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Wooden Steamer Chair History

Updated on January 19, 2015

Old Wooden Steamer Chair

Columbus Steamer Chair
Columbus Steamer Chair | Source

The History of The Steamer Chair

WHAT !!! I hear you say, that does not look like my Steamer Chair. Where are all the folding bits and cushion?

Just like you, it took me by surprise to see this illustration in a book written around 1894 describing some of the items taken by Columbus on his great trip with the Nina Pinta and Santa Maria. Apparently Rum, Millet and 'me favourite chair' was the way to travel in those days.

While I imagine that the illustration has plenty of artistic license added, the fact that the illustrator sketched something unlike today's wooden steamer chairs shows that he certainly had a different perception of the style. Folding joints do not seem to be in the illustrators scope, though there had been some work on folding chairs done at that time as seen in the patent section further down.

One interesting fact though is that the chair appears to embody the design concept that it should be a relaxing style albeit not my idea of relaxing.

The addition of the footrest and the way it would support your legs and stop you sliding down seems to support that idea as does the casual slope of the arm as opposed to the rigid right angle to back top arm prevalent style.

The upright back on the other hand without any lumbar support would have been torturous after a few hours I imagine. Lets hope Columbous had something slightly better contoured or plenty of rum.

Book Excerpt

Book Excerpt Mentioning Columbus Steamer Chair
Book Excerpt Mentioning Columbus Steamer Chair | Source


Furniture and design have been part of my life for over 40 years both as a manufacturer and retailer so I hope you enjoy this Steamer Chair expose as much as I did writing it. Our journey will touch on the:

History of the chair.
Definition of the style
Usage in real Life
Patents that refined the style
General wrap up


"steamer chair." Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition. HarperCollins
Publishers. 01 Jan. 2015. < chair>.

1. a type of reclinable chair with a wooden or wicker frame, sometimes upholstered, designed for relaxing in

This definition clearly dictates the direction that the steamer style evolved towards, in particular the concept of motion and the purpose of relaxing. Modern steamers have evolved to include non wood elements with brass hinges, aluminium tubing and steamer cushions, but all stay true to the relaxing brief.

Signature Usage

Original Titanic Deck Chair
Original Titanic Deck Chair | Source

Using The Steamer Chair

The image above would be one of the most notary examples of the Steamer style being used.

The chairs style was well suited not only for patios and backyards, but when made out of resilient Teak wood, proved a popular deck chair for the steamers or cruise ships which were a major method of transportation through the early 1900s.

Very few of the Titanics chairs were recovered and serve as a symbolism for that sad epic event.

Modern manufacturers and DIY wood plans for this Titanic model are still available should one wish to have or make a working replica.

I have seen the DIY plans which are free plans for a Titanic Deck Chair at Popular Woodworking (no affiliation) and they will certainly allow you to build a very nice reproduction if you have your own woodworking cave to tinker in.


Like many designs, if they become popular and a market develops, inventors will see opportunities to advance or change a design to meet some real or perceived issue with currently available models.

Since the Steamer style incorporated a folding chair mechanism/design, it seemed inevitable that many changes would be made as different materials became available to change certain elements.

One of the first patents to specifically address a steamer style was the 1878 Collignon patent for what was termed a reclining chair.

1878 Patent

Improved Steamer Chair
Improved Steamer Chair | Source

The GOLLIGNGN Reclining Chair patent addresses an interesting area which is the connection between the armrest and its front support leg.

In the words of the patent "The object of my invention is to provide a folding steamer-chair that may be easily adjusted to several positions as a reclining-chair."

Now that is certainly something the Columbus chair could have done with.

The effect of this modification can still be seen today with variations of that ratchet style adjustment system being seen even in plastic pool lounges or lazy garden lounges. Many modern versions of reclining folding chairs took up that concept which a variety of implementations.

Basic Folding Chair

Early Folding Chair
Early Folding Chair | Source

Folding Chair Patent

The underlying principle of a chair being able to be folded was a precursor to the Steamer Chair and any variations and one of the earliest patents that surely inspired others to think in that direction was the Cram folding chair of 1855. He makes reference to a J. Middleton as having an earlier patent application in for folding chair, though I could not find that earlier record.

In this illustration you can still see the remnants of older upholstery techniques with the padded seat which became slats in later folding chairs.

WIthout these forward thinking designers,( notwithstanding earlier civilizations intra cultural designs ), the development of our Steamer Chair may have been delayed just a little longer.

Have Your Say

Whats Your Opinion About The Steamer Chair Style?

See results

Wooden Steamer Chairs Available Today

Steamer Cushion Measuring Guide

Steamer Wrap Up

I hope you enjoyed learning about this style. It certainly has had an impact on so many folding chair designs now that you think about it.

My earliest recollection of hearing about these chairs was a story my mother told about her immigrant trip out to Australia on a cruise ship just after that war.

Mum was a feisty female and when storms hit the ship she wanted to experience nature to the fullest so she would get a rope and strap herself and her steamer chair on deck to a handrail and ride the storm out in all its glory.

Maybe you have a story to tell as well, love to hear it in the comments.


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