Matt Thompson was not looking for fame or fortune when he crafted a state of Michigan-themed chair that dispenses beer, but he found himself in the middle of a social media storm after he published two videos that went viral earlier this year.
You may have seen them on your Facebook feed: two Adirondack chairs — one that dispenses a beer can and another that serves wine out of a bottle with the pull of a lever — all while incorporating Michigan’s upper and lower peninsulas into the design of the chairs.
Thompson has been woodworking since his early 20s. He has worked as a fire alarm technician with hospital maintenance on U-M’s Ann Arbor campus since 2009.
“My wife and I started a family young, so I had to fix everything,” Thompson said. “From cars to appliances, mechanically I observed everything I was fixing and tried to understand how things worked.”
Thompson was able to combine his knack for problem-solving and woodworking at the time he and his wife began running marathons together.
“About eight to nine years ago, my wife and I decided to quit smoking. We started getting healthy, started running and shortly after became involved with a group called Team World Vision,” Thompson said.
World Vision is a nonprofit humanitarian organization that provides clean water for kids and families in Africa. It works with communities in desperate need to help provide critical resources such as nutritious food, education, health care and economic opportunities.
He and his wife are passionate about World Vision because of its commitment to making an impact also while using donations as efficiently as possible.
Thompson said he decided to start running marathons, now triathlons, in order to raise money for the cause.
“We had a hard time raising money for the first couple of years, so I decided I would start making these chairs. Others were making the Michigan-shaped chairs, but I pursued my own version of it,” he added.
He developed the idea for his own chairs by taking inspiration from others and on Instagram.
“I thought, I can incorporate the Upper Peninsula, put it in the right spot to hide a cooler back there and come up with my own mechanism, inspired by the Labatt chair but not a copy of it,” he said.
At that point, he built a prototype out of pine.
“When I posted the first chair, I had a feeling it would go pretty viral, but not worldwide,” Thompson said. “I thought what was cool about it was the shape of Michigan, although everybody else thought the beer coming down was the cool thing.”
Taking advantage of the social media stardom, Thompson began raising money through raffles for each of the chairs he has created. Through those efforts, more than $4,500 has been raised for World Vision.
Because of his viral fame, Thompson has fielded several inquiries from interested parties to purchase similar chairs, but the technician said he did not want to make a career out of the project. Besides, Thompson added, making the chairs requires hundreds of dollars and dozens of hours of labor.
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While creating the chairs is fun, Thompson enjoys the troubleshooting nature of it — a skill he uses in his job at U-M. As a fire alarm electrician, he and his team routinely test and maintain fire alarm and suppression systems.
“As I’m getting older, it’s nice to be able to use my brain,” Thompson said. “Some guys do crosswords, I do woodworking. You’ve got to keep the brain active and sharp!”
At the end of the day, Thompson enjoys knowing the time and effort put into the chairs can serve a greater good.
“That’s what we care most about,” he said. “That’s what we’re passionate about.”