The US involvement in World War II brought together some of the finest designers, artists and architects, not only on the battlefields of Europe and the Pacific, but in the engine rooms, drawing offices and assembly lines, all working in unison for the cause.
It was no different for Charles and Ray Eames, drafted not to fight on the frontline, but to develop, craft, hone and deploy their skills in the collaborative effort of producing life saving and essential designs using the very materials they had helped to pioneer.
Not only did the war years represent a time of essential teamwork and project collaboration, it also became something of a hotbed for ideas and serious creative thinking, driven by the restrictions of available basic materials and resources. These strict conditions pushed designers to think well outside of their comfort zone and to explore different solutions to the problems presented to them.
These years were essentially an important period for Charles and Ray Eames. Had it not been for the success of the work during this time, we may never have seen the glorious works to come. It was all largely due to the experimental work that Charles was undertaking in molding plywood layers and veneers using specially made machines (called the Kazam Machine) together with high heat, essentially molding the plywood into interesting shapes including those with curves.
With a collaborative team assembled, the Plyform (as it would be known) technology was honed and improved, to the point whereby real prototypes and subsequent designs could be produced in the new material. The best of these, and the design that contributed so much to the ongoing war effort, was the 1942 Eames Leg Splint. This ingenious design was literally a life saver, replacing poorly made metal splints that often caused further injuries to unfortunate servicemen, with an incredible new design. Every facet of what a splint should do was explored and the result was a complete solution, a complete design and product that would allay the issues of the past.
The success of the leg splint would be the catalyst pushing experiments of the new Plyform material into a whole host of new possibilities. Early (often basic and crude) furniture forms were beginning to take shape but the focus was still very much with the on-going war effort. The collaboration of designers assembled at the Evans Plywood Company went about creating new prototypes for other medical apparatus including an arm splint and a full body stretcher. The lack of metal supplies would even lead to making aircraft parts, including pilot seats, trim tabs and even a nose section.
Although the experiments and prototypes (except for the leg splint) were not put into mass production, the lessons learned during these formative years cannot be underestimated. The near perfecting of the techniques of the Plyforming process would see the first of the Eames furniture designs come almost as quickly as the war was ending.