It seems a bit odd to choose "plywood," as my subject but it is actually quite interesting. It was first introduced in the 1700s and became rather popular beginning in the 1850s.
Plywood consists of three layers or veneers of wood which have been plied together with the grain running crosswise and was found to be very strong. It was also cheaper than using aluminum or steel.
Michael Thonet was a pioneer of industrial furniture production who experimented with bentwood furniture. Many 20th century designers used plywood as their main material, designers such as; Rietveld, Marcel Breuer, Alvar Aalto and Charles and Ray Eames, to name a few.
During World War I, the advancement of plywood technology took off. The quality, flexibility and durability were improved by research for the aviation industry. "When avant-garde architects and designers of the 1920s searched for ways of making cheap mass-producible furniture, plywood looked like an attractive solution."
The top photograph is a table by the Hungarian born architect, Marcel Breuer. Bruer actually liked working in aluminum but reluctantly agreed to work in plywood. He came to influence Charles Eames and his wife, Ray, whose lounge chair and ottoman is seen in the bottom photo.
The Eames' worked in Los Angeles, keeping their makeshift studio in their apartment a secret from their landlord. As they continued to experiment using plywood, Charles smuggled woods and glues into their apartment. Charles had a one man furniture exhibition in 1946 at the Museum of Modern Art. They later added another dimension to plywood by molding it into their 1956 Lounge Chair (above).
In the 60s and 70s plywood fell from favor as plastic became popular.