Chuck Harrison: The King of Consumer Product Design
Definitively, the most prolific industrial designer in US history is named Charles – and his last name isn’t Eames.
Often left out of 'Top Ten' lists, unrecognized by average design students, and anything but a household name, Charles “Chuck” Harrison designed over 750 products throughout his career working at Sears, Roebuck and Company.
In 1961, he broke through the racial barrier of design (and Sears' unwritten rule) when he became Sear’s first African American executive. Though he’d earned a bachelor’s degree from the School of Art Institute of Chicago and a master's at Illinois Institute of Technology, it was the quality of his work that proved his value at the company – and sometimes barely that.
In his autobiography, A Life’s Design, he wrote “Overall, the racism at Sears didn’t let up as the years went on. Never did. It was so ingrained. And I don’t think it was necessarily just Sears. It was America. I’d ride to work from the South Side with Bob Johnson, an African-American colleague, and we’d stop outside the Sears building and pretend we were putting on gas masks, preparing to go into a hostile environment.”
But from personal radios and sewing machines, to driven mowers and Craftsman power tools, Chuck’s designs propelled Sear’s giant success in consumer goods throughout the 60s and changed the way we used everyday products forever. Chuck Harrison is responsible for transparent plastic measuring cups, patented florescent adapters, portable and ornately molded sewing machines, and the ViewMaster to name a few. Still, his most treasured design in his portfolio remains the first plastic trash bin. Before 1966, garbage cans were loud, metal, rusty objects that eventually looked like, well, garbage. Harrison’s polypropylene design was weather resistant, stackable, eventually donned wheels, and remains the most popular styles today.
Having designed 8-12 sewing machines annually for 12 years, his creations are utilitarian and iconic pieces of American history. They set a standard for consumer goods in terms of affordability and durability that can be found in every home throughout the country today.