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Dirk Jan "D. J." De Pree

Death: 1990 (98-99)
Immediate Family:

Son of Jan De Pree and Adriana De Pree
Husband of Nellie De Pree
Father of Hugh De Pree; Private; Private; Private; Private and 2 others
Brother of Delia (Dele) De Pree and Private

Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About D. J. DePree

Dirk Jan (D. J.) De Pree was born in Zeeland, Michigan in 1891. His father was a tinsmith who was active in local politics. His grandparents were Dutch Calvinists who had immigrated to Zeeland in the late 19th century.

Early life

D. J. graduated from high school in 1909 and went to work as a clerk for the Michigan Star Furniture Company in Zeeland. The company had been formed four years earlier. De Pree's job consisted of general office work, taking orders from his boss.

In 1914, D. J. married Nellie Miller, daughter of Herman Miller. That marriage produced three sons, two of whom would eventually join their father in the business. The third became a college mathematics professor. He also had four daughters.


In 1923, D. J. decided to found his own business. With the help of a loan from his father-in-law he bought the Michigan Star Furniture Company. (The two purchased 51% of the stock.) He renamed the company Herman Miller in honor of his father-in-law.

Herman Miller was never active in the business. However, D. J. credits him with adopting a policy of quality through the use of the best materials and best workers.

In 1960, D. J. contracted an illness which cut short his career. He stepped down as CEO in 1961. When he recovered, there was no longer room for him as CEO. The new management team consisted of sons Hugh and Max. D. J. continued to provide input and inspiration as chairman emeritus but the sons ran the company.

Spiritual Life

DePree was a member of First Baptist Church in Zeeland], but he grew a love for the Ventura district of Holland - hearing that there were many people meeting regularly for Bible studies in a one-room schoolhouse. In 1955, DePree became the first pastor (a lay pastor) of Ventura Baptist Church at 16240 Quincy St in Holland, MI. He pastored the church for about 11 years - equipping and encouraging church members regularly. He also helped the church see their building expand.


DePree Died Monday December 10, 1990 at the Fountain View Retirement Village in Holland, Michigan. He was 99 years old.


D. J. DePree was the founder and longtime head of Herman Miller Inc., an office-furniture manufacturing concern noted for its design leadership and labor relations methods.

Dirk Jan DePree spent his life in nearby Zeeland, Michigan, 20 miles southwest of Grand Rapids on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan, where he was born July 31, 1891.

In 1923, with financial assistance from his father-in-law, Herman Miller, Mr. DePree bought the Star Furniture Company, where he was general manager, and renamed it for his backer.

For half a century Mr. DePree operated what became a family business. During the Depression he gambled by producing innovative furniture designed by Gilbert Rohde, one of small group of artisans who broke from traditional styling. Modular Systems

The gamble paid off, and by 1945 Mr. DePree had phased out Herman Miller's traditional furniture to concentrate on designs by Mr. Rohde, Charles Eames, Alexander Girard, George Nelson and Robert Propst, all of whose work ran counter to the prevailing designs.

Mr. DePree was responsible for milestones like the "House of Tomorrow" at the 1934 Chicago World's Fair and innovations in the 1940's and 50's, including the modular wall storage system, the molded plywood chair, the molded plastic chair and stacking chairs.

After World War II the business also shifted from predominantly residential to office furniture and systems. In 1965 Herman Miller introduced the Action Office, a panel system for open office environments that markedly changed the way millions of people work.

Herman Miller designs have been exhibited around the world and installed permanently in institutions like the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum in New York, the Smithsonian in Washington, the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mich., and the London Design Museum. In 1985 Mr. Eames was named the most influential designer of the 20th century by the World Design Congress. Sharing Decisions

Mr. DePree, and later his sons, Hugh and Max, who succeeded him as chief executives at Herman Miller, were proponents of participative management, in which employees share in decision-making and profits.

The system, introduced in 1950, organizes work teams, caucuses and councils that extend from top management to the lowest-level employees. Workers are encouraged to challenge their superiors' decisions and to take initiative in proposing new methods.

Mr. DePree was general manager at Herman Miller until 1949, when he became president. He retired as chairman in 1971.

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D. J. DePree's Timeline

December 5, 1933
Holland, Michigan, United States
Age 99