Industrial antiques, fridge magnets, history...

Monday, June 27, 2011

Uhl Art Steel Company History: The Famous Toledo Drafting Stool

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.  

Sets are not easy to find.
This set of four matching Toledo
stools are at chair height. 
Insert table and you're good to go.

According to a 1914
Journal of the National Association
of Retail Druggists
, Clement and Joe designed the unique
locked truss-rail leg assembly of cold rolled steel that
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
parlor customers.

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.



  1. I bought one of these at an auction today for 75 CENTS! I was just looking for a vintage, shabby office chair. Mine is the kind with wheels, black bent plywood. I just liked the chair: sturdy, vintage, nice lines, didn't know what it was. Seeing the Uhl label on the chair I decided to investigate and am shocked at the prices I am seeing for them! What a find!!

  2. Haha! Run buy a lottery ticket, Lady Luck is in your corner! A catalog house is reproducing those chairs, selling the repo's for as much as originals. You got a seriously nice deal.

  3. I enjoyed reading the history and wish I had the luck of the above reader. The company is now Toledo Furniture.

  4. Thanks for the link. It seems almost impossible that I did not turn that up in numerous web searches. Glad to see the company has survived.

  5. I just bought a typewriter table cabinet for $75 from my neighbor who is moving. It is in really good shape. Anyone have any idea of it's value? Its exactly like the one pictured above in the ad.

    1. There is one on Ebay as I speak, starting at $150.00. We've sold several over the years in the $125 range. They're nice for plant or lamp stands. For a top, glass is easy. We offer wood and steel tops: Table tops of steel or wood

  6. Any chance that he has any of tese chairs still needing a home ?

    1. I wish :(
      They're all gone. We have just 3 Toledo items at the moment: Steel Toledo stool , Bent Plywood Toledo stool , and Wood top Toledo stool

      You might consider going with mismatched stools and chairs. If you're going for minimalism or art deco it won't work, but it will if machine age is your goal. Mismatch is fun and attracts more attention. Or go 2 each of five different stools.

      The only one of the 3 listed above that is tall enough is the bent plywood and it's pricey - because the bent plywood era stools are getting harder to come by. We have four remaining of these but they're not Toledo: Polished steel stools

  7. The stuff you are penning blows out my mind.
    metal fab