Can you fill me in on the history of this iconic chair?
WOOD magazine Adirondack chair


After seeing the Adirondack chair plans in WOOD® issue 219 (July 2013), I got to wondering why it's called that? Can you fill me in on the history of this iconic chair?
—Steve Rogers, Reno, Nev.


Oddly enough, Steve, the original chair was not called an Adirondack, but a Westport chair. According to the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake, N.Y., Thomas Lee created the chair around 1900. A Bostonian who summered in Westport on the shores of Lake Champlain, Lee nailed together the outdoor chair from wide planks, incorporating wide arms to hold drinks and plates (photo below).

Westport chair [Photo courtesy of the Adirondack Museum]

A few years later, Lee shared his chair with Harry Bunnell, a Westport carpenter and hunting friend, suggesting he make some to sell. Without Lee's knowledge, Bunnell filed for and received a patent for the Westport chair in 1905. And according to the museum's records, Lee did not contest the patent. Over the next two decades, Bunnell built these chairs using knot-free planks of local hemlock and basswood. Most were painted green, brown, or white to provide resistance against the weather. Eventually, other craftsmen began making chairs similar to the Westport.

Around the Great Depression, these clear, wide planks became costly and hard to find, so builders started making the chairs from narrower slats, while maintaining the same basic design principles: tilted back and seat; fan-topped back; and wide, flat arms parallel to the ground. Because these chairs were most popular at resorts and vacation homes in and around the Adirondack Mountains, the name evolved to simply Adirondack chairs.