Who Invented The Folding Chair?

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The humble folding chair, it's something we are all familiar with and quite probably take for granted but where did this every day, multi functional item originate and who's clever idea was it?
Folding chairs are those which are collapsible or simply put foldable. This unique characteristic allows them to be stored or be stacked away with great ease and convenience. There are several designs and colours of this type of chair but whatever the design or mechanism used, the ultimate goal of the design is to make them foldable or collapsible in one or two movements at the most.

Nowadays we use them for pretty much everything from camping chairs to school chairs, from church pews to good old fashioned stripy deckchairs. Folding chairs have made it easier for us to provide seating on a mass scale virtually anywhere. They are usually sized no bigger nor heavier than the average chair. It is this simple but effective design that makes them so useful and widely used. Due to their simple design, it is also easy to mass produce them in a variety of styles, so can have slightly more upmarket, coloured or covered ones that can be used by venues for wedding and events and more hardy durable plastic ones for use in schools and outdoor events.
The folding chair was first patented on July 7, 1911by a Nathaniel Alexander of Lynchburg. According to his patent, Nathaniel Alexander designed his chair to be used in schools, churches, and other auditoriums. His design included a book rest that was usable for the person sitting in the seat behind and was ideal for church or choir use. Below you can view the patent drawing of Nathaniel Alexander's folding chair.

Although this was the first recorded patenting of a folding chair, they were historically already being used in ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome. The curule chair of the Roman magistrate was a folding chair. A curule seat (sella curulis, supposedly from currus, "chariot") was the chair upon which senior magistrates were entitled to sit, including dictators, masters of the horse, consuls, praetors, censors, and the curule aediles. The frame was mostly made of wood, and seldom made of metal. The wood was inlaid with artistic carvings, gilded, and decorated with ivory. In Northern Europe, folding chairs date back to the Bronze Age.

The folding chair became especially widespread during the middle ages. Here it was treasured as a liturgical furniture piece. Since the 15th and 16th century the folding chair has mostly had arm and head rests.

Of course, newer chairs which are often found in functions and events are also called folding chairs. Today, the folding chair is mostly made of hard plastic or metal and is typically made of light plastic or metal to make it easier to stack. In 1947, Fredric Arnold created the first aluminium folding chair with fabric strapping for the seat and back. By 1957, the Fredric Arnold Company of Brooklyn, New York, was manufacturing more than 14,000 chairs per day.
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John McE writes articles on a number of subjects including folding tables, folding chairs and portable staging.

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This article was published on 2010/09/27