Before the Industrial Revolution, people who worked in offices either sat on simple stools or more typically, Windsor chairs, pulled up to their desks. Wealthy homeowners had what were essentially padded Captain’s chairs, larger and more ornate than what you’d find at the head of a dinner table.
Charles Darwin (yes, that Charles Darwin) changed all that when he mounted his desk chair on rolling casters so he could more quickly and easily access his research notes and materials.
Otto von Bismarck, the First Chancellor of Germany, popularized them by distributing them to every member of parliament while he was in office.
Stateside, the office chair went mainstream in 1851, thanks to Thomas E. Warren, who invented the Centripetal Spring Armchair. It was a groundbreaking invention, and all of its elements survive to this day in modern office chairs, including a height adjustment feature, lumbar support, and rolling casters to facilitate ease of movement.
In fact, this design included a feature not found in most office chairs today. Tilting, courtesy of four large steel springs that the seat rested on. This feature disappeared for decades and has only recently begun making a reappearance in the most modern office chairs being made and sold.
Unfortunately, Warren’s design was not well-received outside the US. During the time the chair was in production, Europe was in the grip of Victorian morality, and their seating customers reflected this.
As strange as it seems today, back then, Europeans preferred uncomfortable seats with no back support because it allowed them to display their discipline, willpower, and refinement. It was a point of pride, you might say.
Advances in materials science and a better general understanding of human anatomy in the 70’s led to the development of the ergonomic chair, which spread quickly through the office ecosystem. As more and more people spent more time tied to their chairs, the shortcomings of the original design became apparent, and more advanced supports were needed.
In recent years, there’s been a flurry of activity and advancement in the office chair ecosystem leading to a corresponding explosion of different types of desk chairs.
The key to this healthy posture is lumbar and pelvic support
Seat Height and Width
The seat height of your office chair should be fully adjustable and positioned so that your feet rest flat on the ground with your thighs resting horizontally. The width of the seat cushion should also allow you to sit with your back resting against the backrest with around four to eight centimetres of space between the backs of your knees and the seat.
Your back is designed to curve through the length of your spine, so a good ergonomic chair will have an adjustable back that shapes to the curves of your lower back perfectly, preventing you from slouching after prolonged periods of sitting down.
Soft, cushioned seat pads are recommended for office chairs rather than hard textured surfaces, this is to ensure comfort for the user.
The armrests of your seat should be adjustable allowing you to sit comfortably with your shoulders in a relaxed position. Your elbows should be able to rest on the armrest; however your lower arms and wrists should not be resting on the arms whilst you are typing.
The chair should be able to turn easily allowing the user to reach areas of their desk without straining themselves by trying to drag the chair along, for example.
Simon J Mack
The Old Reading Room, Green Hammerton YORK YO26 8BN
Tel: 01423 331264