Charles Eames Biography

(Designer, Architect and Filmmaker)

Birthday: June 17, 1907 (Gemini)

Born In: St. Louis, Missouri

Charles Ormond Eames Jr. along with his wife and collaborator Ray Eames occupies a central position in the history of post-war American design, and is considered to be one of the most important American designers of the twentieth century. His architecture and exhibition designs earned him international fame, as did his films and multi-media presentations. Today, the work of Eames is admired not only by architects and designers, but also by post-modernists. Eames’s products appealed to those who wanted contemporary styles and imagery but found much modernist design cold and impersonal. He had a vision of life made better through design and technology as his belief in the crucial role of technology never wavered. Eames played a pivotal role in making modernism acceptable to the non-elite Americans in the post-war years. His work reveals a dynamic fusion of aesthetic, technical and, at times, intellectual concerns. His workshop could be best described as the ‘Renaissance workshop’ and ‘a designer’s heaven’.

Quick Facts

Died At Age: 71


Spouse/Ex-: Catherine Woermann, Ray Kaiser

children: Lucia Jenkins

Born Country: United States

Quotes By Charles Eames American Men

Died on: August 21, 1978

place of death: Saint Louis

U.S. State: Missouri

More Facts

education: Yeatman high school, Yeatman high school, Cranbrook Academy of Ar

awards: 1977 - AIA Twenty-five Year Award
1979 Royal Gold Medal
1985 - The Most Influential Designer of the 20th Century IDSA

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Childhood & Early Life
He was born to Charles Sr., a railway security officer and his wife Adele and was the younger of his parent’s two children. He attended Yeatman high school and developed an interest for architecture. He went on to work at the Laclede steel company where he learned about engineering, drawing and architecture.
He enrolled in Washington University at St. Louis on architecture scholarship. He, however, left the university after two years. Sources say that he was thrown out for his advocacy of Frank Lloyd Wright and his interest in modern architects. His dismissal is also attributed to the fact that he worked as an architect at Trueblood and Graf. As he could not devote enough time to both his studies and work, he decided to leave.
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In 1930, he established his own architectural firm in St. Louis with partner Charles Gray and was later joined by a third partner, Walter Pauley. With his further progress, he received a fellowship to Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan, where he later became the head of design department.
He met Eero Sarinen there with whom he designed prize-winning furniture for the museum of modern art’s ‘Organic Furniture Competition’ by molding plywood into intricate curves and designs. He also met Ray Kaiser who assisted him in his designing and later became his wife and business partner.
In 1941, he moved to California along with his wife Ray Kaiser Eames and continued his designing work by molding plywood. During the Second World War, they were commissioned by the Navy to produce molded plywood splints, stretchers and experimental glider shells.
In 1946, they started their own furniture label known as ‘Eameses’ molded plywood furniture. Their molded plywood chair was called ‘The chair of the century’ by an architectural critic Esther McCoy. The production was later taken by Herman Miller Inc. in the United States and they own it to this day.
They expanded their establishment and partnership by opening a branch in Europe as well, where a company called ‘Vitra International’ was given the manufacturing rights.
He included a number of remarkable designers in his office which was operational for more than four decades. It incorporated Henry Beer, Richard Foy, Harry Bertoia, and Gregory Ain. Many innovative designs emerged out including, the molded-plywood DCW (Dining Chair Wood) and DCM (Dining Chair Metal with a plywood seat) (1945), Eames Lounge Chair (1956), the Aluminum Group furniture (1958), Eames Chaise (1968), the playful Do-Nothing Machine (1957) and toys.
In 1970-71, he gave a series of lectures at Harvard University, ‘The Charles Eliot Norton lectures’, an annual lectureship, where he introduced his ‘banana leaf parable’ concept.
Major Works
In 1949, Charles and Ray Eames designed and built their own home in Pacific Palisades, California as part of the ‘case study’ program sponsored by the ‘Arts and Architecture’ magazine. Called the Eames house, it was hand constructed using pre-fabricated steel parts meant for industrial construction and is considered as the most important post-war residences built anywhere in the world.
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In 1950, he, along with his wife, produced a short film ‘Traveling Boy’ (1950) to document their interests. The film showcases the methodology involved in furniture production. They further released ‘Powers of 10’ in 1977. This film gives a dramatic demonstration of orders of magnitude by visually zooming away from the Earth to the edge of the universe, and then microscopically zooming into the nucleus of a carbon atom.
In 1961, he came out with his first exhibition, ‘Mathematica: A world of numbers…and beyond’ which was sponsored by IBM. This exhibition was a landmark one in the field of science popularization exhibitions. Soon, it was followed by ‘A computer perspective: Background to the computer age’ (1971), and ‘The world of Franklin and Jefferson’ (1975-77).
Awards & Achievements
In 1960, he won ‘Emmy Award’ for his visually inventive documentary film, ‘The Fabulous Fifties’. It included animation, musical segments, and short narrations by people like Henry Fonda, Jackie Gleason and Leora Dana.
In 1961, he earned a ‘Kaufmann Industrial Design Award’ for his accomplishments in the field of design development.
In 1977, he received ‘American Institute of Architects Award’ for his outstanding achievement in the support of the profession of architecture.
In 1979, he was awarded the Queen’s gold medal for architecture by Royal Institute of British architects in recognition to his substantial contribution to international architecture.
In 1985, he was named ‘Most influential designer of the 20th century’ by the ‘Industrial designer’s society of America’.
He has a star on St. Louis walk of fame for his contribution to the culture of the United States through architecture.

Personal Life and Legacy
In 1929, he married Catherine Woermann whom he had met at the Washington University. They had a daughter Lucia Jenkins a year later. The couple divorced in 1941 after his involvement with his colleague.
In 1941, he married Ray Kaiser whom he had met at Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. They married at a friend’s place in Chicago and soon moved to Los Angeles to mark the beginning of their married life and career.
After Charles’s death, Ray completed their unfinished projects and worked on a book describing their work. She also transferred many of their objects to the Library of Congress.
His daughter, Lucia Eames established the Eames foundation to preserve and protect the Eames house and impart educational experiences celebrating the works of her parents. In 2006, Eames house was named a ‘National Historic Landmark’ and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
In 2008, the United States postal service honored Charles and Ray Eames by issuing a 16 stamp collection commemorating their work. The collection honored their contribution to architecture, furniture design, manufacturing and photographic arts.
In 2009, House Industries created the Eames century modern typeface which honored the Eames aesthetics. It includes 26 fonts, 18-Style text family with italics, 9 Figure Styles and 4 Numeral Fonts as well as a smart ornaments font.
He designed St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Helena, Arkansas for which he got the fellowship at ‘Cranbrook Academy of Art’ to study architecture.
He designed the IBM pavilion at the 1964-65 New York’s world fair.

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