Back in 1903, a man named Thomas Lee had a problem. He had a great summer house with a great view of Lake Champlain, but he didn’t have any decent outdoor furniture to sit on. The chairs of the time tended to have weak, spindly legs, which don’t stand up well to harsh NY weather or sitting securely on an incline. He needed some outdoor chairs. Chairs that could hold cups and allow for comfortable leisure, whether for shooting the breeze, enjoying the sunset, or relaxing in the shade.
According to the legend, Lee set to making some prototypes, having his family test them out for comfort. He eventually settled on a simple, low-sitting chair comprised of just 11 planks that were cut out of one large board. It could sit on an incline and not topple over. The arm-rests made for good cup-holders or additional seats, and it was simple to make. A friend of Mr. Lee’s, Harry Bunnell, was a local carpenter and saw the genius of this new chair, and with a smile and a handshake, entered a gentleman’s agreement to make some more of Lee’s fantastic chairs to sell to other members of the community the following summer. Unfortunately for Thomas Lee, though, Harry Bunnell saw this as an opportunity for himself and filed for a patent on the chairs, which was granted in 1905.
Bunnell called them Westport Chairs, named after the town where they were invented on the banks of Lake Champlain. They were usually constructed of Hemlock or Hickory wood and finished with a brown or green paint. Over the next 112 years, the chairs have had numerous improvements. Now, they come in many colors. The backs are curved and “raked” by using five or more boards, instead of the original two. The seats are fitted to be more comfortable, and the edge is curved to keep sharp points away from the backs of your knees. Some models are foldable for easy storage, some have adjustable backs, and others have wheels to be able to drag them easily around the yard.
One thing is certain, Adirondack chairs, as they came to be known, are ubiquitous across America. Their utility, durability, and comfortability are unmatched for the price, and because of that they are more popular than ever. Thomas Lee may have lost out on a fortune by missing out on the patent for his invention, but his legacy lives on with the great times had by families and friends sitting around in his chairs enjoying all that summer has to offer.