Moulthrop Movable Langslow Fowler Desk

Moulthrop Movable Langslow Fowler Desk

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Designed in 1905 by Samuel Parker Moulthrop, and manufactured by The Langslow Fowler Company, the Moulthrop Movable Chair Desk was an example of innovative school seating. Samuel P. Moulthrop (1848-1932) was a progressive educator who studied various learning environments as a teacher, principal, and superintendent in Rochester, New York. Fascinated with the work of Maria Montessori, he introduced educational innovations like kindergarten classes, the use of manipulatives to the lower grades, and mechanical drawing and choral clubs to older children. He worked with immigrant communities to promote English and Americanization through evening classes, facilitated after-school youth clubs promoting ‘knife work,’ wood carving, and nature walks to deter delinquency in young males. He later became involved with scouting and the Playground League and arranged sewing and cooking classes for girls.
He was passionate about the need for exercise and encouraged calisthenics and swimming as benefits for mental and physical health. As a result, he recognized the need for an easily movable chair desk combination that could be used in a variety of seating arrangements to accommodate classroom activities such as pageants, plays, and marching to promote patriotism. By the turn of the century, he submitted patents for other educational materials: a ventilated school wardrobe and an educational apparatus that was similar to an easel with a scroll.
During this period, he began to design the chair desk. It featured a scooped seat with a curved back support, a cut out handle on the back, a good sized drawer under the seat for school supplies and an attached moveable desk top that could be angled to take advantage of the light and positioned for better posture and penmanship. To produce the desk, Moulthrop worked with Langslow Fowler, a local Rochester furniture company founded by carpenters Purdy Fowler, Henry A. Langslow, and Stratton C. Langslow. With an immigrant workforce, the company specialized in the manufacturing of chairs, particularly rockers, until Moulthrop came along with his design. Langslow Fowler began producing these chair desks using the Moulthrop name in 1905 during a period when the school furnishing industry had begun to flourish.
Samuel Moulthrop does not appear to have applied for a patent for the desk. However, in 1912, Langslow Fowler applied for one which was granted in 1917. Langslow Fowler promoted the desk at numerous fairs and expositions and produced several extensive catalogs featuring the chair desk. The 1909 catalog touted the soundless ease of moving these desks within the classroom due to glides on the back legs and rubber tips on the front. By 1913, the chair desk was becoming the preferred new desk form, particularly in urban schools because it was sturdy, self-contained, adjustable and easy to move about in the classroom, even though older combination desk models were also in large supply.
The chair desk won national and international design awards for being the preferred desk for preventing vision problems and obviating defective discipline. Langslow Fowler developed modifications such as adding a side book rack. They also worked on providing greater adjustability on the desk top so by the time they applied for the patent, they were promoting a couple of models of the “original Moulthrop style moveable chair desk.” They also provided an optional larger surface for drawing. In the 1920s, the American Seating Company contracted with Langslow Fowler to sell the Moulthrop chair desk. Within 10 years, the desks were manufactured and sold under the American seating name. In 1950, American seating applied for their own patent of a modified chair desk, one that had an open shelf below the seat instead of a more costly drawer.
Object Name
Object Type
date made
place made
United States: New York, Rochester
Physical Description
wood (overall material)
metal (overall material)
overall: 64.9 cm x 45.5 cm x 58 cm; 25 9/16 in x 17 29/32 in x 22 27/32 in
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Credit Line
Gift of Dr. Richard Lodish American School Collection
See more items in
Cultural and Community Life: Education
Many Voices, One Nation
Many Voices, One Nation
Exhibition Location
National Museum of American History
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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