You might be wondering how much history an item as mundane as the office chair can have. The answer? Plenty! But it should come as no real surprise, considering how important they are to the nuts and bolts of the everyday workforce. With numbers suggesting that up to 80 percent of workers today are behind desks, sitting, office chairs which offer proper comfort and support are the norm now, though it’s been a process that’s traceable over upwards of 100 years of administrational history. Take a look at how our office-bound ancestors spent their 9 to 5s.
Up until the Victorian period, office chairs as a concept weren’t too terribly defined. Surfaces used expressly for seating can be dated back millenia, but what is even more remarkable is that despite the lack of a modern office or a computer to spend hours before, there is evidence from around 3,000 BCE that workers were placing their derrieres upon chairs that had been designed or manipulated to ease their comfort while working (for example, seats where the surface is tilted to make tasks like hammering easier).
The office chair as a concrete idea was revolutionized in the late 1840s by an inventor by the name of Thomas E. Warren. Warren headed a group of engineers who would, after much research and many patents create what is known as the Centripetal Spring Armchair, which debuted in 1851 at London’s Great Exhibition. What is without doubt a precursor to the modern office chair, with its arm rests, swivel seat and legs on wheels, was then denounced as immoral.
Chairs which provided too much comfort and ease-of-sitting, those rigid Victorians argued, would likewise encourage comfortable and easy behaviors. Scandalous! Further, they believed the ability to hold one’s posture in a stiff and upright position indicated their unbending willpower and ability to avoid immoral temptations.
The Early 20th Century: Backless is King
Frank Lloyd Wright, best known as the architect of the incomparable Fallingwater home, also designed a three-legged chair for typists, who vehemently disliked the design because of its instability.
And despite what could have been great strides in office chair technology in the late 1800s, it was still common to see factory workers in the 1920s seated in backless stools and benches, because back rests were accused of causing laziness among employees. But after a great deal of protestation and griping (not to mention a decline in productivity), chairs with back rests were more widely designed and marketed by the likes of Tan-Sad and William Ferris, who created the Do/More Chair.
The 1970s and Ergonomics
Finally, in 1976, thanks to the Ergon Chair, created by William Stumpf and Herman Miller, ergonomics came forward as an important factor in office chair design, and it has remained thus ever since.
Thanks to those ergonomic pioneers, we have the easily recognizable Aeron Chair, which debuted in 1994 and became the first office chair to offer essential lumbar support. Thank goodness some people don’t just sit back and take it easy!