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Grand Rapids in 1856

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Irwin Seating Co.

1932 - present

Grand Rapids, and Walker, Michigan

Successor to Steel Furniture Co.

SEE ALSO Steel Furniture Company (Listed below)


1932: Steel Furniture Co. changes its name to Irwin Seating Co.

1973: Company establishes Irwin Seating Canada Limited in Ontario.

1984: Company establishes Irwin Telescopic Platform Co. of Harlingen, Texas.

1989: Company purchases Canadian Chair Co. of Ontario, a renovator of auditorium seating.

1991: Company purchases the Folding Bleacher Co. of Altamont, Illinois to manufacture telescopic bleachers. Telescopic platform production moves from Texas to the Illinois facility.

1996: Company creates a joint venture to manufacture theater seating in Port Klang, Malaysia.


The Steel Furniture Co. was organized by three brothers: Earle, Eber, and Robert Irwin (who later owned the Robert W. Irwin Furniture Co.) along with John Duffy, and R.P. Tietwort. Earle was president and head of operations. Earl’s son William joined the company in 1933. During World Was II William served as head of the purchasing department and production manager for the Irwin-Pedersen Arms Co., which manufactured M-1 Carbine rifles at the vacated Macey Co. plant, in which the Irwin family also had a financial stake. At the end of the war, William left Irwin Pedersen and re-established the family business. He became president in 1946. The current head of the company is Earle S. “Win” Irwin, who joined the company in 1975 and became president in 1984 when his father William retired.


From its beginning, The Steel Furniture Co. and later Irwin Seating made classroom furniture and auditorium seating. During WWII production by Irwin was halted, and the factory was leased to Lear-Avia to make fractional horsepower motors. The company was outfitted with new machinery after the war, and by the end of 1945 restarted production of simple auditorium seats with bent plywood seats and backs.

From the 1940s through the 1960s, school furniture was made in bent plywood and steel. Movable combination chair/desks were made with slanted, lift-up tops, or tablet arm tops with book storage underneath the seat. “The Comet” and other auditorium chairs also utilized plywood and steel in streamlined designs, and came with or without upholstery. “The Comet” remained a part of the company’s auditorium seating offerings for decades, with only minor revisions. New lines of stadium/arena seating were added in the 1970s and ‘80s including the more angular, injection-molded plastic and steel “Citation” and “Gladiator” models. These came in several options that could be screwed to the floor, or attached to the set-up behind the seat, allowing them to fold down for flexible seating requirements. In 1988 Irwin introduced a top-of-the-line theater seat called the “Marquee,” which was ergonomically designed.

By the mid-1980s, the company had claimed as high as 60% of the nation’s market share as the leading manufacturer of indoor seating for auditoriums, movie theaters, and arenas. It produced chairs for an average of 800 to 900 theaters and auditoriums a year. In 1994 Irwin ranked as the 97th largest furniture company of any kind in America. Irwin Seating installations include chairs for DeVos Hall and Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids, New York City’s Carnegie Hall and Arthur Ashe Stadium, The Palace in Auburn Hills, Market Square Arena in Indianapolis, Roy Thompson Hall in Toronto, and the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. Virtually all seating components, including solid wood and veneers, upholstery, and the die-forming of steel parts is done in the company’s own facilities.

While approximately 80% of the company’s sales now come from auditorium and theater seating, the remaining 20% comes from the sale of classroom furniture. New lines were developed using a tubular, nickel-planted steel frame onto which were attached contoured plastic, plywood, or upholstered seats and back rests. These seats were combined in a variety of ways with attached or free-standing desks or tablet arms with laminated writing surfaces. Other lines designed for lecture settings incorporated fiberglass shell chairs on fixed steel pedestals, and strip tables or folding tablet arms. In 1986 Irwin purchased the classroom furniture line of the American Seating Co. of Grand Rapids. By the late 1980s, it was filling approximately 2,000 orders for classroom furniture annually. Irwin also makes and sells seating for installation in church sanctuaries.


In the 1940s and ‘50s, the Irwin Seating Co. used an “eye” shaped trademark, similar to that of the Robert W. Irwin Co. The Irwin Seating mark contains the word “IRWIN” in the center, surrounded by “SEATING COMPANY” on top and “GRAND RAPIDS, MICH” below. Beginning at least in the 1970s, the corporate trademark became a rectangular, lower case “i” shadowed by repeats of the same character behind, and to the right the name “Irwin Seating Company”.


Steel Furniture Co.

1907 – 1932

Grand Rapids, Michigan

Manufacturer of school and theater furniture, opera chairs, church, lodge and public seating, office furniture, and metal folding chairs.


1907: Company founded as Steel Furniture Co.

1932: Name changes to Irwin Seating Co.

In its early history the Steel Furniture Co. sold heavily through contracts in Latin America, and was selling in North, Central and South America, Africa, and China as early as 1911.


The source, with permission of the author, is Grand Rapids Furniture: The Story of America’s Furniture City by Christian G. Carron, published by the Grand Rapids Public Museum. 1998. 


Full Details

TitleIrwin Seating Co.
AddressGrand Rapids, MI
Year Opened1932
Year Closedpresent
Locationlocation on map

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