Skip to main content

Marc Harrison papers

Accession: 2193


Marc Harrison (1936-1998) was an industrial designer and pioneer of universal design. The collection consists of Marc Harrison's business papers, legal records from cases in which Harrison served as a professional witness, files on exhibitions of Harrison's work, and publications featuring Harrison and products he designed.


  • 1928-1996



35.5 Linear Feet

Biographical Note

Marc Harrison (1936-1998) was an industrial designer and pioneer of universal design. Harrison was born on July 1, 1936 in New York City. When he was eleven years old, Harrison suffered a severe brain injury due to a sledding accident in the Bronx, New York. As a result of the accident, he had to relearn basic functions such as walking and talking. It was because of this event and the years of rehabilitation that Harrison gained insight and inspiration for his future work as an industrial designer.

Harrison earned his BFA in industrial design at Pratt Institute in 1958, and his MFA from Cranbrook Academy of Art in 1959. After a brief stint of freelance designing in New York City, Harrison took a position teaching at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), where he became instrumental in establishing the Division of Architecture and Design. He believed in the importance of organic thought and the inclusion of liberal arts courses to enhance students' education, making them better designers.

The design philosophy of the time was that products should be designed for those of average shape, size, and ability. Though the intention was that these products would work for as many people as possible, elderly people and people with disabilities found products designed by this method to be difficult to use. Harrison turned this philosophy on its head by deciding that products should be designed for people of all abilities. This was the pioneering of a philosophy that came to be known as Universal Design. Harrison incorporated this design philosophy into projects both at RISD and with his private consulting firm, Marc Harrison Associates.

Perhaps Harrison's most famous design, which incorporated this philosophy, was the Cuisinart food processor. Taking the previous food processor, Harrison redesigned it with large and easily pressed buttons, large and easily grasped handles, and bold easily readable typeface. The new design was a success. By designing a food processor toward consumers with arthritis and/or poor eyesight, Harrison had created a product that was accessible to people of all abilities. For Cuisinart, that meant a food processor that was extremely popular with the general public.

Towards the end of his life, Harrison became involved with a RISD project, the "Universal Kitchen" based on concepts of Universal Design. The design study, undertaken by RISD students, analyzed every aspect of the kitchen in order to restructure it to meet the needs of varying abilities. Students documented each step in the process of cooking a meal in a conventional kitchen in order to develop a more efficient, time saving, and user-friendly model. Based on their findings, the students built a prototype "Universal Kitchen." Harrison, who was one of the pioneers of the philosophy of Universal Design, was not able to see the final outcome of the project. On September 22, 1998 Marc Harrison died due to Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). The final version of the "Universal Kitchen" was placed on exhibit in October 1998 at the Cooper-Hewitt design museum in New York City.

Scope and Content

The collection consists of Marc Harrison's business papers, legal records from cases in which Harrison served as a professional witness, files on exhibitions of Harrison's work, and publications featuring Harrison and products he designed.

The Marc Harrison collection is arranged in four series.

The first are Harrison's business papers and other texual materials, the second are product and design drawings, third are the scrapbooks of Dr. Peter Schlumbohm pertaining to the Chemex coffee maker, and the fourth consists of artifacts.

The first series follows Harrison's career as a professor and designer. It also traces his role in the development of Universal Design. Included are correspondence, reports, legal records, publications, and publicity materials. At the Rhode Island School of Design, Harrison supervised his students on projects such as the International Lead Zinc Research Organization House, the Red Cross Bloodmobile, and the Universal Kitchen. In his private firm, Harrison designed for companies such as Cuisinart, Connoisseurs, Cuisine de France/Sabatier, and Krups. A majority of design firm records pertain to the Cuisinart food processor.

Th Drawings is the largest of the series. Some drawings are rolled and others are flat. This series contains the design drawings for a large number of Harrison's projects. Included in these drawings are Cuisinart, Connoisseurs, Sabatier/Cuisine de France, ILZRO, Krups, and other companies. Multiple drawings per project provide a view of how Harrison developed his ideas to create consumer products, particularly the Cuisinart food processor.

Schlumbohm/Chemex Scrapbooks series includes a collection of scrapbooks that were in the possession of Marc Harrison. They are scrapbooks of the chemist Dr. Peter Schlumbohm (1896-1962), inventor of the Chemex coffeemaker. These scrapbooks contain correspondence, advertisements, articles, and photographs primarily related to Chemex, but also include some of Dr. Schlumbohm's other ideas and inventions. There is also a very small photographic component.

The Artifacts series is a small collection of products that Harrison designed. Included is a Cuisinart food processor, Cuisine de France knives, Krups personal fan, and a Quartzpower heater. Also included are Chemex coffeemakers, filters, and packaging.

Existence and Location of Copies

View selected items online in the Hagley Digital Archives.

Access Restrictions

No restrictions on access; this collection is open for research.

Language of Materials


Additional Information

Additional Description


  • Marc Harrison's Curriculum Vitae (provided by RISD Archives)
  • "RISD's Marc Harrison, a titan of industrial design, dies at 62", The Herald, 1998
  • "Marc Harrison Remembered," risd views Providence, RI: Rhode Island School of Design, 1999
  • James, Richard, "Thank you, New York!" / reinventing Peter Schlumbohm, unpublished seminar paper, University of Delaware, 2005.

Related Names


Finding Aid & Administrative Information

Marc Harrison papers
Description rules:
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description:
Script of description:

Repository Details

Repository Details

Part of the Manuscripts and Archives Repository

PO Box 3630
Wilmington Delaware 19807 USA