The History of the Office Chair

Wikipedia: An office chair, or desk chair, is a type of chair that is designed for use at a desk in an office. It is usually adjustable and has a set of wheels. Office chairs were developed around the mid-19th century as more workers spent their shifts sitting at a desk, leading to the adoption of several features not found on other chairs.

Original Office Chairs

Original Office ChairInitially, office chairs were fixed in height and not mobile. But most work was not truly sedentary and most workers were of uniform height and weight, so chairs could be built for an average size in any given country and they would work well for the masses.

Office Chair Initial Need: Mobility

office-chair-2With the advent of the typewriter, early dictation machines and the telephone, office workers began spending more time at their desk. This led to the creation of desks and filing systems that then led to the need for a chair with mobility. The first two types of mobility were wheels/casters, so the chair could be moved around the workspace, and a center support column that allowed the worker to pivot freely. Thus we began to confine workers more and more to their desks and workspace.

Early Office Chair Adjustability

office-chair-3As the computer began to move into the office and as productivity experts began to notice that they could increase the output of workers, the need for improved support from a chair led to the development of office chairs with increased adjustability. The first adjustment to be offered was seat height. This enabled the chairs to work for a much broader range of body sizes. The original seat height adjustment was accomplished by replacing the center support column with an acme thread on the column, so the user could turn the seat and adjust the height. Of course, this created a problem for users who pivoted regularly at their desk on a chair with both casters and the threaded column; the chair typically ended up lower as the day wore on.

Increased Office Chair Adjustability

office-chair-4The invention of the gas lift solved the problem of a chair that could instantly adjust seat height at the touch of a button, and also allow 360 degree rotation without changing the seat height. An added benefit: when you sat down, the gas compressed so that you did not sit down “hard”.

Ergonomic Office Chair

office-chair-5From this starting point, the idea for an “ergonomic” chair began to develop. Chair designers and early ergonomists began to see value in offering chairs with an increasing number of adjustments that would better support the office worker who was beginning to spend more and more time seated at their desk.

My How Things Have Changed

office-chair-6Many people can remember when the word office meant a room, a desk, bookshelves, filing cabinets and a light. That changed dramatically with the invention of the “cubicle” and the impact of the computer, leading to massive changes in the “office chair”. Today’s modern office chair must support a user who spends the whole day working and often playing in their chair. That support must include the kind of natural motion that keeps people healthy, the kind of motion found only in a SwingChair.