissance Man and "the Northwest's closest kin to Buckminster Fuller."

From, and 

Recorder's chair (also called the Space Needle chair)

Ion side table
Ion armchairs

Space Needle restaurant in the 1960s

Lightweight truck sketch, 1952

Paent application rendering


  1. Pure elegance. One of things I truly love in your posts are the portraits of the designers - so much more revealing and interesting than the close up head shots popular today.

    1. I love a good back story. When I taught high school English, I always tried to give my students a personal look at authors and poets. I felt they responded more to, say, the poetry of Byron or Shelley if they knew Byron was a notorious womanizer with a club foot, and Shelley got kicked out of college. I suppose I approach this blog the same way. A chair or a saucepan means more to me if I know something about the person who designed it. I'm glad you enjoy finding out about the designers too. :)

  2. That space needle chair looks like fun! =0)
    I bet you could charge $1.00 a ride on it. *hehe*

  3. Gideon was my grandfather, and when I was a kid spinning in various experimental chairs at his studio was one of my favorite pastimes.