Designing Phenom Charles Henry Harrison Transitions

Chuck Henry Harrison with his patented View-Master device.

Chuck Henry Harrison with his patented View-Master device.

By Free Radical

African-American inventing marvel Charles “Chuck” Harrison passed on Wednesday. Harrison is credited with designing a number of modern day conveniences and even toys that have become commonplace in the United States and around the world.

Harrison’s list of inventions is extensive and include the plastic trash can, electronic sewing machine, riding lawnmower, and the View-Master toy among other devices.

Harrison is a native of Louisiana. His father was a professor of industrial arts at Prairie View A&M, an HBCU in Texas. Despite having dyslexia, Charles entered the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the Illinois Institute of Technology.

Upon graduating, he developed an impressive resume as an industrial engineer. And while working for Robert Podall Associates, he gave the View-Master its sleek design and signature orange color.

In 1961, he became the first ever Black executive in the history of Sears. Ironically, he was denied a position at the company just years later because of his race.

According to Black Enterprise, while at Sears he developed power tools, sewing machines, steam irons, the see-through measuring cup, televisions, toys, baby cribs, radios, and kitchen appliances, including the electric mixer. It was at Sears that he designed the plastic trash can as an alternative to more noisy metal containers. This is his most popular and widely used creation.

Harrison retired from Sears in 1993. Altogether, he worked on more than 700 products for the company. In retirement, he taught courses at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, the University of Illinois at Chicago, and Columbia College in Chicago.

In 2008, he became the first Black professional to be awarded a Lifetime Achievement National Design Award by Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.

Harrison is survived by his son Charles and two grandsons. His wife, Janet Eleanor Simpson passed in 1999.

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