The Men Behind the Adirondack Rocker

      Popular since its inception around the turn of the 20th century, the Adirondack rocker has had a short but sweet history and evolution. To get where it is today though is not simply the act of a single individual. Rather, the unique design of the chair, its implementation, redesign and the American fascination with it is the cumulative work of three men over the last 100 years. It is to them we should be thankful, as they have assured the Adirondack rocker its spot in history.

Thomas Lee The father and inventor of the Adirondack chair was Thomas Lee. In 1903, Lee and his family were vacationing in Westport, New York, a town situated in the heart of the Adirondack Mountains. Disconcerted by the lack of seating for himself and his large amount of kinfolk, Lee decided to set about designing a simple wooden chair that would be suitable for outdoor use. The eleven pieces of wood in his original plan were cut from a single board. In his prototype, you could already see the stereotypical straight back and wide armrests. But why did the chair slope backward? Although its potential ergonomic benefits came about later on, Lee's original design was simply intended to sit better on steep mountain inclines. After trying it out on his family, Lee took his chair into town for all to see. Although he apparently never intended to make a profit, his chair was well-received and the townspeople took note. There was one man in particular took a special interest.

       Harry Bunnell Harry Bunnell was an acquaintance and fellow carpenter who outright stole Lee's idea and pawned it off as his own. But, once patent number 794,777 was acquired in 1905, it was too late, and Bunnell officially held the rights to what he rightfully envisioned would become quite the cash cow. Called Westport Chairs, they were signed and made from green and brown hemlock. Over the next couple of decades, Bunnel experimented with the design of the chair, coming up with the Adirondack rocker and other variations. In the end, though, the basic classic model remained the most popular.

       Sam Maloof While Bunnell was a crafty businessman, it was Sam Maloof who single-handedly launched the Adirondack rocker into stardom and celebrity favor. His channel? Politics. Born in 1916, Sam Maloof died just last month, on May 21, 2009. For Sam, a love of craftsmanship took hold right after High School, when Maloof began working in the art department of Vortox Manufacturing. That didn't last long, though. Maloof was drafted into the US army in 1941, where he served until his return to southern California in 1945. Married shortly thereafter, Sam began a furniture workshop in his garage. What started as a hobby soon turned into commissioned work, and eventually an actual studio space and his own company. From there, it was only a matter of time before the "Hemingway of hardwood" saw his work up in museums across the nation, but his real celebrity status was achieved because of how many US presidents owned his designs. Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan both owned Maloof rockers, and John F. Kennedy Jr. was especially fond of the man and his chairs.

       In conclusion, it was the work of all of these men that the Adirondack rocker is where it is today. If not for Lee, the Adirondack design may not exist. If not for Bunnell, that design may have never been available to the public. And if not for Maloof, the Adirondack rocking chair may never have achieved the extraordinary attention and merit it has received.

About the Author

Tonya Kerniva is an experienced research and free lance writing professional. She writes actively about Adirondack Chair and Adirondack Rocker.