1885 - 1960: A family business is born
USM was founded in 1885 as a metalworking and locksmith’s business by Ulrich Schaerer. The factory and headquarters were built in Munsingen, Switzerland, where they remain to this day.
In the early decades of the twentieth century, USM began specialising in window fittings then ornamental hinges and precision-machined sheet steel.
Paul Schaerer joined the company in 1961, marking three generations of the Schaerer family’s stewardship of USM. Having studied engineering at Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, he was determined to update the business - starting with USM’s own factory and headquarters. He commissioned architect Fritz Haller to design a new factory and office pavilion utilising a steel modular construction system that was flexible, so it could easily be adapted to various manufacturing processes and industry changes.
In 1963, Haller and Schaerer developed furniture to match the new buildings’ modularity and versatility. The furniture, like the buildings, was built not around individual pieces but a system of steel modules that could be adapted and reconfigured to meet the diverse needs of the company’s factory and offices. The cornerstone of the system was the elegant and ingenious ball joint, for which they sought a patent for in 1965.
Though initially intended only for use in USM’s own offices, the furniture system fast gathered attention for its versatility, durability and style. As a result, commercial production and sale of the USM Haller system began in 1969 with an order of 600 workstations for the Rothschild Bank in Paris, France.
Schärer, who held both Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier in great esteem, joined the long tradition of developers who appreciated and supported modern industrial architecture. Haller therefore built the company building (1963) and office pavilion (1965) on the USM site in Münsingen, followed by the Schärer family’s private residence on a steep slope with spectacular views all round. This is known by everyone as the “Buchli”, short and sweet, after the property’s field name.
The Schärer family recently completed a meticulous complete renovation of their former residence, while still maintaining the original construction principles and appearance as well as strictly complying with historic preservation guidelines. Today, the “Buchli” is used to receive visitors to the company USM.
Throughout the last decades of the twentieth century, USM spread its wings throughout the world, opening subsidiaries in Buehl (Germany), Charnay-lès-Mâcon (France) and New York (USA). The first USM showroom opened in Hamburg (Germany) in 1998.
In 1989, USM launched the USM Kitos, a range of customisable and height-adjustable desks and tables. Soon after, the fourth generation of the family joined the company, in the form of current CEO Alexander Schaerer.
The USM Haller’s status as an icon of modern design was solidified in 2001 when it was included in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York.
USM continues to develop its environmental leadership. In 2007, the company was awarded Greenguard accreditation, certifying that its products have low chemical and particle emissions and therefore help to reduce indoor air pollution. USM furnishings were the first European products to meet Greenguard’s rigorous standards.
USM also continues to spread its presence throughout the world. Showrooms have recently been opened in Paris (France), Tokyo (Japan), London (England), and Dusseldorf, Munich and Stuttgart (Germany). A new USA headquarters opened in New York in 2002 and a subsidiary was opened in Tokyo in 2008; a full UK subsidiary was opened in 2015.
In 2015, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the USM Haller modular furniture system’s creation.