Sometimes necessity is the mother of invention!
When one thinks of war, it's not usually to associate it with creativity and innovation in furniture design, but WW2 had a huge influence among the artistic community in stretching the limits of their imagination.
The 1940's was a lean time in America, due to the economic devastation caused by WW2. Metal, timber and other materials were diverted to the war effort and so while domestic production was curtailed or shut down altogether, furniture design went through an intense period of inventive energy as designers and architects experimented with new materials specifically designed for use by the U.S. military. For example, the DuPont company invented nylon to replace silk in parachutes and fibreglass was created to manufacture domes on airplanes. Because of a shortage of timber, moulded plywood was used for affordable furniture.
In 1941, Charles and Ray Eames were commissioned by the U.S. government to develop splints and stretchers out of moulded plywood because metal splints and stretchers created vibrations which caused further pain to the injured. Two of the couple's most iconic designs, the DCW, a moulded plywood dining chair and it's companion, the LCW, a moulded plywood lounge chair were born out of creative necessity during the 40's. Their output was prolific and they went on to design iconic chairs using moulded fibreglass for the slightly curved seats of the DSW, DAW, DSR, DAR and RAR chairs.
All are design classics and instantly recognisable. Likewise U.S. designer and architect Norman Cherner (1920 - 1987) became fascinated in the 50's with the possibilities of plywood and his most famous chair The Cherner Chair (1958) also became a design classic.
During WW2, functional, low-cost, simple designs came to the fore, reflecting life in America at the time. Because of this, designers needed an outlet to show off their designs and furniture trading associations, (made up of manufacturers and wholesalers) department stores and museums gave them encouragement by holding competitions and exhibitions. The Museum of Modern Art in New York ran competitions, eg, Organic Design in Home Furnishings in 1940 and an international competition for low cost furniture in 1947. For the Organic Design Competition in 1940, Eero Saarinen and Charles Eames collaborated and won in both the Seating and Modular Furniture categories.
The effects of WW2 among mid-century designers pushed the limits of their creativity and in turn, this influence trickled down throughout the last century - to this day, molded plywood and fibreglass have endured in furniture manufacture and taken their place in iconic furniture design.