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When did office chairs start having wheels?



Dec. 06, 2023
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Chair designed for use at an office

An office chair that can swivel and be adjusted to various heights and angles.

An office chair, or desk chair, is a type of chair that is designed for use at a desk in an office. It is usually a swivel chair, with a set of wheels for mobility and adjustable height. Modern office chairs typically use a single, distinctive load bearing leg (often called a gas lift), which is positioned underneath the chair seat. Near the floor this leg spreads out into several smaller feet, which are often wheeled and called casters. Office chairs were developed around the mid-19th century as more workers spent their shifts sitting at a desk, leading to the adoption of several features not found on other chairs.

Many office activities such as writing or typing involve a forward seat position in front of a work station, emphasizing free use of the arms and hands for reaching and for dexterous activities. Other tasks, such as talking on the telephone, permit a recumbent posture. Static posture, sitting in a single position for long periods of time, places strain on the body and can lead to medical concerns. Teleconferencing, an increasing common business activity, has slightly different postural constraints as compared to typing or audio telephony. Chairs with additional adjustments, such as seat pan tilt, cater to a wider range of use cases; sometimes this is combined with a powered standing desk, to further mobilize the body.

Chairs with castors move best on hard floors or specialized mats. The wheels concentrate the bearing load onto small contact surfaces, and can damage some types of flooring materials, such as traditional hardwood, unless protected by a suitable hard mat. Rolling and swiveling used in combination permits a single office worker to command many different desks or workstations within a small office footprint (often an office cubicle). Plush carpets are unsuitable flooring materials for wheeled chairs. Especially plastic wheels rolling over modern synthetic materials, such as carpet or a plastic floor mat, are capable of generating high level of static charge, which can be damaging to electronic devices in some cases.





Office chair of the 1930s

The concept of a swiveling chair with castors was illustrated by the Nuremberg patrician Martin Löffelholz von Kolberg in his 1505 technological illuminated manuscript, the so-called Codex Löffelholz, on folio 10r.[1] One of the earliest known innovators to have created the modern office chair was naturalist Charles Darwin, who put wheels on the chair in his study so he could get to his specimens more quickly.[2]

With the advent of rail transport in the mid-19th century, businesses began to expand beyond the traditional model of a family business with little emphasis on administration. The additional administrative staff was required to keep up with orders, bookkeeping, and correspondence as businesses expanded their service areas. While office work was expanding, an awareness of office environments, technology, and equipment became part of the cultural focus on increasing productivity. This awareness gave rise to chairs designed specifically for these new administrative employees: office chairs. American inventor Thomas E. Warren (b. 1808), designed the Centripetal Spring Armchair in 1849 which was produced by the American Chair Company in Troy, New York.[3] It was first presented at the 1851 Great Exhibition in London.[4] It was only around 1850 when a group of engineers in the United States began to investigate how chairs could improve health and relaxation by stressing posture and movement. [5]

The office chair was strategically designed to increase the productivity of clerical employees by making it possible for them to remain sitting at their desks for long periods of time. A swiveling chair with casters allowed employees to remain sitting and yet reach a number of locations within their work area, eliminating the time and energy expended in standing. The wooden saddle seat was designed to fit and support the body of a sitting employee, and the slatted back and armrests provided additional support to increase the employee’s comfort. Like modern chairs, many of these models were somewhat adjustable to provide the maximum comfort and thus the maximum working time.





There are multiple kinds of office chairs designed to suit different needs. The most basic is the task chair, which typically does not offer lumbar support or a headrest. These chairs generally cannot be sat in for more than a couple hours at a time without becoming uncomfortable, though they often offer more room to move than higher-end chairs.

Mid-back chairs offer fuller back support, and with the right ergonomic design, can be sat in for four hours at a time or longer. High-end chairs in this category, such as the Herman Miller Aeron and the Steelcase Leap are comfortable for long periods. Some mid-back chairs in particular offer customization options that can allow for a headrest to be added.

Executive or full-back chairs offer full back and head support. Many executive chairs are designed to be sat in for eight or more hours at a time. These are typically the most expensive office chairs.





In the 1970s, ergonomics became an important design consideration. Today, office chairs often have adjustable seats, armrests, backs, back supports, and heights to prevent repetitive stress injury and back pain associated with sitting for long periods.

Standards for the design and testing of office chairs include:

  • EN 1335:2012
  • EN 1728:2012
  • ANSI/BIFMA X 5.1
  • DIN EN 1335
  • DIN 4551
  • AS/NZS 4438

Further reading




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As self-confessed furniture geeks who like to stay at the forefront of product development, we tend to focus a lot on the future. We’re always talking about how important it is to future-proof your workspace and forever speculating about the future of commercial interior design based on research and insights.

What we don’t do enough of is looking back into the past to find out about the stories behind the products we admire today. What simple little invention was it that started the ball rolling for some of the most intuitive and advanced furniture we have in our workspaces today?

While the future is undoubtedly the main focus for what we do, it’s also good to look back every now and again to see just how far things have come – and where better to start than the classic office task chair?

When were office task chairs invented?

Well, there isn’t really one simple answer to this question. The invention of the task chair as we know it today was a long process of evolution and in many ways, is still very much a work in progress as research continues to develop over time.

Let’s take a look at some of the most pivotal points in the development of the good old swivel chair…

1900 BC

One of the very first examples of chairs designed for purpose were the seats Egyptian artisans sat on to carry out their work. They used tilted stools which were made in such a way to support the leant-forward posture that was typically required.

Early 1840s

As for the classic office chair we know and love today, this is thought to originate more than two centuries ago, in the rather resourceful “wooden arm chair on wheels” created by Charles Darwin. Darwin attached some legs and wheels to his chair so that he could manoeuvre around his workspace more easily and access his specimens more easily.


The introduction of rail transport in the mid-19th Century meant that businesses began to expand and therefore needed more staff. This gave rise to a boom in clerical workers who spent a great deal of time sat down every day.

This shift in working life called for new features on the office chair that hadn’t yet been introduced. These new features were largely based around improving comfort for those now spending so much of their days in a seated position.

In 1849, American inventor, Thomas E. Warren designed the Centripetal Spring Armchair. This chair used a swivel mechanism and castors to enable office workers to more easily reach things without having to stand up. It featured cast iron legs, velvet upholstery and a ‘skirt’ to conceal the springs underneath the seat.


A few years later, designer Frank Lloyd Wright created the Larkin Building chair which was designed to help typists with comfort and posture. Sadly, the precarious seat soon came to be known as the ‘suicide chair’ as it had a tendency to tip over with the user on it. A case of flawed engineering that was an influential in evolution as the successes.


As the decades passed, more and more office chair designs emerged but it was only really during the 1970s that modern ergonomics started to come into play. Take Emilio Ambasz and Giancarlo Piretti who were designed the Vertebra Chair which, as the name suggests, was inspired by the spine and was one of the first automatically adjustable seating solution ever introduced to market.

In 1976, Herman Miller designer, Bill Stumpf created the famous Ergon Chair which is thought to be a pioneering product in task chair design. The Ergon Chair was the first chair invented with the motive of improving comfort for the human body and sustaining physical health. It featured foam-filled seat and back, more complex spine support than ever before, gas-lift levers to adjust height and tilt, and five-star legs with easy-glide castors.

Stumpf had studied orthopaedics and analysed the movements of office workers through timelapse photography. He used new science of ergonomics to introduce things like increased height adjustment. Previously, chairs rarely lowered any more than 18”, even though the average woman’s leg was 16” from thigh to floor.


Herman Miller launched another pioneering design onto the office task chair scene during the 90s tech boom. This was the Aeron Chair and was again, designed by Bill Stumpf but this time in collaboration with Don Chadwick. The premise behind this product was to provide what the body needs and not just what the eye wants. Its most notable features were the reactive tilt and the ‘pellicle’ mesh back which supports the back and helps regulate body temperature.


Task chair design continued to evolve with Natural Posture even releasing the bulletproof Guardian Chair in 2013 following the Sandy Hook attack. The most exciting development of 2013 though had to be the launch of Steelcase’s famous Gesture Chair.

Steelcase launched its famous Global Posture Study to gain more insight into how people are using workspaces today. The study revealed 9 new postures which have manifested as workers use a more varied selection of technological devices throughout the day.

The Gesture Chair was created using the finding of this research to provide a seating solution which was more supportive, flexible, adaptable and inclusive than ever before. Features include a back and seat which move as a synchronised system, seat depth adjustment, weight activated mechanism, 360-degree arm movement and mesh-back lumbar support which controls body temperature.


Towards the end of last year, Steelcase launched the all-new SILQ Chair design which has the ability to adapt to the human body without any levers or knobs. The innovative design responds to the natural movement of the human body to provide a seating solution which is personalised to each and every use for complete comfort and support.

So, as you can see, we’ve come along way from tilted stools and spring-loaded seats but we’re also in no doubt that the story of office task chair development isn’t over yet. It’s no secret that we are all spending more and more of our time sat down in sedentary positions so it’s absolutely vital that your workplace seating solutions are doing all they can to support comfort, health and overall employee wellbeing.

When did office chairs start having wheels?

History of the office chair: who really invented it?



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