A Brief History of Rocking Chairs and Their Rise to Popularity
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.
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.
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.