Helping a friend find homes for a large stash of Toledo stools from the chemistry lab at a small college provided an excuse to explore the history of the company that built them.
What came to be known as the Toledo Metal Furniture Company was started as Uhl's Cycle Emporium at 1021-23 Monroe Street in Toledo, Ohio in 1898. Philip E. Uhl (president) and Clement Richard Uhl (VP/supt) founded the company on $85. Others of the 10 Uhl brothers joined the firm,including Joseph Ferdinand Louis Uhl (secretary/GM), Otto G., Charles, Henry and Robert Uhl. Joseph, a 1-legged concert violinist, also directed the family Concert Band and Orchestra.
As the popularity of automobiles reduced the market for bicycles (1900-1910), the Uhls shifted their focus to manufacturing ice cream parlor furniture, renaming the company Uhl Art Steel, and in 1904 incorporating as the Toledo Metal Furniture company. By 1920 capital stock reached $300,000, there were over 150 employees and the product mix had been expanded to include office and classroom furniture. (See 1950s Toledo elementary student desk below.)
According to a 1914 Journal of the National Association
of Retail Druggists, Clement and Joe designed the unique
remains a hallmark of the company's furniture (see patent
illustrations below). In addition to lending a distinctive design element, the truss was important in creating a product with the strength and
durability to endure rugged use by students, telephone
operators, military personnel, draftsmen and ice cream
Early Toledo stool seats and backs were constructed of bent
plywood. Though pleasing aesthetically, they were prone to
splintering and delamination.
When plastics fabricating became efficient, the company
jumped at the opportunity to improve its products by
designing thick molded seats and backs of solid plastic,
ensuring that stools built in the 1960s would be in use
40-50 years later.
Efforts to learn about the last few decades have not been fruitful but a helpful reader has passed along a link to the Toledo Furniture company.
Clement Uhl (or a son) was still designing
as of 1933 and in 1975 one of Clement's son's, Philip, filed
a patent for a collapsible picnic table for the company.
The famous Uhl furniture truss seems to have been
patented in 1902.
By 1905 the company was expanding from ice cream
parlors to the office where clerks, draftsmen and telephone
operators needed rotating seats. Here is a page from one of
This 1906 Uhl advertisement probably came right from
the heart: "Uhl Art Steel Chairs are built to last for all time.
They are light, yet possessing the strength of Samson."
That fuzzy type at the bottom?
Tis the price: $4.50 for the chair or stool.
Typewriter stands were patented in 1912.
A Toledo Metal Furniture double student desk
and chair set from the 1950s.