The Quick History of Office Chairs & Their Origin Story
History of Chairs: The Early Years
The First Documented Evidence of Seating With Purpose
It’s most likely that there were some sitting objects we can depict as a chair before this date.
However, the first modern resemblance of a chair falls between 3000 B.C. and as far back as 7500 B.C.
Historians speculate on the various designs of these ancient chairs and their specific use cases.
One common conclusion was that black smiths used a hollowed seated, three-legged stool to perform a task more efficiently.
618 - 907 A.D
Chinese Chairs Introduced by The Tang Dynasty
Until the Tang Dynasty, Chinese Han culture predominantly sat on the floor using sitting mats. The earliest documentation of China’s chair was from a Buddhist mural in the 6th century.
The widespread use of chairs, however, would not be realized until the 12th century.
875 A.D ~ Present
The Chair of Saint Peter
IMHO one of the most epic looking thrones in the world. This chair was first gifted from Charles The Bold, The Holy Roman Emperor to Pope John VIII.
The chair is a source of conflict and has been analyzed many times to find its true origin date. Research has concluded that the chair has already gotten reconstructed and no part of it dates back past the early 16th century.
1200 - 1700 A.D.
The Legendary Coronation Chair Used By King Edward
This chair looks like a throne because of its Gothic style and high-backed design.
It’s one of the most historic pieces of furniture and was carved only by the finest oak. One of its unique features is that it contains a Scotland artifact called “The Stone of Destiny”.
Until the 17th century, monarchs used to sit on the stone. (talk about tail-bone pain)
The Cornation Chair has been used by British and English monarchs for centuries. All but they have crowned Queen Mary II sitting in this chair since it’s commissioned.
Modern History of Chairs,
The Industrial Revolution
Otto Von Bismarck helped make them widely available.
Building upon Charles Darwin Caster; Bismarck brought his creation one step closer to the modern office chair of today. Bismark did this by gifting office chairs under the butts of every member of the German parliament.
Legitimizing his creation with the help of parliament, Bismark made the office chair available to public and was met with outstanding success. This is partly because of timing.
In the mid-19th century, the working class was transitioning into the new normal.
Office type setting where sitting was the new normal. The little known transition from dinner chairs to workstation chairs!
In The 19th Century, How Comfortable Were Chairs?
Let’s not beat around the bush. No, they were not comfortable at all!
That doesn’t mean they are is not life-changing works of art. Like most technologies, they started out only for the rich and gradually made their way to the consumer market.
During the turn of the 19th century, people in offices used a simple stool or a Windsor chair at their workstations.
Wealthy individuals had padded captain chairs for the ultimate mark of luxury. Features such as adjustable seat height and a backrest and even seat-tilt tension developed during this time.
Doctors & engineers researched the bodily movement to design chairs that made tasks like surgery, dentistry, sowing, and hairdressing and easier.
It wasn’t until the Father of Evolution; Charles Darwin, who implemented casters on the legs of the chair to make easier to move around his laboratory.
The first distributor of these types of chairs, however, was Otto von Bismarck. When he was the First Chancellor of Germany, he popularized them by having every member in parliament use them.
The office chair we’re familiar with today is not adopted in the United States until 1851. Thomas E. Warren introduced state side sitters with his invention of the Centripetal Spring Armchair.
- This technology was leaping ahead of its time and elements of Bismark’s chair are still being used to this day. Such as the lumbar support, height change feature, and casters (wheels) for mobility.
Futuristic for the time, the Centripetal Spring Armchair received lackluster response outside the United States. This was mostly because of the wave of revolutions hitting Europe.
These revolutions changed law, but the Victorian mindset was still in power. Unsurprisingly, one of the Victorian’s preferences was sitting uncomfortably!
Wealthy Nobles perused themselves that sitting in an uncomfortable seat was a way to build up discipline. Sitting with pain used to be considered a sign of will power, especially to sit with no back support.
What Were 20th Century Office Chairs Like & How Did They Effect History?
A century after the first office chairs, how have office chairs changed since & what are the most famous chairs in history?
Office Chairs Had The Look But Not The Feel
By the early 1900s office chairs were designed for mass production. Focusing more on quantity over quality and without the human body in mind.
Designers like Frank Lloyd Wright were among the lead the trend in creating chairs to fit the room but not the sitter. Such as the “Side Chair,” which was designed in 1904 and has an unforgiving plank of wood for a backrest.
Another classic Frank Lloyd Wright design was his 3 wheeled chair design for Steelcase Inc. Which has a school room aesthetic.
©2018 Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS)
The Industrial Revelation Introduced The Back Rest Task Chair
They did not take seriously ergonomics in the 1920s as they we do in the 2020s.
Most people actually had the opinion that back rest on seats made you lazy. Factories held this point of view until their growing workforce developed back problems that hurt their bottom line.
One of the first chair makes to approach this problem was Tan-Sade and their swivel-chair. Tan-Sade separated themselves from the competition by using ergonomics as a backrest that curved and adjusted for different heights.
How WWII Fighter Pilots Changed Ergonomics!
Before, World War II ergonomics was an afterthought in the defense budget.
As fighter pilots became a pivotal role for success, more research went into making their flights more comfortable. They developed many ergonomic principles around this era to standardize fighter pilots cockpits.
How We Got To Office Chairs We’re All Familar With!
- Ergonomics gained more attention as most of the workforce transitioned into performing jobs behind a desk.
- The need for long term sitting created many types of advancements.
- Manufacturing materials became more elastic, stronger, and economically viable.
- Interest from designers in the 1970s gave way to the modern chair we love to sit in today.
The Chair Design That Started It All
In 1976, Herman Miller’s designer Bill Stumpf unveiled an industry changing design. They packed the Ergon Chair with the top of line ergonomic technology for its time and its first swivel office chair of its kind.
Stumpf used a plethora of influences to design the Ergon Chair. Such as his time studying orthopedics at the University of Wisconsin in 1966.
Stumpf wrote a paper called “A chair is a chair is a problem” that brought into light the amount of hours we sit in uncomfortable chairs.
The new science also inspired him in ergonomics surrounding aircraft cockpits. Stumpf’s research concluded that chairs should not focus on supporting one type of posture but encourage adjustability.
The Most Famous Chairs In History
There have been plenty of chairs through the times, these sitters perhaps are the most salacious seats I’ve researched, but what is the history of office chair design?
The Three-legged Stool From 7500 BC
The Tang Dynasty Sitting Mat From The 6th Century (Used By Buddha)
The Chair Of Saint Peter Created In 875 AD
The Legendary Coronation Chair Used By King Edward From 1200 AD
The First Chair With Rolling Casters (Created By Charles Darwin).
In The 19th Century Otto Von Bismark Introduced It To The Masses
The Slide Chair Was Designed By Frank Lloyd Wright & Slid Under Peoples Rumps Begging In The 20th Century.
The First True Ergonomic Chair, The “Ergon” Was Designed By Bill Stumpf & Manufactured By Herman Miller In 1966.
The first casters on an office chair dates back to Charles Darwin. The father of Evolution wanted to be more efficient in his time in the lab.
He assembled wheels to the bottom of his chair to make it mobile.
- Wheels on Chairs Need Less Energy to Move Around.
- Wheels on Chairs Makes Them Easier To Transport.
The average cockpit of a jet has little room for anything but necessities.
A reclining chair would need more space and may affect the pilot when there pulling high G-forces.
Traveling at those high speeds sitting at a reclined angle might even have health implications; such as problems circulating blood.
Be a lair if I say did. I plan on one day restoring an old chair to look like new again. In the meantime, I’ve been watching this chair restoration walk-though video.
Rose, Todd. “When U.S. Air Force Discovered the Flaw of Averages | The Star.” Thestar.Com, thestar.com, 16 Jan. 2016, www.thestar.com/news/insight/2016/01/16/when-us-air-force-discovered-the-flaw-of-averages.html.
TV, BRANDMADE. “How a Herman Miller Aeron Chair Is Made – BrandmadeTV.” YouTube, 23 Dec. 2015, www.youtube.com/watch?v=fI8YcxOzkHI.
Wellbeing Team, Steelcase. “Health Impact Study: Leap Chair.” Steelcase, 6 Nov. 2014, www.steelcase.com/research/articles/topics/wellbeing/leap-productivity-health-impact-study/.
Perry, Mike. “Creatures of Comfort.” Hermanmiller.Com, 2019, www.hermanmiller.com/stories/why-magazine/creatures-of-comfort/.
Noe, Rain. “Reference: Common Dimensions, Angles and Heights for Seating Designers.” Core77, Nov. 2015, www.core77.com/posts/43422/Reference-Common-Dimensions-Angles-and-Heights-for-Seating-Designers.
Moran, Joe. “Subscribe to Read | Financial Times.” Financial Times, Financial Times, 2019, www.ft.com/content/0d003596-934b-11dd-98b5-0000779fd18c.
HAWORTH, . “The Importance of Good Sitting | Ergonomic Seating GuideThe Importance Of Good Sitting.” HAWORTH, 2019, media.haworth.com/asset/13337/Ergonomic_Seating_Guide_Handbook.pdf.
Paitent.Pop. “10 Benefits of Good Posture.” 10 Benefits of Good Posture: DMC Healthcare: Chiropractors, www.dmc-healthcare.com/blog/10-benefits-of-good-posture.
Stumpf, Bill. “Herman Miller ~ Bill Stumpf.” YouTube, 28 Sept. 2012, www.youtube.com/watch?v=uCdteWQNeYM.
International, Back2. “How to Adjust Your Ergonomic Office Chair Properly.” YouTube, YouTube, 9 Jan. 2013, www.youtube.com/watch?v=tHCR27wwN-U.
ChairPickr | "Writer"
Hello, My name is Claude and I enjoy sitting comfortable. Research into what separates the good from the bad in the matter of chairs started when I made a new year’s resolution to have better posture.
You clicked here to find that first-rate chair. Why not stay and learn some self care?