Written by Beth Hrusch
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Seating has been an issue of some importance to mankind for thousands of years. Its evolution is a testament to its use for purposes both functional and ceremonial throughout human history. When modern humans use a chair or other form of seating, they are acting out the same instinctive behavior that inspired early man to develop a way to rest, work with greater ease, carry out ceremonial duties and commune with other humans. The chair is probably one of the first inventions ever purposely created by people.

Seating Throughout History

In the course of history, three basic kinds of seating became the most common forms used by ancient peoples. These were the stool, bench and chair. The Egyptians equipped their homes with the first known folding chairs and stools. These items were not merely functional but decorative. Some were carved into animal and human shapes or other natural forms. As time progressed, the stool developed a low back and became more substantial in its construction.

Cushions were added and foot rests answered a need for people of different heights to be able to use chairs of varying sizes and distance from the ground. By medieval times in the Middle East and Europe, the chair was well on its way to taking the form that modern humans are familiar with today. Folding seats and legs were, by this time, already a familiar feature of chairs and while the concept of ergonomics had yet to take root, chairs and stools were starting to be upholstered in sturdy fabrics such as velvet and corduroy for those who could afford it. This added a degree of comfort.

Advances In Seating

For a long time, seats were commonly used only by those who could afford it, namely royalty and nobility. The lower classes and peasants sat on the ground or upon mats when attending to daily activities such as eating and preparing food. The Greeks were probably the first to create chairs that conformed to the curves of the body. These designs became the inspiration for chairs even into the twentieth century.

Benches remained a common fixture in arena and amphitheatre settings, where masses of people gathered to witness plays and other entertainments. Chairs were still reserved for the upper classes and people of importance. They allowed one to be elevated above everyone else, thus emphasizing status. It was not until the early nineteenth century, when the tools of mass manufacturing allowed for chairs to be made inexpensively, that seating became widely used by common folk.

Modern Seating

In the last two centuries, advances in seating have led to the chair as it is known today. As needs have arisen, the design and function of the chair has changed. For example, stadium builders borrowed the idea of bleacher seats from the ancient Romans and Greeks. As arena sports grew in popularity, the demand for more comfortable seating grew as well, and the stadium chair was born. This modern interpretation of the chair was designed specifically for stadium use and can be retrofitted over bleachers if necessary.

Auditorium seats also met the needs of theatre goers. As the theatre became a past time of the upper crust, theatre and cinema seating took on a furniture-like look and feel. Upholstered frames cradled the patron in comfort. These chairs still offer comfort for those attending everything from movies to plays. Chair designers have become concerned with ergonomics when creating modern chairs. It is, in fact, the driving force behind much of today's chair design.

A Part Of Human History

The evolution of the chair speaks to the evolution of mankind itself. As the needs of people change, the design of the chair and other kinds of seating change with it. Whether it is the recliner or stadium chair, the form and function of the seat reflects the cultural and intellectual changes that have shaped all of human history. Regardless of the changes that created it, however, the chair remains an integral part of our everyday lives.

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