History of the Adirondack Chair

History of the Adirondack Chair

As with most histories, the story of the Adirondack chair has a bit of deception along the road to success. It’s the tale of two friends, one patent, and a very relaxing place to sit.

A quick read at Wikipedia will tell you that Thomas Lee was vacationing in the Adirondack region in the town of Westport, New York, with his family when he built a new chair for his vacation home. The “Westport plank chair,” as Lee dubbed it, was first created in 1903, designed with 11 flat wooden boards, a straight back and seat, and wide enough arms to rest a glass.  His friend, carpenter Harry Bunnell, was struggling for some winter income, so Lee offered his chairs for Harry to sell.  Seeing the marketing potential of this style of outside lounge chair for the summer residents of Westport, Bunnell sought a patent – without Lee’s permission.  He received his patent in 1905 and continued to sell the “Westport chairs” for the next 20 years – offering them in painted green or brown and hand-signing each chair.  Over a century later, the original Bunnell-autographed chairs bring thousands of dollars at auction.

In 1938, Irving Wolpin received a U.S. patent of his own and made some minor design changes to the chair; Wolpin’s interpretation of the chair is what we typically think of as the modern Adirondack chair today.

Over time, the name evolved from the “Westport chair” to be called the Adirondack, after the mountain region in that part of the country.  A similarly designed chair, the Muskoka (named after a region in Central Ontario), also exists, and Adirondack chair and Muskoka chair are often used synonymously. Makers of the respective chairs may claim slight differences, but in Canada, an Adirondack chair is often referred to as a Muskoka chair.

While hemlock and pine are the traditional woods used in crafting the chairs, settees, and swings with Adirondack style, we promote the use of eco-friendly poly lumber to build many of the chairs you’ll soon discover on this website {coming soon!}.  Poly lumber is engineered from recycled plastics and is long-lasting, easy to clean and maintain, and won’t rot or splinter.  The color is throughout, so even if the chair gets a ding or a dent, the color will remain on the surface and help disguise any bumps or bangs over the course of the chair’s lifetime, which is estimated to be about 50 years.  Now that’s something to enjoy a sigh of relief over!

Whether Lee and Bunnell remained friendly after the commercialization of this famous chair or not, we can all be thankful for their part in bringing us a comfortable, relax-all-your-cares-away, Adirondack chair. So sit back, and breathe easy. Feel the sand between your toes, the breeze in your hair, and the warm sun upon your shoulders. Ahhhh.

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