A Brief History of Rocking Chairs and Their Rise to Popularity

Do you or did you have a baby rocking chair?  Nursery rocking chairs and children's rocking chairs are very popular.
Do you or did you have a baby rocking chair? Nursery rocking chairs and children's rocking chairs are very popular. | Source

For many people, rocking chairs conjure up images of elderly couples sitting side-by-side on the front porch, grandparents sitting in their rockers telling grand tales, or a parent soothing a fussy infant or rocking him to sleep. Rocking chairs have always been popular in my family. My parents used one in my nursery to rock me to sleep, and my grandpa made beautiful rocking chairs, including a child-sized rocker for me when I was a little girl, and which still has a place of honour in my living room today. Both of my young nephews love the chair and take turns sitting in it whenever they're visiting. I also have a gliding rocking chair that belonged to my grandpa - it was my favorite chair to sit in whenever I visited him in the nursing home, and because my family knew how much it meant to me, I inherited it when he died. I currently have a total of three rocking chairs in my home.

During my one-year-old nephew's most recent visit, where he played with and sat in my childhood rocker for more than an hour, it got me thinking about rocking chairs and wondering about their origins. So of course, being a born researcher and writer, I decided to discover the history of rocking chairs and share my findings for anyone else who might be interested. There's quite a bit of information out there, so mine is just a brief history of what I thought were the most interesting and relevant facts.

Old-fashioned wooden rocking chairs were originally made as outdoor rocking chairs for the garden or lawn.
Old-fashioned wooden rocking chairs were originally made as outdoor rocking chairs for the garden or lawn. | Source

Origins of rocking chairs

It is not known who originally invented the rocking chair - different sources claim everything from farmers to cabinet makers to American patriot and inventor Benjamin Franklin. What is known is that rocking chairs originated in North America in the early 18th century. The idea most likely came from the cradle, which dates back to the 16th century, and the rocking horse, which dates back to the 18th century, both in Europe. Skates or rockers were added to the legs of chairs to convert them into chairs that rocked - hence 'rocking chair', which first appeared in 1787 in the Oxford English dictionary.

Rocking chairs first appeared in England in 1725. In both North America and Europe, the chairs were made for outdoor use in gardens and lawns, and were simply ordinary chairs with rockers or skates attached to the legs.

Rocking chairs became the most popular type of porch furniture by the close of the 18th century. They became common household furniture, and were often seen as a status symbol of sorts for the elders and heads of a family. Think of the stories you've read or the television shows and movies you've seen in which the grandparents are sitting in their rocking chairs telling tales of their youth or captivating the younger members of the family with fantastical stories.

Rocking chairs are soothing and relaxing.
Rocking chairs are soothing and relaxing. | Source

Popular styles of rocking chairs

Popular types of rocking chairs in the 18th century included wicker rocking chairs, and the Windsor rocking chair, which originated in Windsor, England, and had a hoop-shaped back, spindles which had a birdcage-like appearance, and a comb-shaped headrest. The makers of Windsor rockers often used a variety of woods, a fact which was disguised by painting the chairs black or dark green.

The Boston rocking chair, a variation of the Windsor style, was created in New England around 1840, and was the first mass-produced rocking chair, which was later mostly machine-made.

In 1860, German craftsman Michael Thonet created the first bentwood rocking chair, an elegant and lightweight rocker, made with steamed wood which was curved and bent to create the unique shape. Because of their beauty and affordability, the bentwood rockers became popular all over the world.

Many of these wooden rocking chairs, as well as the wicker ones are still popular today. Other modern favorites include gliders, spring rockers, recliner rockers, swivel rockers, and Adirondack rockers (outdoor rocking chairs). Many people also like the simple designs of Shaker rocking chairs and the beautiful designs of Amish-made rocking chairs.

From simple every-day chairs with rockers attached to the bottoms, to beautiful, elaborate works of functional art, rocking chairs have certainly evolved over the last three centuries. Rockers are not only comfortable and soothing, they make great ergonomic chairs because when you sit in them without rocking, the chair adjusts to your centre of gravity, making you virtually weightless. If you don't already have a rocking chair in your home, they make a great addition to a baby's room, a living/recreational room, or if weather-proofed, a deck, patio, porch or balcony. You might even use one for what they were originally intended - a garden chair. Rocking chairs come in all shapes, sizes, colours and designs, and in all price ranges, too. If you don't already own a rocker, consider buying a beautifully crafted, well-made rocking chair as an addition to your own home, and remember there are many reasons that after nearly 300 years, they're still one of the most popular choices for chairs in the home.

Comments 21 comments

Angel 5 years ago

What a great article, and what a great idea! I love it when people write about such original things... it's like I didn't even think about it, but it's something I'd really like to know. Good work!


SweetMarie83 profile image

SweetMarie83 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada Author

Thank you Angel! I hoped people would feel that way - when I had my 'proofreader' read it, she said pretty much the same thing - something that's interesting to learn about that you never really would have thought of learning about. I appreciate the comment!


scoobydeb profile image

scoobydeb 5 years ago

What a great topic! Brought back all kinds of memories for me of my grandma. I still have her old Boston rocker that she gave me before she died.


SweetMarie83 profile image

SweetMarie83 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada Author

Aww, that's lovely! Things like that are so special. :-)


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore

A lovely topic SweetMarie. There is something special about a rocking chair. We never had one but I always wished we did when I was a kid.I'd still like one but they do take up a bit more room than a regular chair and I'm so pushed for space where I am.

Cheers


SweetMarie83 profile image

SweetMarie83 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada Author

Thank you for the comment, Jane! It's funny, rockers are one of those things that I always assumed everyone had, probably because everyone in my family had at least one. I definitely understand about being pressed for space, I live in an apartment and sometimes it's a challenge having two full-sized rocking chairs, but I could never bear to part with them! Maybe someday you'll have one!


Eiddwen profile image

Eiddwen 5 years ago from Wales

Hi SweetMarie,

Thanks for this unique hub.

This is what I like most about HP, the variety of topics to read from.

When my children were small I had a rocking chair and used to find it so comfy to get them off to sleep.

Take care

Eiddwen.


Docmo profile image

Docmo 5 years ago from UK

Hi fellow hubmobber- Thanks for this unique history of the rocking chairs, this hubmob weekly topic is truly wonderful. Thanks for this!


SweetMarie83 profile image

SweetMarie83 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada Author

Thank you so much Eiddwen and Docmo for your lovely comments, I really appreciate it! Eiddwen, that's what I like most about HubPages too, the variety of topics to read AND write - the sky's the limit!


Just Ask Susan profile image

Just Ask Susan 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

Great Hub SweetMarie. Every summer I drive with my mother in law down to Florida. We always stop and have a meal at this restaurant called Cracker Barrel. Outside they have a porch and on the porch are all these rocking chairs that you can buy. I have always wanted to buy one but there is never enough room in the car. Really enjoyed reading your hub on Rocking chairs!


SweetMarie83 profile image

SweetMarie83 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada Author

Thanks for the comment, Susan! I've always wanted to go to Cracker Barrel, and now I want to go even more to see the rocking chairs! haha Maybe someday there'll be enough room for you to bring one home. ;-)


boxxies profile image

boxxies 5 years ago

I really enjoyed reading this short history of the rocking chair.

Pleasantly written.

Marie/Poutine


SweetMarie83 profile image

SweetMarie83 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada Author

Thank you Marie, I appreciate that!


WindyWinters profile image

WindyWinters 5 years ago from Vancouver Island, BC

Congrats on your nomination for this week's Top of Class contest!! Thank for sharing your history and memories on the rocking chair. Well Done!


SweetMarie83 profile image

SweetMarie83 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada Author

Thanks so much Wendy, I really appreciate that!


Denise Handlon profile image

Denise Handlon 5 years ago from North Carolina

I love rocking chairs and have had one in my home since my first child was born. Wonderful hub. Thanks for the history and photos.


SweetMarie83 profile image

SweetMarie83 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada Author

Thank you, Denise! Many people I know get rocking chairs when their children are born, then wonder why they didn't have them sooner!


Yash 4 years ago

thnx so much for posting this article :) god bless u :) now i can finally complete my project work on rocking chairs :)


SweetMarie83 profile image

SweetMarie83 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada Author

I'm so pleased you enjoyed it! :-)


Martha Jo 2 years ago

Thank you, I enjoyed reading your article about Rocking Chairs. Check out articles on seniors having problems with balance problems.


Anna Brumby 16 months ago

I just came across your article and really like how you approached it and has some really original content! Being in the rocking chair business, I am completely biased, but there is nothing more soothing than rocking in a good rocking chair. Take a look at our rocking chairs sometime. We have been around a long time and are very proud of our historic rocking chairs. www.brumbyrocker.com Thanks. Anna Brumby, President - The Brumby Chair Company

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