A Chair built for Torpedo Attack is a U.S. Navy legend.
Fire kills warships.
In the early days of World War II, the USS Vincennes was set ablaze when Japanese shells shattered the heavy cruiser’s hangar space. The damage itself was not fatal, but the boat’s own paint and inventory—spare airplane parts, life jackets, and machine oil—fed the fire, lighting up the night sky and attracting more gunfire. In the early morning hours of August 9, 1942, the Vincennes rolled over and sank near Savo Island in the South Pacific. As a result, the U.S. Navy embarked on a campaign to rid its combat ships of almost everything that would ignite.
A request for proposal for a new shipborne chair caught the attention of a young Baltimore engineer named Wilton Dinges. The chairs had to be waterproof, fire and corrosion resistant, light, and yet tough enough to endure constant abuse, and withstand a torpedo blast. Dinges created the Model 1006 aluminum chair.
To prove the 1006’s strength and resilience to the Navy, Dinges dropped his chair from an eighth-story hotel room in Chicago. The 1006 bounced, and clattered to the curb unharmed. Dinges won the contract and established the Electric Machine and Equipment Company (Emeco) to produce it. In 1944, the first chairs were delivered to Navy submarines. When the U.S. military tested two atomic bombs at Bikini Atoll in July of 1946, the 1006 chairs adorning the interior of the battleship USS Nevada were “little disturbed” by a nuclear weapon, set off just 615 yards away.
Facing dwindling sales in the 1960’ and 70’s, Dinges eventually sold Emeco to Jay Buchbinder in 1979, but the sales continued to dwindle. It wasn’t until Jay’s son, Gregg, acquired the company in 1998, that things changed. “I heard our customer service employee, Paulina, yelling into the phone one day, “No, I will not ship your chairs! You send the money first,” says Gregg Buchbinder. “I asked her who was on the phone, and she said, “Some guy…Giorgio Armani.”
The 1006 had morphed from a chair that could withstand a torpedo blast, and last 150 years, to a fashion icon without changing its design or construction in any way. The 1006’s two-week, 77-step, production cycle has remained unchanged since 1944, and it is all done by hand.
The history, and growing legend, of the 1006 has been summed up by one of its “fashion” aficionados as follows:
“I always imagine the 1006 chair in two cases. First, in the most ultimate case for which it was invented. I imagine submariners during the war, locked in their metal box, sitting in their Emeco 1006 chairs. They have cut the engine, and they make no noise. They can hear the magnetic mines passing all around them. They know that if the mine detects too much metal, it will explode. This is why these chairs are made of aluminum. This moment of absolute anguish marked the Emeco 1006 chair for life. Then, there is the image of those who make the chair. I imagine old bikers with long hair, bandanas, tattoos, rings, old jeans and motorbike boots, welding all day, polishing and polishing again while smoking cigars or even chewing tobacco. Happy to do well always and forever. In the evening, they go back home or for a beer on their old Harley Davidson, feeling that they were part of a beautiful proposition of humanity.”
The Chair built for Torpedo Attack, the Emeco 1006 chair is still hand-built in Hanover, Pennsylvania.