The Evolution of Office Chairs

The detailed description for the development of office chair

Jefferson Windsor Chair

In 1775, Jefferson stared at a Windsor chair at home.

It is said that the Windsor chair originated in the English town of Windsor, and it was originally one of many rural chairs in Europe. However, it has condensed the wisdom of folk arts and crafts masters. It is made of rural solid wood, simple and smooth, without losing the British flavor. Besides, it quickly became popular in all walks of life after it appeared.

From royal castles to street coffee, who doesn’t have a few Windsor chairs at home? It was introduced to the United States as it was around 1730, and it gained countless fans.

Just talk about Jefferson, who is very keen on change among his many fans. He looked at the Windsor chair and thought of a good idea.

This is a replica of the Jefferson Windsor Chair. At first glance, there is little change. In fact, this chair has two layers of seating surfaces, which are connected by a central iron shaft, and pulleys are placed in the grooves between the seating surfaces. And that has achieved the effect of fixing the lower part and rotating the upper part.

The predecessor of the swivel chair was born, and people no longer need to worry about twisting their necks. It is generally believed that Jefferson completed the “Declaration of Independence” by sitting on the Windsor swivel chair he remodeled. It is said that he later took the chair to a plantation in Virginia and installed a small table on one armrest.

However, compared to the swivel chair that we stay together for eight hours a day-or strictly called the “office chair”, the wooden chair that Jefferson has remodeled is still far behind. At least one key structure is missing, the wheels.


Wooden Armchair on Wheels

Who on a whim wanted to put the wheels on the legs of the chair?

He is another world-renowned workaholic, the father of evolution, Charles Robert Darwin.

The fact that Darwin put wheels on the chair is so long as a legend that it happened before the Industrial Revolution in 1840. The classic chair in the picture is equipped with freely movable wheels, full of the sense of science and technology of that era.

But Darwin did not take industrial design as his original intention and mission. At that time, he slid around in the study in this kind of chair, which was a freak in the eyes of others.


This kind of mobile seat is called a “wooden armchair on wheels“, and it sounds panic. So, another Thomas appeared. He is not the American president who wrote the manifesto, but an American manufacturer of train seats.

The industrial revolution has brought about the vigorous development of the new economy. Enterprises rely on convenient trains to expand their territory and expand their businesses. The bosses immediately thought: Wouldn’t it be more efficient if using travel time to sit down and complete some paperwork?

So Thomas Warren’s business came. His American Chair Company produced a train seat that innovatively added springs to the seat cushion to reduce the turbulence of trains. Employees of enterprises have to work on the train.

Rococo Office Chair

On this basis, Thomas Warren invented the first true office chair in history. It has almost all the key features of our current office chairs-turning, sliding, and soft seat surface.

The chair in the picture was produced in 1849. The rococo office chair made of cast iron and velvet is elegant in its low-key style. Just imagine that employees of any company sit here to work, and how wonderful it should be.

This new design, called the Centripetal Spring Chair, appeared on the first World Exposition held in London in 1851. The chairs exhibited are more gorgeous and complicated than those in the picture, and they are no different in the chair industry for a while.


Later, it suffered a commercial failure. Because it is slightly different from American values, Victorian Britain advocated frustration education. They believe that hard chairs can show the perseverance and nobility of human beings. The hard chairs are high class, and new chairs are immoral. Because the new chairs are so comfortable.

The idea of “comfort is bad for people” has continued in the chair industry for decades, but it has also undergone subtle changes. In the 1920s, the trend of “sitting comfortably leads to laziness” was flourishing. From here, you know that the profession of factory owner has a lot of say.

The value of “sitting” has changed from the dimension of cultivating the morality of gentlemen to the dimension of employers’ shrewd calculations.

Real Birth of the Office Chairs

A man named William Ferris stepped forward to ease the relationship. He designed DO / More Chairs. Look at the headline of this promotional poster. Can you see kind of person sits on this kind of chair?

— They are the “Fresh, happy, active and efficient” office workers.

Obviously, it is a market pain point for work inefficiency and occupational diseases. The promotional copy said that sitting on this chair can prevent hemorrhoids, prevent constipation, protect the kidneys, and strengthen the abdominal muscles. It’s almost a hymn to work.


An important criterion - Comfort

Comfort” has become an important criterion for measuring an office chair. Behind this in fact is the need to create a harmonious labor-management relationship.

In addition, aesthetic concepts are also changing. According to the old tradition of the handicraft era, people judge whether a thing is good or not mainly by its appearance. It was different after the Industrial Revolution. Technology and art were distinguished, and they once despised each other. Their contradiction was deep.

At the first World Expo in 1851, retro-style products were unveiled. In addition to the Rococo office chairs mentioned above, there are Rococo textile machines and Gothic steam engines, and so on.

This kind of simple, crude, gorgeous and exaggerated industrial product design triggered the art world to start thinking about it before and after the arrival of the 20th century. The “Art Nouveau”, “Art and Craft Movement” and so on all tried to straighten out the relationship between art and technology. Without these thoughts, the Bauhaus would not be born out of thin air at the beginning of the 20th century.


The coming up of the "ergonomics" concept


Technical concepts are also changing. The study of the coordinated relationship between humans and machinery has become more and more important with the development of industry. And it reached its peak due to combat needs during World War II.

After the Second World War, “ergonomics” is no longer a marginal discourse, but has become justified in all fields.

So in 1973, such an office chair was born.

The highlight of this chair are:

  • Headrest that can be reclined
  • Seat surface and pulleys that can be raised and lowered
  • Simple and sturdy shape
  • Bright colors

The designer also applies bright styles to desks, typewriters and more office supplies, hoping to turn the office into a paradise and is no dull any more.

We are too familiar with this chair, and it seems nothing special. But in fact it has a big background. The order for the chair came from Olivetti, an old Italian company, and the entrusted designer was Eto Sottsass.


Sottsass is known for his bright and flamboyant style.

Olivetti is the first typewriter factory in Italy. The Elea 9003 was produced in 1958, which was the first electronic computer in Italy and also known as the world’s first commercial transistor computer. It was said that there were 40 users at that time. The Elea 9003 was designed by Sottsass. Later, his firm also worked for Apple, Philips, Siemens and many other companies we are familiar with.

Changes on the office chair basic structure

Since then, the new office chair has undergone many changes based on the basic structure like rotation, pulley, and height adjustment.

First, you will see a machine that simulates buttocks in a shopping mall, sitting down on an office chair and getting up countless times to prove the durability or comfort of the chair.

Then, you will see in the experience post that people share which chair has good lumbar support and breathability.

Finally, you will also see the so-called “executive chair” wrapped in extra-high backrest leather in fashion dramas, which demonstrates a higher level of human hierarchy beyond ergonomics.

In the past ten years or so, we have started to say to the boss again: Because of the waist strain caused by sitting for more than eight hours a day, take a week off.

This is probably not a ridicule, but a practical problem faced by many office workers. Therefore, it is said that Internet companies attach great importance to the procurement of employees’ seats. And they have set off a new change in office chairs and even office methods:

The office chairs of every Internet company can be regarded as a modern industrial design exhibition-colorful one-piece plastic chairs, leather or fabric sofas, and lazy bean bags are all placed together.

Various types of functional areas allow employees to sit or lie down. As long as they can use their brains willingly, they can even ride bicycles and skateboards.

Opening up a standing area is no longer a novel idea. Standing desks have appeared in the 1980s, and sitting down to work is no longer the only option.


But looking at the past five years, what kind of imagination is it just to stand and work?

Hamster-style office
Fitness office

In short, the bosses can feel relieved when they see this place. If changing the office chairs can solve the problem, then they will not give the employees the opportunity to ask for leave.



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