If those webbed or metal lawn chairs from the 1950s and 60s conjure up fond memories of picnics and potlucks past, well, you're in luck, because they're officially back in fashion. (Although, for the record, we've loved them all along.) As it seems the world is slowly, surely, coming out of forced hibernation and venturing into warmer temps and safe socially distanced territory, small groups all over—from Bible studies to book clubs—are congregating on front lawns and plopping down old-school lawn chairs before sharing gospel or gossip. In fact, the lawn chair has unseated (heh) both the porch swing and the rocking chair as the Official Throne of Summer. It makes sense, of course. First, lawn chairs are far more portable—you can easily tote one over to the neighbor's yard for an impromptu chat about the Sweet Magnolias finale (Who. Was. In. The. Car?!). Second, they tend to be more affordable, with some in our roundup below starting at a very reasonable $20, meaning you can create a (safely staggered) semicircle—6 feet apart, y'all!—for friendly banter without breaking the bank. Another check in the lawn chair's favor: The nostalgia these retro relics serve up in these uncertain times can be as comforting as a Tupperware tub full of day-after fried chicken. If you're interested in joining the metal or folding chair fold, sit a spell with this guide to the lawn chair's lively yet laid-back history, including historic brands and modern makers to know. (We'll save you a seat!)
Click here to see 12 more things making a comeback because of the pandemic.
STARTED AT THE BOTTOM: A SHORT HISTORY OF THE HUMBLE LAWN CHAIR
While folding chairs date back to ancient Egypt, we'll skip ahead a few centuries because you probably have places to be. In 1855, John Cram received an early patent for a folding chair. Later, in 1947, Fredric Arnold created the first aluminum chair with fabric webbing. (A decade later, his Brooklyn-based company manufactured more than 14,000 chairs a day.) While the metal lawn chairs you know and love don't fold (although some do glide!), they, too, date back to the mid-1900s, when more middle-class Americans could afford single homes with backyards. These metal styles also became known as "motel chairs," referencing their ubiquity outside roadside properties along Route 66. (Doesn't that make you love them even more?)
Long esteemed for their understatement—lawn chairs are an icon of leisure, after all—the lawn chair has made headlines here and there. Some of you may recall Larry "Lawnchair" Walters, an aviation-loving Vietnam Vet and truck driver who in 1982 attached 42 helium-filled weather balloons to his webbed lawn chair in his girlfriend's yard. After packing sandwiches, Miller Lite, and a pellet gun (to pop balloons as needed), he wound up flying much higher than his intended "30 or so" feet, soaring up to 16,000 feet over Los Angeles, finally spotted by a TWA pilot who alerted ground control. Miraculously, after 14 hours, he landed safely. When someone asked the question that everyone else was thinking: "Why?" Larry replied, "A man can't just sit around." (But that's the whole point, Larry!)
OLDIES BUT GOODIES: VINTAGE BRANDS TO KNOW
Antiques enthusiasts have long coveted these old-school armchairs for the patina they lend to a porch or patio. And with growing interest in all things midcentury, from furniture to accessories, many lawn chair manufacturers—as well as resale sites—are seeing an uptick in demand. (While reporting this very story, we noticed than many a chair was already sitting in multiple Etsy shoppers' carts.)
To do more digging into this topic—particularly the brands and makers to know—we sought out the magpie of all metal lawn chair magpies, Don Storer of midcenturymetalchairs.com, who cites Junior Toy Co.'s metal chair as arguably the most iconic of all metal lawn chairs.
Brett Anderson founded the company in 1925, when it was known as Anderson and Vail Stamping Co. in 1925. Four years later, he changed its name to Junior Toy Co. and began making tricycles and wagons. Because sales for both were so seasonal, he needed a way to keep workers busy year-round. Enter the painted metal chair, made of the same steel tubing and sheet metal components as their toys. The company’s “shellback” chair, shown below, was designed in the late 1930s by industrial designer John Gordon Rideout and originally sold for $1.99 at stores such as Sears. It was produced until the late 1960s.
Dozens of other companies made their own variations of these midcentury motel and backyard staples, including...
A pair of these “pie crust” patterned beauties came standard with a matching glider.
Sun Radiator Cover Co.
Inventor Paul Fleischer’s wife designed the pattern of his c.1939–’42 “sweetheart chair.”
Made from 1940 to the 1960s, these vertical “striped” chairs are among the most commonly found today.
Legend says that 100 employees sat on a hunk of clay to get this chair’s perfectly shaped seat.
There are plenty of others, too. For example, the Indiana-based Arvin company advertised their five styles of chairs as “America’s greatest value in metal outdoor furniture.” (They were also known for their atomic-looking radios), while Durham outdoor chairs, recognized by their fluted backs, were only made for a few years in the early 1940s.
Owned by Heywood Wakefield, Lloyd made chairs from the 30s to the 50s. (They were more known for the wicker furniture but made a lot of chairs with strips of steel often with heavy-duty cantilever frames.) Curious shoppers can also try brands including Interstate, Logan Co., Gilkison, and Cleveland Welding.
THE NEW GENERATION OF MAKERS
Mark and Gary Pokrandt, the brothers behind Lawn Chair USA, have been forging a new path since 2010, when the duo decided to revive the aluminum webbed American classic. Made the old-fashioned way in the small town of Walthourville, Georgia, the chairs come in five sturdy styles and multiple colorways such as "Old Glory" (red, white, and blue) and "Sea Island" (blue and green). Country Living's Editor-in-Chief Rachel Barrett owns a set of the "Magnum" chairs in Sea Island Blue, noting they've withstood, for several years now, everything from Southern thunderstorms to elementary-aged children who rarely heed her "stop climbing on that" warnings.
Jefferson, Texas-based Torrans Manufacturing Co., owned and operated by husband-wife team Skip and Kathy Torrans, leads the charge when it comes to modern-day stamped steel metal chair manufacturing. (Skip even wrote a book on the subject.) Featuring a rainbow-y range of colors and retro style names (a la "The Thunderbird" and "The Bellaire"), the company's tag line is "Just like Mom'n them had, only better!"
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