Which Scientist Invented the Rolling Office Chair?

The history and evolution of the rolling office chair is inextricably intertwined with that of our own.

As global societies steered away from rural life and into the Industrial Revolution, the traditional workspace underwent a massive reinvention.

While the global focus on cultivation and pastoral activities became a thing of the past, business owners were forced to rethink the structure and functioning of their businesses, innovating novel tools and methods to aid employees.

The office chair was invented to answer the foundational problem of accommodating large groups of employees working together in an office space for long hours.

While the office chair has come a long way since it was first invented, how much do we truly know about its origins?

Famously, the revolutionary idealist Charles Darwin has been credited with the invention of the rolling office chair.

However, other notable contributions by many unlikely sources, from the artisans of ancient Egypt, to Thomas Jefferson during the signing of the Declaration of Independence, have caused much debate around the matter.

At The Office Oasis, we aim to educate and inspire our customers to pick the right office essentials that satisfy their needs while instilling a feel-good vibe that keeps them going at work or home.

Join us as we journey into the past to unravel the forgotten origins of the modern rolling office chair, and explore its effect on both human physiology and psychology.

An Evolution: The Brief History of the Rolling Office Chair

While taken for granted today, the average office chair is a sophisticated piece of design and human ingenuity that took years and some of the world’s greatest minds to perfect.

Let’s retrace the history of the office chair and the pivotal moments in history that led to its modern, mobile counterpart.

Ancient Origins — Functionality and History

The earliest incarnations of purpose-driven and designed chairs date back to the ancient Egyptian cultures of 1900 BC, when drawings and sculptures of forward-tilting stools designed by 12th Dynasty artisans were discovered in Egypt.

According to scholars, the stools were designed with a slight angle to support the posture typically required by the artisans and workers, allowing them to sit rather than stand as they went about their work.

Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day — A Seat Fit For Kings

The next stop on our travels through the history of ergonomic design finds us in Rome, where evidence of emperor Julius Caesar’s gilded “office chair” was discovered, dating back to 44 BC.

 The Roman emperor would conduct official business while sitting on a curule chair, named for its likeness to a chariot. According to scholars, the emperor being seated lent him a greater air of authority and similarity to the depictions of gods and goddesses of the period.

Sella Curulis - Curule Seat around
Source: commons.wikimedia.org

While the chair was not an unusual piece of furniture to the imperials, priests, and other nobility of the time, Caesar’s chair was said to have been by his side wherever he went, transported with great care alongside his crown and other valuables.

A Presidential Commission — The Swivel Chair

The penning and subsequent signing of the Declaration of Independence is one of the most important periods in American history, but did you know it was also vital to the invention of the modern office chair?

While sat writing what would eventually become a lasting  symbol of American sovereignty, President Thomas Jefferson felt he needed more mobility than his Windsor chair was able to provide,

Commissioning a carpenter with the task, the chair was taken apart and put back together, with legs mounted into holes,  drilled into the bottom of the seat, and with casters used to separate the top and bottom halves. This allowed Jefferson to swivel while seated upon his chair on a stable set of legs.

This was the first-ever swivel chair, without which the modern rolling office chair could never have existed.

A Darwinian Phenomenon — The Rolling Office Chair

While evidence of early office chairs bore little resemblance to the multi-functional gyroscopic office chairs of today, the design for the first modern office chair with wheels can be traced directly to the repertoire of the evolutionary biologist, Charles Darwin.

As the story goes, in the early 1840s, Darwin needed a way to maneuver around his workspace more easily, moving from one specimen to the next. So, he applied his revolutionary thinking to the issue and his favorite armchair.

Charles Darwin's chair
Source: commons.wikimedia.org

Removing the stumps, Darwin fitted the chair with cast-iron bed legs — which in themselves included casters. These, in turn, allowed him to examine his specimens without ever having to get out of his seat, and invent the first-ever rolling office chair in the process.

The chair still exists today, wheels and all, and sits in its original home in Darwin’s study, which is now a heritage site.

Freight Hopping into Modernity — The Centripetal Spring Armchair

The mid-19th Century saw the introduction of the railroad, and with it, the expansion of businesses all across America. Employment was on the rise, and clerical work became the need of the hour.

With this massive shift in working life for employees, there was an increased demand for innovation in the design of the office chair and for features designed to improve comfort for those spending a large portion of their days seated.

While both the inventions of evolutionist Charles Darwin and inventor Thomas Jefferson’s inventions paved the way to the modern design of the office chair, the two instances were separated by both time and space.

It wasn’t until the year 1849 that American inventor Thomas E. Warren combined the wheels with the swivel for his Centripetal Spring Armchair.

Untitled, Centripetal Spring Chair, 1849, Thomas E. Warren
Source: Flickr

The Centripetal Spring Armchair, which used a swivel mechanism and casters, promoted mobility for a wave of eager newly hired clerical workers, and featured:

  •  Cast iron legs 
  • A seat with velvet upholstery
  •  A ‘skirt’ 

Note: The skirt concealed the spring-mechanisms built into the underside of the seat. This gave the user the ability to lean in any direction they wished.

However, this ground-breaking design was largely looked down upon by the 19th Century Victorian contemporaries of its time, who deemed the creation immoral for not promoting the straight spine, upright posture that was typically seen as a sign of improvement and morality.

Striking a Balance — The Ergonomic Office Chair

As time rolled on, so did the rise in popularity and design for the office chair. uch later in the 1970s, when the concept of modern ergonomics came into play, inventors finally struck a balance between functionality and design.

The Ergon Chair, created by Herman Miller and Bill Stumpf in 1976, was upheld as a revolutionary product in task chair design.

I’ve been on a hunt for the perfect home office setup and I think it’s slowly starting to come together
Source: Unsplash

Using concepts of ergonomic design-hacking, Miller and Stumpf set out to reinvent the wheels, so to speak.

Designed with the express motive of improving comfort and sustaining and promoting physical well-being, the chair featured a foam-filled seat and back, never-before-seen spine support, gas-lift levers for adjustable height and tilt, and five-star legs with easy-glide casters.

Supporting the Future — The Modern Office Chair

The tech boom of the ‘90s brought with it a wave of emphasis on functionality and convenience, trading aesthetics for technological innovation and human comfort.

The Aeron Chair, another pioneering invention by the minds of Herman Miller and Bill Stumpf, in collaboration with Don Chadwick, was built on the idea of providing the human form with what it needs and not just what pleases the eye.

herman miller aeron, sat
Ergonomic Mesh Office Chair

Notable for its reactive, adjustable tilt and the ‘pellicle’ mesh back that supports the back and lumbar region and helps regulate heat and body temperature, the Aeron chair is the base for modern office chairs.

The Feel-Good Guarantee

According to studies, one in four American adults sits for more than eight hours a day, with much of that time being spent at their desks at work.

With the availability of newfound research and data documenting the dangers of long hours spent seated, the need for research into the ergonomics of office chairs, balancing both design and function, has never been more pressing.

At The Office Oasis, your productivity and comfort are our top priorities. That’s why our products are designed to balance the very best of comfort and design. 

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Still not convinced? Head over to our website, or contact us today to learn how we can help make your work environment a feel-good space!


Featured Image from:Flickr by Ben Seidelman

The Office Oasis

Written by The Office Oasis