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Chronological history of the furniture designed by Professor Fritz Haller from 1963 to 2012.


In 1963, Professor Fritz Haller (1924 – 2012) was commissioned to design an office building for a client based in Münsingen near Berne in Switzerland.

Having completed this office building Professor Fritz Haller was asked to design the storage furniture for this new office.

Metal ball joint  

An important requirement was that the furniture could be manufactured “in-house” by the company’s own engineers.

To this day, Professor Fritz Haller’s furniture range is still made in-house in Münsingen and named after him.

The original concept was incredibly simple: to use the minimum number of components to make the largest number of possible permutations - just like the hugely successful Meccano system.

The system was based around a simple chromed brass ball joint which measured 25.4mm diameter and was drilled with six holes of MF8X1X8 diameter, allowing for a frame that could be built in any square or rectangular format. This idea of a ball joint was not new. Ball joints were already being used for many applications at that time, notably in the exhibition industry to form space frames for display stands, which could be assembled and disassembled for transport to the next trade show or exhibition.

Attached to this ball joint were a wide selection of different lengths of chromed steel tubing which were used to form a space frame, again, just like those seen on exhibition stands.   Chrome tubes

These tubes were industry standard 19mm diameter steel tubes made from standard 1.2mm thick steel and it is the chromed version that has stood the test of time, although for a few years the factory experimented with gold plated for the Middle-East markets and also black anodized. Both these finishes were eventually dropped in favor of the hard wearing chrome.

Dovetail wedge   Next came how to fix the tubes to the ball joint without unsightly screws and here Professor Haller opted for a hidden screw with two “dovetailed wedges”. When loosened, these formed a circle and when tightened against each other they formed an oval perfect for clamping inside the tube to hold everything together.

Any builder or Do It Yourself enthusiast will immediately recognize this principle in the “rawlplug” which is used everyday in building projects the world over.

Finally, to finish off the space frame, Professor Fritz Haller sourced a simple 30mm black plastic foot with an MF8X1X8 thread, which could be screwed into the existing holes on the ball joint. For mobility, a chrome hooded chair castor was selected, with black plastic wheels and again a MF8X1X8 pin, allowing it to be screwed to the ball joint.

Adjustable glide   Castor

These few items, all selected in 1963 from off-the-shelf industry standard components, have formed the skeleton of the USM system from the very beginning and remain fundamentally unchanged to this day - indeed only the new connector design differs from these 1960s principles.

Once the space frame has been constructed to the height, length, and depth of the customers requirements, we then look at “paneling out” the furniture.

Professor Haller wanted customers to be able to build the system themselves, without clever tooling or fixings, so the panels he used for the shelves, backs, sides and internal divisions were made to be a simple “push-in” fit, not screwed or glued.

To this end, the first generation of steel panels were a very simple flat steel plate with the edges beveled in order to provide some grip around the tubes. No other fixing was required so quite literally “a child could do it”.

  Grey metal furniture panel
In 1970, Professor Haller ceased to be involved directly with the development of the product and all further developments were then carried out by the factory's own in-house team.

The early panels were a very simple shape and continued to be manufactured until 1987, when the in-house design team developed a second generation of panels. These second generation panels allowed the user more fixing options for adding doors, extension shelves, filing racks, and adjustable intermediate panels.

  White metal furniture panel

The second generation panels introduced a series of small holes which were drilled into the side of the panels on all four edges. With new components came new model numbers, such as 11207, 11211 and 11212 to name just a few. Overnight, customers enjoyed far more flexibility and variability for their furniture designs.

Half moon clip  

These new side panels required new fixings in order to hold all the numerous accessories in place so a new fixing clip was designed, which due to its shape was affectionately known by the engineers as the “Half Moon Clip”. To the purists it was model 11379.

Whilst the new panels and fixings were a fantastic leap forward they had been designed by in-house designers at the factory, not by Professor Haller. However the designers were very careful to ensure that the “First Generation” components could still be fitted and work side by side with “Second Generation” components, so it is very common to see installations throughout the world where both versions are fitted side by side.

First generation drawer slide   Second generation drawer slide

With the change over to the new style fixing clips came a flurry of component redesigns to work with the new panels. One of the first components to be redesigned was the extension shelf drawer slide, which needed to have revised fixing holes at the front and rear of the slide.

Another component to be restyled was the old-style door hinge which was chromed and upgraded to include a pneumatic gas strut although this strut was not successful and was eventually superseded by the spring operated door hinge which we see in use today and which is frankly a far superior design to its two predecessors.

Hinge   Hinge with gas   Hinge with spring

It was in 1990 that probably the biggest leap forward of the whole design story came, with the launch of the new style “tube connector”. The old style dovetail wedges had been loyal work horses for 27 years and almost never broke, but they suffered from being very hard to use in inexperienced hands because they were fiddly and often needed not one but several pairs of hands to fit.

In 1990, the new style connector model 12451 was released and just like the new door, this new connector made installations much faster and easier as it was a one-piece item, again based very closely on the expanding Rawlplug design used in the building industry for fixing things to walls.

  New style connector

One component that took some time to redesign was the door panel. The first generation door worked with the new style gas hinge, but it required ten screws and a lot of fiddling around to ensure it was centered correctly in the framework.

Door panel  

This was solved in 1995 with the launch of the second generation door panel and the new spring hinge, which can be fitted using just two screws. It also benefited from a new edge profile which meant that the door is automatically squared when assembled, even by a novice.

When this new door panel was launched, the engineers loved it immediately, because it was so easy to fit and dramatically reduced installation time on sites.

Since 1995, the design team at the factory have continued to bring out new designs and accessories every year. These have been primarily focused on electrical add-ons or accessories. Professor Haller’s original design for the storage elements that carry his name have for the most part remained unchanged, which is a testament to his ineguity in creating a flexible system for residential, commercial and retail applications, using just a few industrially available components.

Fifty years after Professor Haller launched his furniture design, he sadly passed away in 2012 and I do not expect to see another furniture designer produce something of such elegant simplicity for many years to come.

Too many designers today want to reinvent the wheel. What Professor Haller did was take standard industrially available components straight off the shelf and incorporate them intelligently to produce a vast array of options that others had missed. This forsight now gives customers hours of enjoyment, building and rebuilding year after year.

Already - he is sadly missed!

Scott Appleton
Managing Director
Scott Howard Office Furniture Ltd
London - England


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