Who Invented the Swivel Chair? (Invention Timeline Explained)

A swivel chair is one of the most ubiquitous pieces of furniture that one can find in an office or even at homes worldwide. However, it’s pretty common that most people overlook that it is one of the most important inventions of all time. A chair that can pivot 360 degrees helps people move around quickly and work in different positions. However, we know that the modern-day swivel chair is an amalgamation of several designs and feature improvements based on the original design. 

There’s always a history to everyday things, and the swivel chair is no exception. In this article, we’ll take a quick dive into the beginnings of the swivel chair and how it has evolved through the years. 

Who invented the first swivel chair?

Thomas Jefferson invented the swivel chair sometime between 1774 and 1775 when he felt that the Windsor chair he was using didn’t allow him enough movement and resolved to create something that did. According to several accounts, Jefferson used an English-style Windsor chair probably purchased from Francis Trumble or Benjamin Randolph, a Philadelphia-based cabinet-maker. He modified the chair with top and bottom parts connected by a central iron spindle, enabling the top half to move on casters used in rope-hung windows. 

The swivel chair’s key contributors (and evolution)

  • Martin Löffelholz von Kolberg
    Early designs for a swivel chair

    The Nuremberg patrician came up with the concept of a swiveling, height-adjustable chair with castor wheels, as illustrated in the 1505 Löffelholz Codex, on folio 10r.

  • Thomas Jefferson
    Invented the first swivel chair

    The Founding Father invented the swivel chair using an English-style Windsor chair bought from either Francis Trumble or Benjamin Randolph. He modified the top and bottom parts of the chair by attaching a central iron spindle which enabled the top half to move on casters.

  • Thomas E. Warren
    Invented the Centripetal Spring Armchair

    He designed the centripetal spring armchair in 1849. His chair used a swivel mechanism and castors enabling users to reach things more easily without standing from their seats. In addition, his chair featured velvet upholstery, cast iron, and a skirt to cleverly hide the springs under the seat.

  • Frank Lloyd Wright 
    Created the Larkin Building Chair

    Designed to keep their typists comfortable, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Larkin Building Chair was also known as Suicide Chair because it tended to fall over with the person sitting on it. Although considered a failure by many, the chair was also crucial for the evolution of the swivel chair.

  • Bill Stumpf 
    Collaborated to create the Ergon Chair

    William Eugene Stumpf collaborated with Herman Miller and his company to create the Ergon chair that incorporated years of research into how people sat when they worked. The result is a better, more comfortable swivel chair that provides ample back support.

When was the first swivel chair invented?

Thomas Jefferson invented the first swivel chair sometime between 1774 and 1775 using an English-style Windsor chair which he purportedly bought from either cabinet-maker Benjamin Randolph or Francis Trumble. Jefferson attached the top and bottom parts of the chair with a central iron spindle, allowing the chair’s top half to move 360 degrees. The chair didn’t have any castor wheels to help him move from point A to point B, but it allowed him to reach objects without standing up.

A brief history of the swivel chair

Historical accounts point to early Egyptian artisans using a precursor to the modern swivel chair, which helped them lean forward without tipping over as they did their work. Then, in 1505, a Nuremberg patrician named Martin Löffelholz von Kolberg came up with a novel idea of a height-adjustable, swiveling chair with castor wheels which were illustrated in the Löffelholz Codex, on folio 10r.

However, historians point out that one of the United States of America’s Founding Fathers, Thomas Jefferson, invented the swivel chair sometime in 1774 or 1775. They say that Jefferson used an English-style Windsor chair which he bought from either Philadelphia-based cabinet-maker Benjamin Randolph or Francis Trumble. Jefferson attached the bottom and top halves of the chair with a central-iron spindle allowing him to move the top half 360 degrees. Although it didn’t have castor wheels, it did help him reach objects easily without standing from his position. 

Charles Darwin also had a hand in the evolution of the swivel chair as he crafted a wooden armchair on wheels. He attached some wheels and legs to his chair to help him move around while doing his tasks in his workspace. This invention enabled him to access his specimens and move about his space more efficiently. 

The Centripetal Spring Armchair was designed by Thomas E. Warren, an American inventor, in 1849, using a swivel mechanism with castor wheels to help workers reach things more easily without standing up. His design incorporated velvet upholstery, cast iron legs, and a skirt which he used to hide the spring mechanism under the seat. 

Frank Lloyd Wright, an architect and designer, came up with the Larkin Building Chair, also dubbed the Suicide Chair, because it tended to tip over with its occupant. While it may have been considered a failure by some, the chair is still crucial to the evolution of the swivel chair.

William “Bill” Stumpf then came up with the Ergon chair in 1976. He incorporated years of research into the design. The chair featured a foam-filled back and seat, gas-lift levers to adjust the tilt and height, better spine support, and five-star legs with castor wheels. 

There have been continued improvements to the design and features of the swivel chair. However, the motive still remains the same – keep the person sitting on the chair comfortable while giving them the ability to maneuver 360 degrees from its central point.

The swivel chair timeline

  1. 1505
    Martin Löffelholz von Kolberg’s novel swiveling chair idea

    Kolberg’s idea of a height-adjustable and swiveling chair was illustrated in his Löffelholz Codex, on folio 10r.

  2. 1774-1775
    Thomas Jefferson invented the first swivel chair

    Founding Father Thomas Jefferson invented the swivel chair using an English-style Windsor chair in which he connected the bottom and top halves with a central iron spindle. There weren’t any wheels yet on his invention, whose donor chair was bought from either Francis Trumble or Benjamin Randolph.

  3. 1849
    Thomas E. Warren designed the Centripetal Spring Armchair 

    American inventor Thomas Warren used a swivel mechanism with castor wheels to help office workers reach things more easily without standing from their seated position. He also incorporated cast iron legs, velvet upholstery, and a skirt to conceal the mechanism under the seat.

  4. 1976
    Bill Stumpf designed the Ergo Chair

    William Stumpf designed the Ergo chair, incorporating years of research to provide people with comfort while seated and with the motive of sustaining physical health. His chair had a foam-filled seat and back, a gas lift to adjust the height and tilt, and a five-star wheelbase with easy-glide castor wheels to provide mobility.

Where were swivel chairs invented?

Historical accounts state that Thomas Jefferson was in Philadelphia drafting the Declaration of Independence when he invented the swivel chair. He used an English-style Windsor chair wherein he used a central iron spindle to connect the top half to the bottom half and castor wheels, allowing him to rotate the chair at the axis 360 degrees.

The importance of the swivel chair

  • The origin of the modern-day swivel chair

    Without the creation of the swivel chair by such a luminary, such as Thomas Jefferson, the design for a modern-day swivel chair may have taken a few more years to crop up. Instead, Jefferson’s invention allowed others to use his design as a baseline to improve the comfort and features of the swivel chair.

  • The design and feature improvements  

    The first swivel chair’s design and features are pretty bulky and uncomfortable. The chair was made of wood, and there were no comfortable features such as foam-filled backrests or cushions. There were also no wheels to help mobility. This served as the baseline for design improvement.

  • Set inventors and designers to come up with a better overall design

    Designers and inventors kept improving the design of the swivel chair, incorporating new and more comfortable materials to make the chair design better suited for desk-bound workers.

  • Research into better orthopedic and aesthetic improvements

    Through the years, there have been improvements to the original design. In addition, designers have incorporated years of aesthetic and orthopedic research to ensure that the swivel chair will provide its users with better aesthetics and comfort while sustaining health.

The swivel chair by the numbers

  • 17,000A recent study states that most desk-bound workers spend about 17,000 hours sitting on their chairs. Most researchers say that this can be quite unhealthy as a sedentary lifestyle opens up doors for various ailments.
  • $13,200This is the price of a Wegner Swivel Chair. The Wegner Swivel Chair was designed by Hans J. Wegner, a renowned Danish designer, and it incorporates chrome pipe, leather, and wood into a trendy but minimalist look. The wood used in the chair is derived from trees at least 150 years old and dried in a humidity-controlled environment for about two years.
  • 5This is the optimal number of legs on a swivel chair. The number of legs indicates that the chair is more stable and sturdier, and there’s little chance of the person tipping over on an uneven surface.
  • 16-21 inchesResearch states that 16-21 inches off the floor is the optimal height for a comfortable chair. This height will allow the user to have his feet planted firmly on the floor with thighs horizontal and the arms even with the desk.

Five facts about swivel chairs

  • Swivel chairs have five legs for better balance and stability

    Modern-day swivel chairs have five legs because it is the optimal number of legs to keep the person sitting from tipping over on an uneven floor. It provides better stability, distributes weight more evenly, and decreases the chance of tipping over.

  • Manual crank levers or gas-lift mechanisms adjust swivel chair height

    Designers have incorporated gas lifts or manual crank levers to adjust the height of a swivel chair to their preferred height off the floor.

  • Swivel chairs incorporate ergonomic designs

    Modern-day swivel chairs incorporate ergonomics into their design to improve posture and provide adequate back support for the person using them.

  • The swivel chair has several innovators and advocates

    Most historians agree that Thomas Jefferson invented the modern swivel chair. Still, in their various efforts, Charles Darwin, Thomas E. Warren, and even Otto von Bismarck contributed to the swivel chair’s design and popularity.

  • Swivel chairs improved productivity

    Swivel chairs improve an employee’s focus and prevent distractions and improper posture. In addition, studies show that using a comfortable chair increase employee productivity by at least 17.5%, which is a significant boost.

FAQs about swivel chairs

  • Who was the inventor of the swivel chair?

    Historians agree that Thomas Jefferson, one of the USA’s Founding Fathers, invented the first swivel chair in Philadelphia while writing the Declaration of Independence between 1774 and 1775.

  • Why is ergonomics important in choosing a swivel chair?

    Ergonomics is essential in choosing a swivel chair because it helps improve posture and provides the user with adequate lumbar support to keep them comfortable. 

  • What are the advantages of using swivel chairs?

    Swivel chairs have distinct advantages, chief among them being increased and better mobility, comfort, better back support, and higher productivity.  

  • What is the standard size of a swivel chair?

    Most swivel chairs have a standard size of 18” in width by 20” in depth. Designers have agreed that this is an adequate size that can provide an average-sized person suitable comfort and stability.

  • Where is the first swivel chair now?

    The first swivel chair, the one invented by Jefferson, is now in the possession of the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia since 1836.

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