Americans of the 1800’s had a remarkable propensity for resting their feet up on tables and railings. The phenomena is documented by researcher Edward Tenner and traveling Europeans of that time. Thomas Jefferson himself was known to write in a reclined position with his feet propped up on a padded extension.
In the late 1920s, two cousins from Michigan invented a mechanized wooden porch chair that could lean back; along with the person seated in it. After a local retailer encouraged them to upholster the chair and make it “year-round,” the first La-Z-Boy was born—and with it, the modern recliner.
The concept quickly took the furniture world by storm. Companies began to experiment with variations, and in 1947, Barcalounger introduced the first built-in mechanized footrest. By the 1950s, recliners started appearing in many homes across the country.
Soon, the recliner was a popular fixture in the American household. Within 20 years, however, the bulky recliner had gone out of fashion, and was moved from living rooms and dens to basements and rec-rooms. It wasn’t until a decade later that the recliner made a comeback, with companies turning out recliners with more attractive designs and higher quality upholsteries.
Today, motion furniture is a multi-billion dollar industry. The recliner has garnered much respect as a fixture in both living rooms and the office. Recliners, such as Stressless Recliners by Ekornes, are also recognized for their ergonomic qualities. In 1996, it was leaked that the CIA had purchased 50 La-Z-Boy recliners for their offices. Today, software companies are the leaders in purchasing recliners for office use. Perhaps we’ll all be reclining more frequently during business meetings in the near future. One can only hope.
The coming years spell more exciting innovations for the recliner. Early concepts predict that recliners will soon be able to detect a person’s center of gravity, and automatically adjust to their specific ergonomic needs in order to simulate a zero-gravity atmosphere. Personally, I think they’re going to hover as well, but I think everything is going to hover in the future; so I may be biased.
Regardless of whether our future recliners will hover, they will certainly continue to charm us. The recliner is a uniquely American product that has grown with us over the last century. America loves to lean back and relax, and thanks to recliners, we can do so in ease, comfort, and style.