Scandalous Furniture

I cannot imagine attempting to work regularly at my computer desk without my “swivel chair”! When we go on trips, and I have to put up with sitting in a regular chair at a tiny table in a motel room as a temporary place to check my Facebook feed, I am reminded just HOW much I love my swivel chair, which is much like the one pictured here. I hate the screeching sound chair legs make when you screech them across the floor to get your legs out from under the desk. Or, if you are sitting in a carpeted area, how difficult it is to scoot a rigid chair at all…even with casters. Being able to just rotate your chair seat in order to extricate yourself from your desk is so convenient!


It never occurred to me until today to wonder just when the first swivel chair was invented, to know whom I might “thank” for this  modern convenience. I came across this tidbit while looking up something else. I was surprised at how long ago it was invented, and who was the inventor. And that you can actually see the very first model. Perhaps you will be surprised too. Look for the pic at the end of the quote.

A swivel or revolving chair is a chair with a single central leg that allows the seat to spin around. Swivel chairs can have wheels on the base allowing the user to move the chair around their work area without getting up. This type is common in modern offices and is often also referred to as office chairs.

Using an English-style Windsor chair of which was possibly made and purchased from Francis Trumble or Philadelphia cabinet-maker Benjamin Randolph, Thomas Jefferson invented the swivel chair in 1776.

Jefferson heavily modified the Windsor chair and incorporated top and bottom parts connected by a central iron spindle, enabling the top half known as the seat, to swivel on casters of the type used in rope-hung windows.

When the Second Continental Congress convened in Philadelphia, Jefferson’s swivel chair is purported to be where he drafted the United States Declaration of Independence. Jefferson later had the swivel chair sent to his Virginia plantation, Monticello, where he later built a “writing paddle” onto its side in 1791. Since 1836, the chair has been in the possession of the American Philosophical Society located in Philadelphia. [Wiki]

jefferson swivel

You can actually have your own Jefferson-inspired spindle-backed swivel chair for your own office. A reproduction can be purchased for only $1,400.


I am, of course, also grateful to the person who finally thought to add casters to the bottoms of the legs of office chairs, and ESPECIALLY to the person who started the trend to generously padding office chairs! Even with its swivel mechanism, I would go crazy having to sit in a spindle-backed chair like Thomas’s all day! And I just found out who that person may be that added both of those features, and did so much earlier than I would have suspected…


The Centripetal Spring Chair or Armchair was a 19th-century American office chair, and one of the first modern designs for office chairs.

Designed in 1849 by the American inventor Thomas E. Warren (b. 1808), the chair was produced by the American Chair Company in Troy, New York. Made of cast iron and varnished steel with wood and velvet upholstery, it measured 107 × 61 × 71 centimeters with headrest and armrests, and had a seat height of 48 centimeters.

The chair exhibited all features of today’s office chairs except adjustable lumbar support: it allowed tilt movement in all directions and had a revolving seat, caster wheels for ease of movement, as well as a headrest and armrests in the armchair variant. Tilting was achieved through the flexion of the four large C-shaped steel springs on which the seat rested, using the sitter’s feet as a fulcrum. The modernity of its design, which included an innovative use of cast iron for the frame, was visually downplayed by hiding the springs behind a dense passementerie (an elaborate trim) and by rendering the frame in the nostalgic, gilded Rococo Revival style.

But it was perhaps introduced a bit before its time…

After it was first presented at the 1851 Great Exhibition in London, the chair had little success outside the USA: it was deemed immoral because it was too comfortable. The Victorian morality of the time valued rigid, unsupportive seats that allowed sitters to demonstrate refinement, willpower and morality through an upright posture. [Wiki]

I am sure glad to live in an age where I can freely purchase and use a XXX-rated office chair!

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