« 99% Invisible

310- 77 Steps

2018-06-06 | 🔗

As the U.S. war effort ramped up in the early 1940s, the Navy put out a request for chair design submissions. They needed a chair that was fireproof, waterproof, lightweight and strong enough to survive a torpedo blast. In response, engineer named Wilton C. Dinges designed a chair made out of aluminum, bent and welded to be super strong.

To show off the durability of his creation, Dinges took it up to the eighth floor of a hotel in Chicago, where the Navy was examining submissions, and threw it out of the window. It bounced, but didn't bend or break.

And so the Navy gave its inventor the contract, and he, in turn, opened a factory and called new his business the Electrical Machine and Equipment Company, or: Emeco.

Over the decades the Emeco Navy chair became so popular that companies began to copy it. There are now tons of knockoffs -- fakes. Last month, Benjamen Walker of Theory of Everything walked 99% Invisible Host Roman Mars around New York city, pointing out real and fake Emeco chairs.

77 Steps

This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
This is ninety nine percent, invisible, I'm roman, more Jimmy really? Nineteen forty says the war ever wrapped up the Navy put out a proposal. The chair. They needed a chair that was Fireproof waterproof lightweight, strong enough to survive the torpedo blast, an engineer, name, Wilton, seed, dangerous designed a chair. He knew would be perfect. A chair made out of aluminum. Built, dangerous, developed, a method of process too, it aluminum the luminous and and welded and grind it, and he treated all of these these elements there all invisible bud, part making something. This super strong, that's Gregg, both binder. He knows this chair inside and out its The most indestructible chair on the planet.
Wolden dangerous proved ass by taking his super strong indestructible them an armchair up to the eighth floor of the Excelsior Hotel in Chicago, where the Navy was holding chair additions and he threw it out the window. And hit the sidewalk out several times. I am retroactively terrified by this whole story. Someone ran the cheer back up and was it was completely perfect on damage I was impressed and they gave Wilton dangerous a huge contract in order will this contract. He opened a huge factory and he called his business. Electrical machine and equipment, company or Amoco. That's my fellow ready and Benjamin Walker host of the theory of everything Podcast Benjamin reported this story over the next few decades, Amoco shipped hundreds of thousands These ten o six Navy chairs to the? U S: government, from its factory in Hanover Pennsylvania, it became
standard issue for all warships, battleships aircraft carriers, submarines its aluminum silver, modern and minimal. Not too many flourishes, it doesn't even Arms. Just three slats coming down from the back. The top is arched It squared off a bit on the sides, its utility and looking design. Two has one slightly unexpected enhancement. There's a did on the seat for your butt in the nineteen seventies Amoco was purchased by a California businessmen named Jaber binder, that's Griggs, father
but by the nineteen nineties the company was losing a lot of money. So Gregg took a trip to the factory to check on things when he got there, things looked really bleak for Emma go. It was a skeleton crew. The guys were, or just waiting for the company to close the government contracts had long dried up, Gregg started to think. Perhaps this place should be shut down, but then he overheard a phone call between the office manager, Paulina and a mystery customer achieves the phone just now. We will not chip your chairs, you shippers, you send us a money first and slammed the phone down and ice who isn't she some guy, Giorgio money, and she had no idea who I was, and I started look through I'll cameras of who we were shipping chairs to them. We're shipping chairs to designers like Georgia, Armani and turns Conrad and hip entrepreneurs
like Intriguer, wealthy pacemakers had discussed the beauty of these indestructible, navy surplus chairs Greg suddenly realised that Amoco could sell to what was mostly and untaught market. I just felt right at the time. If we can shift our focus from governments, sales to focus on architects and designers. That would be an opportunity for us to take this sang and turn it around. Gregg bug bind her death they turn things around today. Amicably new chairs, with architects and designers, like Norman, Foster, Frank Gehry and Felipe Stark and the region. Ten o six Navy chair has become one of the most iconic chairs in the world. You definitely sing it. It's an all kinds of movies and tv shows it can be seen in the matrix, an avatar and upholstered shows up in the dark night when Batman, interrogates, the Joker. It's the chair, you
Dean set in prisons and police stations its so I go to chair her fancy, restaurants in art, galleries and co working spaces, it's everywhere, but not all of these chairs are Amoco chairs. A lot of them are knockoffs fix a veto, the real even see the light of the bottom occurs see the bottom flat having last month. Benjamin want me around New York City, showing me both real and fake. My co chairs, like the fancy diner filled with real Emma co chairs near his apartment in the east village. At nice. There is a world full of people wealthy.
Then Benjamin took me to his place to show me his collection of real in fake chemicals with a thrill. The first knock off how excited about because, if he lifted up you'll see that as something mediately wrong have so you made of aluminum Benjamin Walker is obsessed with the real and the fake. What may something real and when does it matter, the questions he's exploring right now in many stories on his show the theory of everything else, nine percent invisible. I wanted to look at the real and the fake as they relate the design of chairs in today. Most people think about it, dying ass shape. The average consumer doesn't realise the design is so much more than that understand what a real Amoco is, you need
understand, not just what it looks like, but how it's made. There are seventy seven steps. We. Go through to produce the Navy chair. That's why I took a visit to the factory in Pennsylvania, the first step actual sheets of aluminum. This, It is the sheep or used to make seek bottoms from one of the most distinctive elements of an amateur Maybe chair is the but shaped Debit legend has it. It was model after the dairy air of Betty Grable, a famous Hollywood actors in the nineteen forty, but there is absolutely no evidence for this. Going up and friends had come over to our house and get the giggles about five shape and see that's J buckling She was named for her grandfather, dregs, father and she recently started working in them. Two welding, I didn't see
much automation at the chemical factory. Just a number of very skilled craftspeople Walton right now, he's crowding holes into the aluminum extruded to in order to accept cross bars that go into the two, in this case the famous three, vertical slots, the back of the culture is curve like an upside down you and the three vertical That's come down from the top of this you and meet a curved crossbar Three slats: don't go all the way to the sea; they intersect with the crossbar three quarters of the way down. It's one distinctive design elements of the Amoco. Ok, now we're going over to arbitrary, which is quite all the world's up the ground down, accept three dear here they made for the Navy, had a lump of welding at each joy, but when fancy designers, sort of working with Emma it, found all the world to be a little crude. So Emma ground them down, except
the three wells were the vertical slats meet the arch on the back of the chair. We lead Well, on the back as our signature after the chairs of gone through all this heavy work. They go through a series of water, bad at all five ass, one, two, three, four: five. In order to back this this process, after five salt, bad in the night and the three hundred twenty degree of in this issue. Chair is three times stronger than steel. It's the ultimate sustainability and kind of the opposite of planned obsolescence. Many designers who work with Emma go one is this elaborate process and make the trip out to Pennsylvania to meet the workers. Like the famous
sure designer Bleep stork, whose visit was built by growing. I was obliged for myself to meet you because, like artists, that you make the sculpture and ask a new report, you? U reproduce, disclosure every day by unread advice, I was ended and that its abuse- that's where you were your suit, your child. You see lover according to Gregg, when designers visit the victory, they come away with a deeper appreciation of the workers and the value of the chair beyond it shaped when I take an architect through Amoco, one thing that their we say is used charge more for this chair. A lot of architects must have a pretty big chairman because I am a co chairs- are not inexpensive a new tunnel. Six Navy chair will set you back about five hundred and fifty dollars
you can get an amicable look alike. Chair for a lot less, there are several websites that have listings from vendors of fakes, counterfeit chairs, that's Manson, Buck, binder, Briggs, wife. She does press the company, but she also has this ritual where she wakes up every morning in gowers, a number of e commerce sites for fakes and those sites, our house and Ebay Amazon and Ali Baba. We have very good luck. If its exact copy, I can get those often heartbeat, When companies don't comply with their request to take down the look alike, Emma GO can take the company the court. This is what happened, in two thousand and twelve, when restoration hardware started selling the naval chair, They even knocked off the name. So when
someone is a a counterfeiter, that's typically the the things they do in order to give their product fake authenticity thracian hardware settled with Emma go before the case. Went to court Greg's also gotten other big box companies like target, and I care to knock it off with a knock ass. He Do this because he has trade, dress protection, trade dress. Protection is designed to protect consumers from the look alike. Imitations of name brand products is not protecting the function. Or use of the product. It's just the dress, how it looks and for Amoco Nobody can reproduce said shape so have in that kind of protect. Action allows us reproduce be shape. So having that, when the protection allows us to be very aggressive winnie when we need to be but I met a lawyer Christmas Brigman who doesn't think Amoco deserves this protection.
So consumers in the marketplace when they look at this chair, unless they are real furniture aficionados, they dont think. Oh, this is Amoco to think. Oh, that's a chair. Writer. That's a pretty chair that chair would look good in my living room. I don't think that the shape of this chair is distinctive It's an office, chair design, it's been around I've pictures of it from the twenties and department stores and offices. If this happened, litigation, I think that would have become clear. Trade dress. Protection is really hard to get for design products. And Christmas Brigman believed if Amoco ever does end up in court, it risks losing this protection. What really bothers Christopher is companies like Amoco and Herman Miller and Maitre. Turning to the law to take knockoffs out of the marketplace to extend That's exceeds these designs, become the territory of the rich and no one else can access them, but I just wanted to put a fine point on this This is a family company, that's their business, and I understand that they care about that. But let me just
hey that out. There in the world are a bunch of consumers who want to furnish their homes, and you know this is this- is a country where not everyone is rich and if you want to be style I should have a house, that's nice, and you don't have a ton of money you might by knock off chairs in his book. The knock off economy Christopher makes the argument that these kinds of protection given to expensive things like chairs and clothing is actually bad for consumers because for most people knock off are as close as they can get to the real thing. One of the things that's real about them. Is there there for the rest of us right there, They they bring the rest of us into the world of the artist straight? They allow us to participate in the fashion world, even if we can't afford the stuff that is paraded out on the runway. They allow us to dissipate in the world of industrial design. Furniture kitchen appliances, etc. Even if we can't afford the super expensive brands, that's democratizing
I think it makes the country prettier and more enjoyable, but for Gregg, Amoco Knockoffs also make the country the whole planet worse by filling landfills with God, Its chairs Oliver product is engineered to be made for the longest life possible. A knock off is, is, is surely made to be sold, use and thrown away. Gregg could probably still make nice chairs for less money, but it takes seventy seven steps to make a torpedo proved chair and a torpedo approved will last a hundred and fifty years. The goal is to produce something where it as the least impact environmentally all the way through and has the longest life to me that
the very best kind of products? Do great genuinely cares about sustainability. I spend just a few days with him, but I know he thinks food taste worse when it served in disposable container and that he travels don't silverware. This is why he wishes. You could use the law to go after all, the knockers, the look alike and the almost looks like like the popular lightweight, aluminum delta, chair from Creighton Barrel, showed him a photo of this chair it. What is this a fake, absolutely right what they ve done here is they put in reserve three bars on the vertical back? They put four Boris instead of having a horizontal or towards the bottom. They take the four vertical bars and bring them all away down to the sea bottom, but it's the same tube shape
and spent the same way the legs of the same configuration. The sea bottom has the bun dip in the front legs. Have the tape This is made to look like an aim chair. Amazing. Benjamin took me it will create a barrel in Manhattan. To show me the chair in question. I think we have to go. In this room? I came in here looking for the other day and look at these bastards whither: they have the world on the top of his lance. Yes decorated, secretary of oh, my god so the great and barrel chair is different enough to avoid a lawsuit, but it returned. In those signature wealth of the Amoco Chair to give it that handcrafted feel, but Eve if they mimic the well according to Greg There will always be one key difference between the Amoco chair and this one
it won't last it's not designed to last as long as our Cheerios Greg Gregg is fairly certain, wooden, pass the original test of being thrown off that eight story building. Of course, really only one way to find out their health? really for the help him now Have you on my roof on the seventh floor with the knock off Creighton Beryl. I can't think their ultimate test is throwing it off and see what happens where no way, no you're on your own that when you do then on yourself, there's no and take responsibility for that absolutely not said here what happens next year I have to go to the very everything. Don't you not soon me when each year is designed specifically to be affordable and then it become too expensive.
Affordable, knockoffs are created which is the real chair, crook cost of night, more about fake tears. After this, we often don't think of winter as a time of growth or creation. But if you think about it, it's the perfect time to greet your own website. It cooped up you thinkin about being proactive, and now square space can help you do it with squares. Based can take your cool ideas if creative content, your services, goods and you can turn them into a beautiful website in just a few clicks. Does it because there is to use templates or creed?
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we seen there, their iconic lounge chair, it's very distinctive features and moulded plywood frame set on a metal base is usually talked with black leather upholstery. There are plenty of knock off this chair and its matching ottoman. But crook coasted is here to talk about another chair of there's, a more you Terry and Chair like Amoco. That also gets copied. Alot Charles Eames once said that there are nineteen. Fifty lounged hair was designed to be soft and cushy it because he was sick of people complaining about how uncomfortable modern for. And an so. Those complaints were pretty understandable in response to one of the aims. Other best sellers designed a few years earlier, a series of moulded, fiberglass chairs. So I know this one and you probably encountered it. I can't think of it as the schools It's has metal legs that you can stand up and theirs mean: seek peace, it's more, into a curvy l shape and then
there are various it can have arms or no arms. It can have different legs, different styles of bases, Lakota yeah, that modulation. He was a big selling point. Fires could pick a base for the home or pick one for the office. Something more minimalist or something more stylish, but the chairs weren't just designed to look nice. They were also to be affordable and functional, so they were low cost. Easy to mass produce, easily move around easy to keep queen and actually the first prototype was built for an international competition for a low cost furniture design, which was listed by the Museum of Modern ART in New York City, and so did it As they win this competition Surely no with a chair to second place, but her pretty gets too, to you know, three thousand entries are so and the jury report really like that modular approach, but they may have taken off points because the prototype was made a stamp steel and that's a tricky and expensive better.
EL, the word with takes these high pressure is of high temperatures so for mass production they actually switch to fibre, reinforced plastic and because the chairs were made up of just a few pieces, they were easy to assemble too. That sounds a lot different from these seventy seven step process, Grady, aluminum, Navy and Mercosur. Really, that's simplicity is by design, but these different cheers. Who actually have something in common knockoff companies love to make copies of According to one source. I found one of these molded Eames chair variants, this one that has what's called the Eiffel Tower Base, which is a set of four legs with these crisscrossing mental connect. This is actually one of the most copy, the chairs in the world today, but if they were the same ballpark as what is the incentive to make copies of them, Adami, given that are officially licensed by their actually self over five hundred dollars, just as you know, the same ballpark as these Emma Navy children in I was evil
to me, given this Eames Code, that leader has up on their website getting the most of the best to the greatest number of people for the least and maybe the real ones, really are much higher quality, but the price tag just still seems really high and so of these copies illegal copies licence cover what would deal with them? Will it varies by place and in the EU. K? For instance, creations were originally protected up to twenty five years from the date of creation, but in twenty sixteen they changed the rules. Next, encourage up to seventy years after the death of the creator and, of course, that shifted the legal status of a lot of modern classics, including the Eames Chairs, but also Arnie Jacob since egg, tear me stand arose Barcelona, chair, the could Lucy's Elsie to suffer a similar good cheese class table the leader of the company that owns the rights to the molded. Aims. Chairs, really push for this change to you. It is not that surprising. So, when chairs went from being protected for toys
five years after its creation to seventy years after the death of the creator. What did people say hole in the? U K, a lot of people who saw the news and rushed out to buy replicas ahead of the new law taking effect and when all the started advertising a pair of quote retro style. I pull chairs for forty pounds. They went viral, never opinions on all sides. Some argue that he's very guenaud reprehensible, knock ass of emu. Regional, but this one architects in design could ache to wait for the guardian, defended the copies asking. Isn't this exactly what Charles Eames would have wanted and so what do you think trials in re aims would have said about all? This may obviously will we'll, never never sure, but given their design philosophies, I really just keep wondering if maybe they have seen these affordable copies as more real than fake in some sense because
ass accessibility, was a big part of their original design intent. So I guess it just depends on maybe what Eames valued more the shape of this chair or what was made. Right here? It comes back to this question. To you know what makes a design is it the shape of the thing? Is it the function? Knows it doing what it's designed to do if it was made to be cheap? now expensive. In that case failing to do one of things with design, but the debate Ninety nine percent invisible was produces week by Benjamin Walker and Andrew Callaway from the theory of everything As I record this, I still don't know if Benjamin actually, through that chair off his roof, I dont Know- and I don't want to Know- I want no part of it until I hear from myself, I'm Benjamin walkers theory of everything mostly on over their branches from our team, in your producer, Katy Mingle, shape this story shown Rio may the music and Sharif Youssef made its own,
The recipe is digital director, crook course: dead, senior, editor, Delaney Hall, Avery Travelin, Joe Rosenberg vividly emit Fitzgerald turn Massa and me roman Mars. We are brought ninety one point: seven K, L W in San Francisco in produced idea row in beautiful, downtown, Oakland. California, Ninety nine percent, invisible is a member of Radio Tokyo from Pierre acts are fiercely independent, collective of the most innovative shows in all podcasting by him off and Radio Tokyo. Daddy you can find the show in joint discussions about the show on Facebook. He entreated me Roman moors and the show at ninety nine p I or run Instagram Tumblr and ready to did you want that linked to the theory of everything in the of our old purposes? A new articles about design that go up every few days had on over to ninety nine p. I dot org
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Transcript generated on 2020-02-14.