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Specious odyssey

Researchers have spent four years compiling a history of office chairs. Why?

By Rachel Aspden   May 2011

Bottom line: From Sigmund Freud’s handmade seat (second left), office chairs have become elaborate affairs designed to boost productivity

In the beginning, there was wood, cast iron and—if you were lucky—rattan. Until the mid-19th century, white-collar workers sat on dining chairs: stiff four-legged hulks borrowed from the homes where many small businesses were still based. Then came the railways, linking coast to coast, city to city, suppliers to markets and capital to everything. In their wake mushroomed purpose-built office buildings; companies with shareholders and management hierarchies; rooms filled with tens or hundreds of clerks, typists and administrative assistants. This new…

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