The History Of Plywood

Posted on November 1st, 2010

J. Kermik, A. M. Luther 1877-1940. Form innovation risen from the material, Tallinn: Sild, 2002. 352 pages, ISBN 9985-9398-8-3.

Developed from my doctorate thesis (RCA, 1999), this monograph is presenting the history of the A. M. Luther Woodworking Company (one of the world leading plywood and furniture companies) with the particular emphasis on early industrial innovation in plywood technology and furniture design. A. M. Luther’s technological achievements and contributions to the development of modernist aesthetics and standardisation are also discussed in the context of British modernism.

Following its publication the A.M. Luther monograph received 2 major awards in 2002: E. Pütsep Memorial Research Award (Sweden) and National Culture Award 2002, Estonia.

The main purpose of this study was to evaluate and discuss the activities of the A.M. Luther Woodworking Company of Estonia in the context of the regional and international plywood industry. Research method and context combined elements of business history, the history of technology and the history of objects.

Previously published information available on A.M. Luther, both in Estonia and in the West, was limited and often contradictory with much of the material remaining unexplored. Due to 50 years of Soviet occupation, the Estonian archives had not been open to Western researchers and sometimes also to Estonian researchers. Therefore, the references to the Luther Company’s activities in literature were not only limited, but often inaccurate.

I was able to identify 2 unique archives with previously unresearched materials relating to the Luther Company’s Western European connections. Luther’s involvement with British modernists as well as Gropius and Breuer, suggested that the company’s foreign contacts and design programme contained much more than a successful international marketing structure. Luther’s contribution to international developments and its contacts with leading European modernists Gropius and Breuer during the mid 1930s had been unknown to Estonian design historians. It was at this stage that I realised the existence of two separate ‘histories’: one of the international plywood industry, the other of the Luther Company, both incomplete without each other.

Arguably, the period of the Luthers’ involvement (1877-1940) coincided with the most interesting development stage in the plywood industry. The seventy years which followed the application of the ingenious principle of cross-banding thin layers of wood to the industrial production of three-ply veneer seats in America in the 1870s, introduced plywood boards, joiners’ board for furniture production, technical plywoods as well as pioneering experiments in bending techniques. This period also included major developments relating to the standardisation of furniture as well as the impact of the ideologies of Modern Movement.

One of the aims of this research was to represent A.M. Luther’s history in the context of international developments and to emphasise the importance of its contributions both to plywood production and furniture design.


The A. M. Luther Factory reached the production of furniture which was informed by modernist aesthetics by the 1930s – as was the case with most large scale manufacturers in their field. The description of this journey forms the most original part of Kermik’s book and namely this is where he makes his contribution to Estonian and International design history discourse.
(Areen Sep. 19 2002 review by K. Kodres)

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