The late Charles “Chuck” Harrison is one of the most important industrial designers of his time, and items that he’s either invented or designed have been impacting lives for over 60 years.
Charles Harrison Jr. was born September 23, 1931 in Shreveport, La. His father, Charles Harrison Sr., was a professor of Industrial Arts at Southern University. The family relocated to Texas where the senior Harrison taught at Prairie View A&M University before moving once again to Phoenix, Ariz. to work teach at the all-Black George Washington Carver High School where the junior Harrison attended.
After high school, Harrison studied at City College of San Francisco, thriving there despite battling dyslexia. He obtained a scholarship to the School of The Art Institute in Chicago (SAIC), graduating in 1954. Harrison was then drafted into the U.S. Army, working as a cartographer before resuming graduate studies and meeting his wife in Chicago. Harrison obtained his master’s degree in art education from the Illinois Institute of Technology.
In the ’50’s, Harrison attempted to work at Sears, Roebuck, and Company but was reportedly denied due to his race. However, one of his undergraduate professors put him to work and he did freelance design work. Harrison’s big break and one of his many notable career moments occurred in 1958 when he lead a team that improved the design of the popular View Master toy. In 1961, he was finally added to Sears’ staff, and in 1963, he revolutionized waste management by inventing the first-ever plastic trash can.
Harrison worked for Sears for 32 years, designing hundreds of items including sewing machines, toasters, lawn mowers and several household items. According to reports, he is also the first Black executive for Sears. Harrison retired in 1993, but went on to teach part-time at several universities across Chicago, including his alma mater, SAIC.
Chuck Harrison passed on November 29. He was 87.
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