Charles and Ray Eames
Molded mahogany plywood
8 × 4 × 43”
It was 1942, and America was all geared up for war. Charles’s friend Dr. Wendell Scott, who was stationed in San Diego, visited Charles and Ray in their Los Angeles apartment and mentioned that the Medical Corps was struggling with a problem: The standard metal splints used to brace wounded servicemen were actually causing further injury. The problem stemmed from the metal stretcher bearers, which amplified vibrations in the brace. Upon hearing of this dilemma, Charles and Ray immediately started experimenting with ways to address it; by 1943, the Eameses had made their first Molded Plywood Splint.
The splint conformed to the human leg, offering ideal support through its natural form. In fact, to make the splint, the design duo used Charles’s leg as the model–apparently, an extremely painful process, since removing the cast ripped out all his hair.
“It also was an extremely honest use of materials, wedding the Eames understanding of the limits of the material to the functional needs of the splint,” says Eames Demetrios in An Eames Primer. “Symmetrical holes relieve the stress of the bent plywood, but also give the medic a place to thread bandages and wrappings. The splints represent a perfect example of utilizing to advantage what the Eameses called the constraints of a particular design problem. Recognizing and working within these constraints was always key to their design process. It was not always easy.”
By the end of World War II, it is estimated that 150,000 splints were made and used. “The Eameses, evolving into the Eames Office and the Molded Plywood Divison of Evans products, had developed and nurtured a fabrication process and even built the actual tooling that made the splints.”
The design led to other wartime molded-plywood work as well, including an airplane fuselage, airplane stabilizer tail, an arm splint, a body litter, and a pilot seat. —Eames Office
(Photo: Wright & Eames Office)