Hugh Acton Papers

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Hugh Acton Papers

This online collection represents part of a larger archives held by the Bentley Historical Library. For a more complete index to the collection, please consult the associated online finding aid . Please contact the library's division of Reference and Access Services for more information.

Hugh Acton (1925-), the “Cowboy-Designer,” was a furniture designer, specializing in mid-century modern furniture, and artist in Augusta, Mich. He is best-known for his 1973 Acton Stacker chair for American Seating, as well as for his 1954 Suspended Beam Bench. This collection includes a brief history of the designer through articles and resumes, with a primary focus on his designs—including photographs (with negatives, transparencies, and online), catalog information, sketches, and design boards for his various furniture designs.

Born in 1925, Hugh Acton was adopted as an infant by Richard and Hazel Acton. When he was adopted, the Actons owned a small farm in Scottsbluff, Nebraska. This association with farm-life earned Acton the name “Cowboy-Designer.” In 1943, Acton graduated from high school and enlisted in the U.S. Merchant Marines during World War II. Upon his discharge in 1946, Acton entered Grinnell College (Grinnell, Iowa) majoring in Philosophy with a minor in Art. At Grinnell, Acton ran on the track team and as a senior set the conference record for the half mile (the first of many records he would achieve during his athletic career).

Acton graduated from Grinnell in 1950 and married Dorothy Brown in 1951. They were to eventually settle in Augusta, Mich. Soon after their marriage, Acton was drafted into the U.S. Army to fight in the Korean War. After two years of combat, Acton was discharged and entered into study at Cranbrook Academy of Art, located in Birmingham, Mich., where Acton designed his first successful furniture piece, the Suspended Beam Bench. The success of this design prompted Acton to open his own company and factory, Hugh Acton Company, which specialized in AMV (Acton Manufacturing Venture) accessories, desks, tables, and library furniture. Acton’s designs and company were so successful that in 1967, the Brunswick Company, located in Kalamazoo, Mich. bought the company. He spent the next years working as an independent consultant for the Brunswick Company.

Acton’s designs were the recipients of a number of awards. His Modular Storage System, introduced in 1957, won the American Institute of Design Award. His Costumers (The Wall Hung Closet) won the Association of Business Designers Award in 1957. In 1963, he won the Iron & Steel Award for his Unicolumn Folding Tables. He won the Institute of Business Designers Award again in 1973 for his Acton Stacker.

Acton has also been a part of a number of projects and collaborations throughout the years. His design of the I-Frame Structure for desks was brought on by a request of the Detroit Library for really substantial, large tables. This design was used primarily in the underground library at Heidelburg College in Tiffin, Ohio and became a standard with many libraries and banks. Furthermore, he collaborated with his son Rad, who is a licensed architect, on a World Trade Center proposal in 2002. Also in 2002, Acton began collaborating with his daughter, Tana, in small jewelry design and sales, crafting the jewelry from crushed copper, crushed silver, and in silver wire. Acton also became a sculpture artist later in life, creating pieces out of crushed copper, some of which appeared at modernism art shows.

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Copyright held by the Regents of the University of Michigan

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