"Spring-loaded" Technology and Victorian Furniture

Winterthur's historic rooms are filled with chairs, but none like this. Evoking "centripetal force" (a circular motion propelled from a central axis) the centripetal chair and its groundbreaking design were all about movement. The innovation lies in the circular springs at the base, patented by Thomas Elmer Warren (1808-1875) in 1849. These springs, made of steel, allowed the sitter to recline and tilt. The American Chair Company of Troy, New York, which was in business from 1829 to 1858, produced centripetal chairs beginning in 1850. 

This is not a chair H.F. du Pont would have chosen for one of his rooms. Nevertheless, it is an important addition to the Winterthur collection. For students of American design and history, it teaches a great deal about innovations in Victorian furniture design, advancements in industrial manufacture and materials, and even the evolution of our idea of comfort. The next time you lean back in your office chair or recliner, remember the revolutionary centripetal chair. 


Centripetal armchair 
American Chair Company
Troy, New York; ca. 1850 
Iron, steel, maple
Museum purchase with funds provided by the Henry Francis du Pont Collectors Circle 2015.18