design objects: toys

The Eames' interest in designing toys and children's furniture goes back to the 1940s when they designed a light weight child's stool, table and chair, made of one or two pieces of thin molded plywood and manufactured by the Evans Plywood Company.

By 1955, the Eames' had designed a collection of construction toys for the kid in all of us. The Eames toys offered a chance to use the imagination in the construction of forms using simple connections and engineering principles. Color and construction are equal partners in the content and purpose of these teaching and entertaining toys. With such simple and straightforward names as The Toy, The Little Toy, The Coloring Toy, Giant House of Cards and the IBM Computer House of Cards, the toys were all created using simple materials including die-cut cardboard, wood dowels, paper and pipe cleaners. With the Eames Office's modern sense of graphic design, their uniquely packaged toys were winners of many Good Design awards.

Designed to be educational as well as colorful, the toys were originally produced by Tigrett Enterprises and later by Creative Playthings and Otto Meier. Tigrett was an innovative toy producer who saw early on the work of the Eames Office as being a serious and artful contribution to the struggling small educational toy market. In addition to the toys, the Eames Office designed the Tigrett office interior as an early project that was written about in Life Magazine.

--Steven Cabella

The Toy
and The Little Toy

"The Toy" was a collection of colorful paper and cardboard panels assembled using pipe cleaners and wooden dowels for a variety of connection possibilities. Designed for both children and adults for use as play structures, displays, room decoration and toy houses, one can see the design influences the construction of the Eames Case Study House had on their construction toy designs.

The Coloring Toy

Quoting from the 1955 instruction sheet of The Coloring Toy's "Notes to Parents", (it is a good example of the Eames Office's thoughts about the true function of a well-designed toy): The purpose of The Coloring Toy is to provide a sort of a jet assist into a world of color, drawing, shapes and play. This is a world discovered and rediscovered by all children and is their creation. The Coloring Toy does not presume to make artists out of children or to teach them how to play (children are far ahead of us on both counts). But we do hope that the contents of this box and the clues it offers will stimulate the use of these and other materials in an ever-expanding variety of ways."

House of Cards-
"Picture Deck" &
"Pattern Deck"

Offered for over a decade, The House of Cards series of building toys were created using images approved by Ray Eames and Alexander Girard and applied to 8-ply cardboard stock in the larger sets and on playing card stock on the smaller sets.

Giant House of Cards

A large-scale version of the House of Cards. The images were taken from art pieces and from photographs of natural phenomena and scientific observations.

IBM Computer House of Cards

The Eames Office described the images on the IBM House of Cards by saying, "On these cards are some very close views of the inside and outside of electronic digital computers. Within this world of hardware is a richness and beauty often found when machines are designed to function on the forward edge of a technology."


Designed by the Eames Office and offered by the Tigrett Enterprises, "Hang-It-All was a colorful and molecular looking wall mounted coat rack designed for children but adopted by adults in the newly design conscious world. Made of colorful wood balls on a thick wire frame made by the same steel rod construction method used on the earlier wire chairs. These hat racks, when placed end to end create an engaging, colorful rhythmic pattern.

design objects: Molded Plywood Radio Enclosures

The early 1946 design participation of Ray and Charles Eames, along with the Molded Plywood Division of Evans Products, in the manufacturing of radio cabinets/enclosures was only natural, given the climate among many small, post-war manufacturing firms. Many designers would take on whatever industry manufacturing work there was available that suited their production and manufacturing capabilities, in order to survive America's Industrial post war reorganization. In the case of the Eames and their work with the Evans Molded Plywood Division, it was a result of being in the right place at the right time.

With the end of World War ll, and with the recent experience manufacturing the molded plywood leg splints for the navy, seating elements for school chairs and molded plywood plane parts, the Eames Office was in an ideal position to offer a transitional manufacturing process to the radio and television industries. The radio industry, looking for a way to quickly key up production of their new post war radios for the home front consumer and the returning GIs, turned to plywood as a short term answer to a current manufacturing and marketing dilemma.

Before WWII, American radio manufacturers had successfully turned to both the new use of molded plastics and resins as well as using the more traditional wood cabinet manufacturers, for their radio enclosures. At the outbreak of war, the U.S. Government imposed manufacturing restrictions on materials needed for the war effort, in turn, the plastics industry had stopped the manufacturing of new plastic radio cabinets while the plastics industries made government restricted and war effort needed goods for the nation.

As a result, the plastic molding industries were caught unaware when the war ended in 1945. Now unable to immediately get the radio cabinets for their new postwar radio models produced, radio manufactures such as Zenith, Farnsworth, Emerson, Teletone and Bendix, turned to the alternative producers of the radio and phonograph enclosures, those small, independent manufacturing plants that still continued working with inexpensive readily available metal sheeting and wood.

Though some radio companies like GE and Admiral preferred to produce their cabinet designs in simple painted metal cabinets, others still preferred wood and all the richness a wood cabinet implied to the consumer. For their part, Evans Plywood and the Eameses were approached by several radio companies for the manufacturing job of producing their already designed cabinet models out of easily available wood veneer. Often times the Eames Office would be involved in the redesigning of the radio company's submitted cabinet design for an easier manufacturing process. In some cases, these were the new radio designs of American designers Raymond Lowey, Russel Wright and the soon to be Eames friend, Alexander Girard, who con-current with the Eames' work in the radio design field, was also designing wooden radio cabinets to be made of molded plywood by the Evans Molded Plywood Company. Girard's first glimpse of the Eames radio designs were in early 1946 when Charles Eames stopped by Girard's office in Detroit, Michigan while Girard was out of town and left several of the Eames’ plywood cabinets next to Girards own plywood radio designs on his desk with a note that read "I think we are kindred spirits. We should meet." Other radios manufactures hired the Eames / Evans Molded Plywood Division to both design and produce the actual plywood radio enclosure. Theses same Eames radio cabinet designs, in the example of the designs for Zenith (no relation to Zenith Plastic, makers of the earlier fiberglass shell), would often be a wooden version of a cabinet design the radio company were planning to produce later, that year or early the next, in plastic when the molded plastics industries manufacturing plants were retooled and available to again manufacture molded plastic items for the electronics field.

While the birch, walnut and ash plywood radio cabinets manufactured for the radio companies were a suitable and attractive alternative style for the radio companies, these radio companies were certainly not interested in prolonging the use of inexpensive wood enclosures for their new and forward looking and higher priced modern radio cabinet designs.

While many of the largest wood radio cabinets manufactures, including RMS of New York City and The Evans Company, would go on to produce hundreds of new plywood cabinet designs right after the war in 1946, only a small handful of radio companies even used wood for their radio cabinet designs five years later. Approximately 200,000 radio cabinets were fabricated in a wide variety of designs by the Eames Office. To help make room for the Eames' new molded plywood furniture design program now in full swing at the Los Angeles plant, the Evans Plywood Company moved all wooden radio enclosure production from Southern California to their Grand Haven, Michigan plant in early 1947, where the Evans Company continued to manufacture a few molded plywood radio cabinets and television cabinet parts up until early 1952.

While producing molded plywood cabinets was not that different than the processes used by the Eames Office on other, earlier plywood designs like the leg splint, it still offered the Eameses a chance to experiment and refine the molded plywood process that would soon result in the design and manufacture of their famous molded plywood chairs This same radio cabinet work would also produce other later Eames design elements such as the dimpled doors for the Eames Storage Units and the molded plywood table tops while also using elements from the earlier case goods cabinet construction. Designed to be rather simple and straight foreword on their design and manufacture, the radio cabinets were in fact less complicated to produce than their molded leg splints manufactured for the Navy several years earlier.

The Eames Office pioneered such radio manufacturing design details, as one sheet molded plywood cabinets and the pierced wood veneer sheeting used for speaker grills on some the wooden Emerson 500 Series radios. This Eames Office detail, as also seen in the drawings for the Bendix radios designs, was replaced at the end of 1946 with an updated speaker grill cover made of pierced fiberglass sheeting, perhaps one of the earliest exposures of the Eames Office to Fiberglass as a manufacturing material.

Many Evans produced cabinets shared the same one or two piece molded plywood cabinet construction, with support pieces held in place with smartly engineered bracings that prevented the plywood from collapsing under pressure. A more common consumer concern was the susceptibility to cabinet damage that the use of such a thin plywood posed.

The early dimpled experimental radio cabinet was never put in production, possibly as a result of re-thinking the honest need for molded plywood dimples as a way of strengthening the plywood cabinet of a radio. The larger speaker cut-out holes found on the same experimental cabinet were later used on the 1946 Teletone radios as an attractive and functional speaker grill design element. The quick rush to manufacture radios after the war left little time for the feasibility study of many of these cabinet designs. Some, like the Teletone radios, with it's vulnerable front edges, were redesigned as the manufacturing year went on, to correct design problems that surfaced once the cabinet was in the hands of the consumer. In the case of the Teletone cabinet designs, protective wooden fins were added to the sides of the cabinet to protect the surfaces and the corners of the cabinet.

Still more problems resulted from the use of thin plywood for radio cabinets. The intense heat generated by the radio itself had an adverse effect on the plywood, which was often composed of between 3 and 5 veneers laminated together in the same process used for the splints. Employing from three to nine high temperature producing electronic tubes in the radio components themselves, the radio tubes, being confined in a small, under ventilated cabinet, tended to generate an intense amount of heat, resulting in damage to the thin wood cabinet surfaces and their weak glue joints.

Other plywood cabinet designs, while more successful, were quickly replaced with new plastic cases once the plastics industries retooled and began manufacturing plastic and resin radio cabinets again in late 1946. By that time, the Eames Office was already fully involved in the designing and manufacture of their award winning molded plywood furniture designs and had no real contact with radio enclosures, that was being handled by the Evans Plywood Company plants in Grand Haven, Michigan.

Radio: D133

Radio: D136

Radio: D170
design objects: Stephens Speaker

Stephens Speaker

In 1956, the Stephens Trusonic Inc. of California asked the Eames Office to produced a small line of modern styled speaker cabinets. In a project headed by Don Albinson, the Eames Office set about designing a home speaker unit that would fit in with the more contemporary furnishings used in America's modern homes and apartments. Available in three similar styles, the first cabinet was of molded plywood similar to other Eames cabinet designs done for the electronic television industry 10 years earlier.

After further study of the goals and issues surrounding sound projection problems in radio and speaker design, the Eames' solution was a very contemporary answer for the hi-fi nuts who wanted no internal vibrations from the components or speaker mountings in their sound systems.

The Eames' new "Tru-Sonic" line of speaker cabinets was engineered to have reduced vibrations through its unique interior design. The speaker screen was made of woven plastic Saran fibers, designed to keep damaging little fingers from exploring where sound came from. Saran fibers had also been used as the upholstery fabric for the outdoor versions of the Aluminum Group of outdoor furniture, designed by the Eames Office in 1956. The speaker base, too, came from an earlier Eames' product. The speaker cabinet sits on the same aluminum base used for the ottoman in the Eames' new rosewood and leather Lounge Chair and ottoman. This same base offered the unique and innovative feature of being able to easily and stylishly rotate the speaker cabinet on a swivel base to project the music in any desired direction. A very unique feature at that time.

To compliment the new look of the speaker cabinet, the Eames Office also applied their design sense to the Stephens company's packaging graphics. Using a simple and low cost Eames-styled look, the new black and white logo layout includes a background grid taken from the grid pattern on the new speaker front.

design objects: Miscellaneous

Leg Splints for wounded soldiers of WWII

While Ray Eames' early 1940s laminated plywood sculptures had assured the Eameses that compound curves were now possible with plywood laminations, it was the Eames' work during WWII for the navy, proved that molded plywood was a viable manufacturing direction for their modern furniture designs.

The molded plywood leg splints were designed with the help the Eames' classmate at Cranbrook and future Knoll furniture designer, Harry Bertoia. Strong, lightweight and stackable, the plywood splits were manufactured by the molded plywood division of the Evans Company in Santa Monica, California in 1942 /44. The splints were a successful and very useful replacement for the heavy metal medical traction splints used to stabilize leg injuries in battle during WWII. The Eames Office also designed the packaging and graphics for the project. Ray Eames designed the label with the splattered ink spot Evans logo, while the package itself was sealed with heavy cloth tape, a connection device the Eames Office would return to again after the war, to simply construct the drawers in the Eames' new multi-colored storage units.

The same technologies used in the construction of the plywood splint for the Navy, though refined, were the foundation for the development of the Eames' plywood designs for chairs, tables, and folding screens manufactured from 1945 to the early 1950s.

Sea Things Tray

This plastic tray printed with the pattern known as "Sea Things" was one of the patterns Ray submitted to the 1947 "Competition for Printed Fabrics" sponsored by MoMA, and the original pattern was printed in brown and black on white fabric. In 1940, Ray attended weaving classes at the Cranbrook Academy, and this pattern gives a good sense of her talents in this area.
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