History of Howell -
"The W.H. Howell Foundry opened in Geneva, Illinois in 1867, producing casting iron doorstops and stove-heated irons. After electric irons swept the consumer market in the 1920s, Howell was purchased by a pair of foreword-looking entrepreneurs who refocused the factory’s efforts onto the production of steel-framed furniture. Their inventive line of bent chrome-plated tubular steel furniture was a national hit in 1933. Demand for the patio collection was so high that two additional manufacturing sites were quickly opened despite the country’s dire economic climate, and Howell’s designs earned a display at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair. After the market crash closed the Cable Piano Company of St. Charles, Illinois, Howell moved into the large factory in 1937.
By the mid-1930s, Howell was best known for employing the talents of Viennese designer Wolfgang Hoffmann. A stylistic contemporary of Miles van der Rohe and Le Corbusier, Hoffmann introduced a fresh breath of the European avant-garde to Howell’s tubular steel. His father was the celebrated architect and designer of consumer goods Josef Hoffmann, a Jugendstil bigwig who co-founded the Vienna Secession movement along with Gustav Klimt in 1897 and mentored a young Egon Schiele during his first exhibitions.
Wolfgang migrated to the States in 1925 and soon picked up high-level private architecture assignments, including the opportunity to develop the color scheme for the 1933 World’s Fair. His work caught the attention of Howell’s top brass, and Hoffmann was hired to helm the small company’s design arm in 1934. He remained at this post until 1942 and left an enduring stylistic imprint on Howell’s designs.
Hoffman’s distinctly European sculptural sensibility — equal parts blocky Bauhaus practicality and weightless El Lissitsky atom splitting — soon placed Howell at the vanguard of modern American furniture design and brought the Illinois company’s annual catalogues of chromed tubular steel and monotone leather furniture to the attention of Art Deco enthusiasts worldwide.
When America joined the Second World War, Howell’s approximate 500 employees redirected a significant portion of their efforts and resources to constructing incendiary and fragmentation bombs, artillery shells, and airplane wings. The Navy commissioned a line of steel mess trays from the company, which must have ranked among the most chic pieces of dining ware in the South Pacific. After the war, Howell’s trendy and affordable home furnishings for the home and office were a favorite among returning GIs and their nascent families.
In 1954 the company was purchased by its longtime supplier Acme Steel, marking the introduction of bronze detailing and plastic laminate tabletops. It is furniture from this era — the post-Hoffman and Acme years — which I’ve been seeing on the local second hand market, and its utilitarian value is self-evident. Howell was bought out for a final time in 1975, and within four years the new owners faced financial instability coupled with a worker strike by members of the International Association of Machinists. Though the strike was resolved in 1979, the factory never reopened and its equipment was sold in 1980."
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