My Jewish Chicago: A Special Designer
The Jewish community of Chicago has made many contributions to the city’s growth and development. Indeed, there’s a long list of noted people and famous celebrities who have made their mark. I included several in Shalom Chicago but no exhibition could have included them all. Fortunately, many more Jewish Chicagoans are featured in the Museum’s core exhibition Chicago: Crossroads of America. They include:
- Dankmar Adler, architect (also featured in Shalom Chicago)
- Marvin Glass, toy designer
- Benny Goodman, musician
- Benjamin Greenfield, hat designer
- Wolfgang Hoffman, designer
- Newton Minow, lawyer and chairman of the Federal Communications Commission under President John F. Kennedy
- Laszo Moholy-Nagy, designer
- Bernard Sahlins and Paul Sills, two of the founders of The Second City
- Conrad Seipp, brewer
- Carole and Gordon Segal, founders of Crate & Barrel
- Studs Terkel, radio and tv personality and author
Each person has a rich story to tell, but in this post, I’d like to turn the spotlight on Wolfgang Hoffman, a cutting-edge designer of the 1930s. Hoffman, son of well-known Viennese architect Josef Hoffman, immigrated to America in 1925 to seek greater opportunity. He originally lived and worked in New York City but came to Chicago for the 1933 A Century of Progress International Exposition, where he helped New York architect and theater designer Joseph Urban develop the fair’s bold color scheme. He also designed all of the furniture and accessories displayed in the fair’s Lumber Industries House.
Wolfgang Hoffman, c. 1940
His work caught the eye of William McCredie, president of the Howell Company, a furniture manufacturer based in Geneva, Illinois. Between 1934 and 1942, Hoffman worked exclusively for Howell, designing a wide array of stylish yet affordable tubular steel furniture at a time when most Americans were on tight budgets. One of his best designs is this prototype serving cart on view in Crossroads. A similar model became one of the company’s best-selling pieces.
Serving cart designed by Wolfgang Hoffman, c. 1935
Hoffman left the Howell Company after the factory converted to wartime production and pursued a successful career in photography. His early talent as an industrial designer, however, is beyond dispute. The Museum is fortunate to have a rich collection of his work, including several additional pieces of furniture and many works on paper.