How the Iconic Adirondack Chair Was First Dreamt Up in the Early 1900s

·2 min read

No outdoorsy scene—campfire setup, cozy porch, lakeside backyard, grassy front lawn—is complete without some version of the Adirondack chair. The iconic furniture piece is practically synonymous with prime relaxation in nature. It is, after all, named after a mountain range. While the chair has evolved into many variations today, we have its origins that date back to more than a century ago to thank for the popular designs today.

The Adirondack chair was first dreamt up in the early 1900s by Thomas Lee at his family’s cottage in Westport, New York. Furniture and history buffs agree: Lee, a lover of the outdoors, wanted to create a sturdy yet comfortable chair that could handle the terrain in the Adirondack Mountains—from soft, mushy ground to a small hill. From 1900 to 1903, Lee had his family members test out prototypes. Eventually, he landed on a chair with a high back, wide armrests, and a slanted seat made of knot-free slabs of eastern hemlock wood.

Now, it wasn’t actually Lee who manufactured the chair. In an interview with the Sun Community News, Lee’s great-great-nephew confirmed the inventor had no interest in doing so since he was already wealthy and had other business to focus on. Instead, he encouraged his friend and local carpenter Henry Bunnell to take on the project. Bunnell applied for a patent for his Westport chair (an early name for the seat)—modifying the design a bit by making it narrower—in 1904.

In the years since, other inventors put their takes on the chair, including Irving Wolpin in 1938. In 1990, the company Polywood started making Adirondack chairs from recycled plastic materials—which made them highly weather-resistant.

Today, the modern Adirondack chair often features slats of wood lined up instead of the original design, which made use of whole pieces of wood. This method makes it much easier to manufacture. You can now find plenty of variations at a range of price points, too. So, whether your outdoor escape is a small area with a fire pit or a grand backyard that overlooks a lake, a pair of Adirondack chairs (or more!) is well within your reach.

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