Gene Hurwitt started his first business at the height of the Depression, with little more than an idea and the generosity of a stranger. As he rode a streetcar one day, he shared his idea with a man sitting next to him: a fur cleaning business that would cater to San Francisco department stores. Gene was an accomplished storyteller, engaging and electrifying.
At the end of the trip, the stranger offered to finance the business. He told the man he couldn't possibly accept - there was no way to be sure he'd ever get a dime back. "Someday, you'll be in a position to help somebody else out, and you will.
That singular gesture got Gene Hurwitt started in business. But more importantly, it strengthened his conviction that one could succeed by simply living one's life with honesty and integrity.
After nearly three decades in the fur business, Gene was ready for something different. In 1960, he bought a failing plastics factory in Sausalito, California, with the goal of turning it around and selling it. After less than a year, he knew he could never sell, and soon started looking for something new to manufacture with this fascinating material called plastic.
One of his first products was a simple plastic box for the pharmaceutical industry. They were square, so they could be stacked on store shelves, and transparent, so the packaged product could easily be seen.
One of AMAC's original injection molding machines
It was also an elegant expression of modernist simplicity, stripped of adornment, and almost invisible except for its utility. One size and shape begot others, and AMAC's reputation for quality and service began to grow.
In the mid-1960s, a young entrepreneur looking for products that spoke to his generation ran across some AMAC Boxes while travelling in San Francisco. He found the company's name on the bottom of the box, called Gene Hurwitt, and they met a couple hours later. An unlikely relationship developed, in which this young man, Alan Spigelman, would introduce Gene's multicolored boxes to the counter-culture generation.
In the decade that followed, the boxes were selected as part of the permanent design collection at the Museum of Modern Art, used by Andy Warhol for a piece entitled "Portraits of the Artists," and played cameo rolls in movies such as James Bond's In Her Majesty's Secret Service.
Although Gene Hurwitt died in 1988, AMAC has continued under the leadership of his children and grandchildren.
Our design heritage was built firmly on the modernist principals of founder Gene Hurwitt. The first products he designed in 1960 demonstrate a total clarity of purpose and function using plastics which at that time were a new technology.
Created in the bohemian enclave of Sausalito, California, AMAC boxes caught on in a big way, joining the permanent collection of New York's MoMA in 1966.
About this Story
This story was originally published on September 15, 2016.