Antique rocker in bedroom

The Rocking Chair History: An Iconic American Furniture

Early American History of the Rocking Chair

It is not clear wether early rocking chairs originated in England or the United States in early to mid 1700’s. Nonetheless, there are enough sources that lead to english origin cabinetmakers producing the first ones based on rocking cribs and wooden rocking horses. We do know that the word rocking chair entered the oxford english dictionary in 1787.

Nevertheless, rocking chairs became widely popular in the US since early 1800’s as outdoor furniture, particularly since the Victorian era. They became an iconic chair in American culture, up to the point of being referred by the New York Times asthe most American of all furniture forms”.

Many believe that Benjamin Franklin invented the rocking chair and others say it was english woodworkers in the 1800’s. He did used several of them though, from which he installed foot rests and a particular pedal powered fan.

During the eighteen century, most north American settlers used benches, stools and similar chair types. Chairs with back support and padded seats were mostly used in wealthier homes, but that changed with the expansion of mass production factories. It’s when some of the most famous antique rocking chairs from 1800’s and 1900’s were made.

Hitchcock’s rocking chairs (hitchcockchair.com)
vintage and antique rocking chair
A Windsor rocker type
Antique rocking chair old wooden rocker
A traditional style rocker

First Uses of Rocking Chairs

Early rockers were used for nursery and soothing babies, this of course remains to this day as the most successful nursery chair ever (see benefits of nursery rockers). The smooth back and forth movement is unbeatable for nursing mothers and elderly people.

The rocking chair was mainly used as a porch rocker in the US initially. It became thus one of the most popular outdoor furniture up until production innovations and improvements lead to refined designs for indoor use, such as some of the rocking chair models we check below.

Most Popular Antique Rocking Chair Models

Hitchcock Rocking Chairs: The First Mass produced Rockers

Among the first popular models, American iconic rocking chair brand Lambert Hitchcok recently celebrated its 200th anniversary (they did undergo two closures though).

The brand became widely recognized for offering “fancy wooden rockers for ordinary people”. Their model known as the Hitchcock Rocking Chair, sold at a very decent price at the time.

The elegant lines, details and affordability skyrocketed demand nationwide. Thus, becoming that way one of the most popular US classic furniture from the nineteen century, still made today and very popular among antique rocking chair enthusiasts.

The Boston Rocking Chair: An Early Rocker Design

The Boston rocker is a squared and more refined version of the traditional Windsor Rocking Chair a latter version of the traditional english Yorkshire Windsor chair.

The Shaker Rocking Chair

This style of furniture originated in New England and New York around 1820. It was a traditional rocking chair that consisted of simple lines and usually a long back seat.

Since it is a pretty dated design, the shaker rocking chair appears in many of the first pictures of US homes.

The Wicker Rocking Chair

Wicker rockers first appeared in the mid 1800’s, even though this woodworking technique is much older. They became popular for indoor use as well for the original designs and graceful shape.

The Popular Bentwood Rocking Chair

In 1860, the Thonet Rocking Chair(right) was created in the wake of industrial revolution and the use of heavy production steam machinery.

It was the first bentwood rocking chair in mass production. It actually originated from Europe by Michael Thonet, a german craftsman based in Austria.

This elegant rocker became known for its notorious curved design, which was new and innovative at the time. It is a very popular model among interior designers and homeowners due to its versatility and elegant timeless design.

Thonet chairs are still produced today in the family’s original european factory. Therefore, it is pretty hard for a non antique expert to clearly identify the production years, unless of course it was recently produced. You could still follow these guidelines to identify antique rocking chairs.

Vintage rocking chair, Thonet rocker, reupholstered thonet rocker

The Thonet rocking chair is one of the most iconic representation of chair manufacturing evolution in the US early industrial era. Many people tend to give it a more modern look by reupholstering and painting it.

New Materials and Modern Era Design in Mid-1900's

A key evolution in the history of rocking chair and continued popularity is the use of plastic based materials during the midcentury movement and later on with pop culture. Later on, together with the modernist movement in the 1950’s, manufacturers introduced plastic as a new manufacturing material.

One of the best representations of that era is the iconic Eames Rocking Chair, produced by Ray Eames and his wife, both architects and furniture designer. It incorporated a curved fiberglass shell seat in flashy color, metal and wood materials in one very eye catching and modern rocker.

The Eames rocker, a mid-century /modern iconic chair

The use of new plastic based materials and stronger coatings have lead to a wide variety of creative outdoor rockers. For more on that, check our buying guide for best outdoor rocking chair materials.

Folding Rocking Chairs

New production techniques during the mid 1900’s allowed the production of the folding rocking chair. Mostly used outdoors and particularly light weight, these rocking chairs are pretty popular in beach homes and among campers.

A Chair Praised by US Presidents

Abraham Lincoln was sadly shot in 1865 while attending a theatre play, we was seating in an upholstered rocking chair that was placed for him that day. He actually liked rockers and had a couple of them throughout his life.

The president John F. Kennedy, included several rocking chairs in nearly every room of the White House. He suffered from chronic back pain since childhood and underwent 4 different low back surgeries. As a result, doctors advised him to use rocking chairs as a form of non invasive therapy.

John F Kennedy rocking chair
President John F. Kennedy used rockers from the P & P Chair Company since 1955 when he was senator.

Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan both had Maloof rocking chairs, a renown Californian woodworker.

Contemporary Rocking Chairs and Bold Designs

The many benefits of rocking chairs and characteristic curved legs makes them a timeless model that allows the most catchy, elegant or bald furniture designs.

thanks to technology and redesigns, the rocking chair history maintained an evolving continuum. In this pursuit, aesthetics, new materials and comfortableness have been the main target for modern day rocking chair’s designers.

modern rocking chairs
Elegant upholstered interior contemporary rocker set

Recent contemporary rocking chair designs allowed this chair to be one of the most original pieces of furniture you could showcase in your home. Giving plenty of personality to any space.

In that matter, the use of new plastic based materials and stronger coatings have increased. This lead to a wide variety of creative outdoor rockers with a higher resistance to elements. For more on that, check out our buying guide for best outdoor rocking chair materials.

Recent Tendencies and Popular Styles

Today we find gorgeous minimalist Scandinavian rocker designs, characterized by simple clean lines. Contemporary upholstered rocking chairs are becoming ever so demanded in young couple’s or family’s homes.

Nursery rocker’s many benefits and comfy models still makes them very popular among parents with babies.

There is a surge in demand for mid-century modern, vintage and antique rocking chair styles. They are indeed getting more popular as a distinctive and highlight decor element.

Nowadays one can find several variants of the rocking chair in gliders (previously platform rockers) and swivels. But classics are irreplaceable, so we’re coming up with a list of most iconic antic rocking chairs, according to price range.

With time, rocking chairs continued to earn a sweet spot in US homes. Their designs have come a long way since the first antique rocking chairs appeared in the early 1800’s.

Reupholstering Old Classics

If you wish to give a new look to your antique rocker you might consider painting or reupholstering it. Check our posts below for easy tips on how to do this the right way. 

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