George Nelson, born 1908 in Hartford, Connecticut, studied architecture at Yale University. A fellowship enabled him to study at the American Academy in Rome from 1932-34. In Europe he became acquainted with the protagonists and major architectural works of modernism.
He joined the editorial staff of Architectural Forum in 1935, where he was employed until 1944. A programmatic article on residential building and furniture design, published in Architectural Forum by Nelson in 1944, attracted the attention of D.J. DePree, head of the furniture company Herman Miller.
Shortly after this, George Nelson assumed the position of design director at Herman Miller. Remaining there until 1972, he became a key figure of American design, also convincing the likes of Charles and Ray Eames, Isamu Noguchi and Alexander Girard to work for Herman Miller.
In the 1950s, George Nelson and his New York office developed an individual and expressive range of seating pieces, several of which have long since achieved classic status. In 1952, even before the famous Coconut Chair or the Marshmallow Sofa, Nelson designed a chair made out of bent wood that was initially referred to, simply, as the Laminated Chair. The bold yet elegant curve of the single wooden piece forming the back and armrests soon inspired the nickname Pretzel Chair. Bent laminated wood is used not only for the backrest and its twin supports, but also for the four legs that cross underneath the seat. The downward taper of the legs contributes to the chair's slender appearance. Due to insufficient manufacturing techniques, the Pretzel Chair was removed from the market after only a few years, which makes it highly valued among collectors today.
His collaboration with Vitra began in 1957. From 1946 onwards Nelson also ran his own design office, creating numerous products that are now regarded as icons of mid-century modernism.
Nelson's office also produced important architectural works and exhibition designs. George Nelson died in New York in 1986. His archive belongs to the holdings of the Vitra Design Museum.