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David Lincoln Rowland
David Rowland holding a scale model of his masterpiece 40/4 chair
Born (1924-02-12)February 12, 1924
Los Angeles, California
Died August 13, 2010(2010-08-13) (aged 86)
Marion, Virginia, Virginia
Nationality American
Occupation Industrial Designer
Known for 40/4 Stacking Chair
Softec Chair
Spouse(s) (Miss) Erwin Wassum (m. 1971)
Awards Grand Prix, Milan Triennale for '40/4 Chair' (1964)
First Prize, American Institute of Designers (AID) 1965
Austrian Gold Medal Award for Furniture (1969)
Gold Medal, Institute of Business Designers (IBD) 1979
Military career
Allegiance United States
Service/branch US Army Air Corps Hap Arnold Wings.svg United States Army Air Corps
Years of service 1943–45
Rank US-O2 insignia.svg 1st Lieutenant
Battles/wars World War II

David Lincoln Rowland (February 12, 1924 – August 13, 2010) was an American industrial designer famous for his 40/4 chair, so named because it stacks 40 chairs in 4 feet (120 cm) high. The chair was the first compactly stackable chair invented, and is regarded as the gold standard of stackable chairs, not only for its stackability, but for its comfort, durability, timelessness, and grace.[1] Referring to the 40/4, modern critics have noted that “It is unsurpassed to this day in engineering sophistication and production”.[2] In continuous production since its introduction, the chair has sold in the millions around the world over 5 decades and is found in many prestigious locations, including St. Paul’s Cathedral in London and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.[3]

Early life

David Lincoln Rowland was born on February 12, 1924, in Los Angeles, the only child of Neva Chilberg Rowland, a violinist and W. Earl Rowland, a California artist, lecturer and teacher.[4] In 1936 he moved with his parents to Stockton, California where his father became director of the Haggin Museum.[5] In the summer of 1940, when he was only 16, he took a course with Laszlo Maholy-Nagy, one of the founders of The Bauhaus school, at Mills College in Oakland, California on Basic Bauhaus Design, an experience which set the direction of his career. He forever after called it “the best summer of my life!”.[6] After graduation from Stockton High School in 1942,[7] he studied drafting, and worked as a draftsman for the Rheem Manufacturing Co., drawing plans for war munitions, before entering military service in World War II.

Military Service

From 1943 through 1945 Rowland served in WWII in the United States Army Air Corps, the 8th Air Force, 94th Bomb Group, 333rd Squadron, as a 1st Lieutenant, B17 (“Flying Fortress”) pilot. He was stationed in Bury St. Edmunds, England and made 22 combat missions over Nazi occupied territory. During that time he was awarded the Air Medal and several clusters.[8] It was during those long, sometimes 12 hour missions, sitting in beastly uncomfortable seats, Rowland said, that “I resolved to do something about that if I ever returned home safely”.[9]


He resumed his education after the war at Principia College in Elsah, Illinois, where in 1949 he earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Physics.[10] He went on to study industrial design at the University of South California and afterwards at Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, where he earned his Masters Degree in Industrial Design in 1951.[11]

Early career

After Cranbrook, Rowland headed for New York City. There he rented a $40 a month room and started applying to industrial design firms for a job. Each design firm he applied to required he sign a form saying that anything he thought of during his employment that they wanted to get a patent on, he would give them the rights for one dollar. When he wouldn’t sign the form, he didn’t get the job. He opted instead to work three jobs outside of the design field while working on his own designs in his spare time. Later, he took a job as head draftsman doing architectural renderings for Norman Bel Geddes, the noted theatrical and industrial designer, the only one who did not require that he sign a form.[6]

During this time Rowland also designed commercial interiors[12] while developing his own designs and inventions, which included lighting,[13] his Transparent Chair for the No-Sag Spring Co. that was exhibited in La Triennale di Milano in 1957 [14] and his patented Drain Dry Cushion, licensed to Lee Woodard & Sons.[15] In 1956 the royalty income from the Drain Dry Cushion allowed Rowland to move from his $40 a month room to an apartment and to open his own office.

The 40/4 chair

Off and on for eight years, Rowland worked on and perfected a design for a revolutionary new stacking chair with a wire frame and sculpted seat and back. Forty of them could be stacked just 4 feet high on a specially designed dolly. It not only stacked with ease, but could be ganged together to form rows in a matter of seconds. The slim slender profile of the design completely belies the comfort it offers, an attribute achieved only after long testing to find the contour that would best fit the greatest number of human shapes.[16]

For a long time, however, Rowland had difficulty finding a manufacture willing to take a license to make his versatile chair. They would always turn it down because they couldn’t imagine the chair would be strong enough when it looked so light. The tide turned when the architectural firm of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill ordered 17,000 of the chairs on behalf of the University of Illinois at Chicago Circle[17] (now the University of Illinois at Chicago). Then the General Fireproofing Co. (GF) willingly took a license from Rowland to make the chairs.[18]

David Rowland's 40/4 stacking chair

Sales of the chair took off, earning critical recognition in winning the grand prize at the Milan Triennale, was included in the Museum of Modern Art's (MoMA) permanent collection, and has been in continuous production ever since.[18][19] It was recognized by the American Institute of Interior Designers in 1965.[20] Today it is manufactured by the Danish contract furniture manufacturer Howe a/s and sold around the world. The chair can be found in cultural sites, public buildings, places of worship, universities and schools, corporate offices, conference centers, restaurants and homes, including St Paul's Cathedral for the Wedding of Charles, Prince of Wales, and Lady Diana Spencer and on submarines of the United States Navy.[18]

The 40/4 chair has been called “the most universally useful chair ever made and accomplished with the least expenditure of material and labor”.[21] In 2010 Contract Design Magazine named the 40/4 number one of the top 10 commercial interiors products of the past 50 years.[2]

Later versions

Rowland continuously worked on refinements of the 40/4 chair and developed variations of it in cooperation with Howe a/s. Currently the 40/4 chair family consists of the original side chair, an armchair, lounge chair, barstool, counter chair, outdoor chair and swivel-base chair, each available in a wide variety of materials and colors.[22]

Other Work

  • Soflex, a patented seating material invention
  • The Softec Chair, incorporating Soflex, manufactured by Thonet
  • The Billow Chair, also incorporating Soflex, manufactured by Nienkämper
  • The Modulus seating system manufactured by Martela of Finland
  • The Ariel chair manufactured by Allsteel
  • Numerous other chairs and tables
  • Modular Housing based on shipping containers
  • A dimensioning system called “The Mod”
  • Design for a church
  • A flood control system

Personal life

Rowland was married in 1971 to (Miss) Erwin Wassum, a quilt artist, originally from Virginia. They lived in New York City, before moving to Virginia in 2001. Their only children were their many projects. Rowland had a wide variety of interests, including architecture, wind energy, culture, the arts and traveling the world on business. If someone said something was “impossible” to Rowland, he felt challenged to figure out how the impossible could be achieved. His favorite mottos included “Do the most with the least” and “Never give up!” Rowland was a life-long Christian Scientist.[23]

Honors and Awards

  • 37 U.S. Patents and numerous international patents
  • 1964 Grand Prix, Milan Triennale for '40/4 Chair'[24]
  • "40/4 Chair” named #1 of The Top 10 Commercial Interiors Products of the Past 50 Years by Contract Design Magazine, 2010[2]
  • Design in America: The Cranbrook Vision. 1984 Exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum in New York.[25]
  • Design in America: The Cranbrook Vision,1984 book<[25]
  • International Council of Societies of Industrial Design (ICSID) Exhibition 1980
  • Best of Competition Gold Medal, Institute of Business Designers (IBD) and Contract Magazine 1979[26]
  • Design in America: The Cranbrook Vision. 1984 Exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum in New York.
  • Gold Award for Product Design Excellence (Seating), Institute of Business Designers (IBD) and Contract Magazine 1979,
  • Meadmoore, The Modern Chair, 1975 [27]
  • Austrian Government Gold Medal Award for Furniture 1968 [28]
  • Master Design Award 1965, Product Engineering Magazine [29]
  • National Cotton Batting InstituteAward, 1958 for chair design[12]
  • Illuminating Engineering Society Award, for lighting design, 1951[12]
  • Best Piece of Business Furniture award from American Institute of Designers (AID)[30]

Museum Collections Containing David Rowland's Work

The Museum of Modern Art, New York, New York [31] The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York [32] Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania [33] The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois [34] Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, New York [35] Palais du Louvre, Musée des Arts Decoratifs, Paris,. France[36] Design Museum, London, England [37] Victoria and Albert Museum, London [38] Museu de Arte Moderna, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil [9] Die Neue Sammlung, Munich, Germany [9]



  1. Meadmore, Clement (1975). The modern chair: classics in production. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Co.. pp. 136–138. ISBN 0442253052. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 "Error: no |title= specified when using {{Cite web}}". March 2010. p. 22. 
  3. "40/4 chair usage". Retrieved 5 June 2014. 
  4. "David Rowland, Maker of a Tidily Stacked Chair, Dies at 86". August 26, 2010. 
  5. "History of The Haggin Museum's Leyendecker Collection". 
  6. 6.0 6.1 "Error: no |title= specified when using {{Cite web}}". December 2004. p. 114. 
  7. Stockton Highschool Yearbook. 1942. 
  8. "Error: no |title= specified when using {{Cite web}}". The Stockton Record. October 6, 1945. 
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 "David Rowland 40/4". 2011. p. 12. 
  10. Principia Alumni Directory. 2006. p. 298. 
  11. Cranbrook Academy of Art Alumni Directory. 1994. p. 54. 
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 Who Was Who in American Art. Sound View Printers. June 1985. p. 2847. ISBN 0932087574. 
  13. "Error: no |title= specified when using {{Cite web}}". Illuminating Engineering Society. 1951. 
  14. "Error: no |title= specified when using {{Cite web}}". House Beautiful. May 1956. 
  15. "Error: no |title= specified when using {{Cite web}}". Christian Science Monitor. Aug 30, 1951. 
  16. Gueft, Olga (June 1964). "Error: no |title= specified when using {{Cite web}}". p. 122. 
  17. 9:22 in Accessed November 11, 2013
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 Hevesi, Dennis. "David Rowland, Maker of a Tidily Stacked Chair, Dies at 86", The New York Times, August 25, 2010. Accessed August 26, 2010.
  19. Staff. "U.S. Exhibit Takes Top Prize in Milan", The New York Times, September 26, 1964. Accessed August 26, 2010.
  20. O'Brien, George. "A.I.D. Gives Awards to 14 Designs", The New York Times, January 5, 1965. Accessed August 26, 2010.
  21. Emery, Sherman (June 1964). "The Story of a Chair". 
  22. Howe a/s David Rowland: 40/4, 2011
  23. "Error: no |title= specified when using {{Cite web}}". The Stockton Record. 
  24. "Error: no |title= specified when using {{Cite web}}". New York Herald Tribune. Sep 25, 1964. 
  25. 25.0 25.1 The Detroit Institute of Arts; Robert Judson Clark (1983). Design in America : the Cranbrook vision, 1925-1950 : [The Detroit Institute of Arts, december 14, 1983 through february 19, 1984 ... Victoria and Albert Museum, London, april 1, 1984 through june 30, 1985]. New York: Abrams u.a.. ISBN 0-8109-0801-8. 
  26. "Error: no |title= specified when using {{Cite web}}". Nov 1979. p. 84. 
  27. The modern chair: classics in production. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Co.. 1975. ISBN 0-442-25305-2. 
  28. "STACKABLE CHAIR. Designer David Rowland tells how at first, everyone turned it down ...". Christian Science Monitor. October 6, 1988. 
  29. "New Fashions That Sit Well". Houston Chronicle. May 27, 1965. 
  30. "A.I.D. Gives Awards to 14 Designs". New York Times. Jan 4, 1965. 
  31. "MoMA - The Collection - David Rowland. 40/4 Stacking Chair. 1964". 
  32. ""40/4" side chair". Retrieved 18 June 2014. 
  33. "Philadelphia Museum of Art - Collections Object : 40-in-4 Stacking Chair". Retrieved 18 June 2014. 
  34. "GF 40/4 Chair (one of a pair) - The Art Institute of Chicago". 
  35. "Brooklyn Museum: Decorative Arts: "Sof-Tech" Side Chair". Retrieved 18 June 2014. 
  36. Mel Byars (2004). The design encyclopedia. London: King [u.a.]. ISBN 978-0870700125. 
  37. "1960s - A Century of Chairs - Design Museum London". Retrieved 18 June 2014. 
  38. "Chairs - Victoria and Albert Museum". 

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