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Wilton C. Dinges founded the Electric Machine and Equipment Company (Emeco) in 1944 with $300 in savings and a used lathe for machine-work. He started bidding on government manufacturing contracts out of a loft in Baltimore, Maryland, beginning with experimental antennas and jet engine parts. Dinges moved to Hanover, Pennsylvania in 1946 in order to take advantage of the local labor market. He obtained 10,000 pounds of aluminum scrap metal at an attractive price and started using it to build dining table legs. Later he manufactured chair frames and eventually focused completely on aluminum chairs in 1948. The Emeco 1006 chair the company would become known for was one of several furniture products, such as bunks and lockers, Emeco made for the US Navy's fleet during World War II, out of an anodized aluminum material. The business grew by under-bidding other manufacturers on government contracts for office building furniture. By 1953, there were four Emeco factories in Hanover.

By 1955, Emeco was producing 200,000 chairs per year. Emeco founder Dinges died in 1974 and was followed by W. G. Geiselman. Dinges developed the chairs and Emeco's manufacturing process, but he was not very good at business or marketing and the company was not very profitable. By 1979 the company was not receiving enough new government contracts to stay in business and was nearing bankruptcy. Emeco was sold that year to Jay Buchbinder, who facilitated a gradual turnaround, selling the 1006 chairs to high-end restaurants. The company was profitable again by the late 1990s.

Buchbinder's son, Gregg, acquired Emeco from his father in 1998. He noticed that Giorgio Armani and other designers showed an interest in the 1006 chair, so he hired architects and purchased equipment meant to manufacture chairs that would appeal to interior designers. He also met French designer Philippe Starck at the 1998 International Contemporary Furniture Fair and the two agreed to collaborate on numerous designer versions of the 1006 Navy chair. By 2004 these accounted for half of Emeco's production, or 46,500 chairs per year.

In October 2012, Emeco filed a lawsuit against Restoration Hardware for allegedly violating their trademark and trade dress by selling look-alikes of the Emeco Navy chair, which Restoration Hardware called the “Naval Chair”. Restoration Hardware renamed the chair, then removed them from their website. In January 2013, Restoration Hardware agreed to stop selling the disputed chairs and to recycle their existing stock.