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The history Of The adirondack chair, from 1900 to now

By Dan Darvell December 22, 2021 blog

Adirondack chairs are synonymous with relaxation on the porch, days in the sun, and a general sense of well-being. This iconic chair’s history, believe it or not, isn’t as peaceful as the current iteration. The design of the chair itself can be traced back to before the 1900s, but the first solid records are from the town of Westport, NY

The History Of The Adirondack Chair, From 1900 to Now

The Early Adirondacks

Thomas Lee lived in this region at the time, and he required lawn furniture for his family and himself in order to better enjoy the outdoors. This region of the United States is home to the Adirondack Mountains, and has long posed a difficult challenge for those looking to lounge in and design outdoor furniture. 

You see, regular chairs just weren’t cutting it on the frequent and steep slopes that gave the region its breathtaking views. Chairs with a “level” bottom left those who sat down pitching forward at an alarming angle and would make tipping over forward quite easy. While this was surely worth a good guffaw in the 1900s, one can only laugh so long before craving the comfort of a reliable solution. 

Thomas Lee and his family did just that, experimenting with different angles and configurations until they found one that was just right: The Westport Chair. This early predecessor to the Adirondak featured the same sloped seat, with a solid piece of wood as the backrest. 

The drama began when Thomas Lee showed the design to his friend Harry Bunnell, who owned his own woodworking shop. Bunnell produced more chairs for Lee and his family, but he didn’t stop there. He applied for the patent for the Westport chair in 1905, claiming it as his own original invention.

There is no record of Lee ever legally challenging this, or for that matter ever raising any kind of stink around the stolen plans, but one can only imagine the indignity. 

The History Of The Adirondack Chair, From 1900 to Now

Advancing The Adirondack

Bunnell sold Westport chairs for the next 25 years, even stamping his patent number on the back. Bunnell did add a footrest to the design from Lee’s prototype, but besides that, not much changed. The next evolution of the chair that we know and love today came in 1938. An ambitious designer by the name of Irving Wolpin submitted a patent in the dark of winter from New Jersey. This chair, although very similar to the Westport chair, was slightly different. The “lawn chair or similar” as the patent named it featured the iconic slatted back made of many smaller packs vs. one large piece of wood. 

Thus the modern design for the Adirondack chair was formed. Over the next few decades, many more designers put their own original spins on this new “lawn chair” design, improving the Westport chair. Eventually, this style of chair just began going by the region for which it was created, and the name Adirondack chair stuck. 

The History Of The Adirondack Chair, From 1900 to Now

Anatomy Of An Adirondack

So, what elements officially make an Adirondack chair? Mostly exactly what you can see. The sloped seat that reaches back with higher stilts in the front is a must. The signature back that curves and is made of 3-7 planks with a rounded, arched top is also a must-have feature for the chair. While some Adirondack-style chairs have varying degrees of tilt, the true characteristic that started it all is the sloped seat that holds the sitter slightly reclined, perfect for an afternoon on the patio or watching the sunset on a hill in the Northeast (or your preferred region). 

Some of the more modern takes on the Adirondack chair have seen innovations to the static style. Rockers are very popular now, built in the traditional style. Gliders have also gained popularity, utilizing hardware to give a mechanical advantage for smoother movement. Even some Tete-a-Tete options exist, allowing for Adirondacks to be joined for group relaxation. 

One of the standards of Adirondacks through the ages, though, is their sturdy construction. A well-built Adirondack is an heirloom that can last generations. Because of this solid, often wooden, construction, storage and care have always been an issue.

Moving these large, solid chairs for the winter, and constantly repainting and resealing them can be a lot of work. That is why By the Yard has innovated the world of Adirondack chairs. 

Award-Winning Adirondacks From By the Yard

By the Yard’s Adirondack chairs are 100% maintenance-free. How, you ask? We have moved on from the 1900s, and innovated in both the design of our outdoor furniture and the materials we use. Instead of heavy wood, we use High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE).

This material is maintenance-free, and we don’t mean that in the hand-wavy, asterisk-having, fine-print way. Rain or shine, our furniture won’t chip, lose its color, or take on stains, thanks to this non-porous material. On top of it being incredibly durable, it is environmentally responsible. By the Yard takes plastic scraps (a.k.a. milk jugs) and turns them into engineered lumber that is more durable and more comfortable than traditional lumber. 

At By the Yard, we believe in the heritage and history of the Adirondack chair, which is why we only build quality, long-lasting chairs, just like good ol’ Thomas would have wanted. Sure, you can find those flimsy plastic chairs that are $20 at the corner store, but temporary solutions can’t hold a candle to true craftsmanship. Make the smart choice with chairs that can be enjoyed year-round without taking up storage space or straining your back. 

So there you have it: a (mostly) complete history of the Adirondack chair. So this summer, when you pull up your HPDE By the Yard Adirondack chair, think of where the design has been, and how far it has come since. We are honored to be a milestone in the history of the Adirondack chair, and are looking forward to continuing to provide high-quality maintenance-free furniture and innovating the market for many more years to come. Browse all of our durable, outdoor patio furniture by exploring the rest of our website.