Teaching Students About Charles Harrison

Charles Harrison was an African-American industrial engineer who designed, developed, and brought to life some of the most innovative ideas that revolutionized the world of product design. As we look back on his extraordinary career and legacy, educators need to teach students about his remarkable accomplishments and the power of perseverance.

Early Life:

Charles Harrison was born in 1931 in rural Louisiana. Growing up in a segregated society, he faced countless challenges in his pursuit of education and opportunity. After attending a segregated high school, Harrison went on to graduate from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Eventually, he obtained his BA and MA degrees in Industrial Design from the Illinois Institute of Technology.

Career and Innovation:

In 1961, Charles Harrison joined Sears Roebuck & Company as one of their first Black designers. He quickly became an influential figure within the company and was responsible for redesigning hundreds of products. Among his most famous creations are the plastic trash can, the first see-through measuring cup, and the iconic View-Master – a beloved children’s toy that has stood the test of time.

His passion for design made him an icon; under his direction, Sears sold millions of products designed by Harrison or influenced by his design principles. His work not only helped shape our everyday lives but also exemplified how creativity and innovation can break barriers in any field.

Lessons for Students:

1) Perseverance amidst adversity: Charles Harrison faced numerous obstacles throughout his life due to racial discrimination and prejudice. Sharing his story teaches students how determination, hard work, and focus can lead to success despite societal barriers.

2) The importance of problem-solving: Harrison’s work shows that innovation doesn’t always come from creating something entirely new; sometimes greatness emerges by finding unique ways to improve existing ideas or finding solutions for everyday problems.

3) The impact of design on the world: Charles Harrison’s career highlights how industrial design affects the lives of millions and the importance of considering user experience, functionality, and aesthetics.

4) Equality and representation in education: Introducing Charles Harrison in lessons about engineering, invention, and history not only emphasizes the importance of diversity in these fields but also shines a light on the many unsung heroes whose contributions have shaped our world.

5) Pursuit of passion: Charles Harrison loved using his creativity and problem-solving skills to design products that improved people’s lives. By teaching students about his life, we can inspire them to follow their passions and use their unique talents to make a difference.

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