This month’s featured artifact is a recliner. But it’s not just any recliner. It is a red-and-cream-colored velvet upholstered reclining armchair dating to 1886. It was donated in 1987 by a Sioux Falls resident, over one hundred years after it was made! According to the donor, it was a wedding gift from her grandmother to her grandfather.
Visitors to the Pettigrew Home and Museum sometimes express surprise at seeing this piece of “motion furniture” in the back parlor. Some may presume such an artifact to be a modern creation of comfort, a product of our remote-control, TV-watching culture. In fact, reclining chairs have been around since the late 1700s and were originally billed as health aids. The fields of dentistry and medicine were the first to utilize them, with the French developing a reclining “device” that could serve as a chaise lounge, bed or chair around 1850. In the late 1920s, two American cousins patented a wooden recliner which they later developed into the upholstered La-Z-Boy that many enjoy today. It wasn’t until the late 1950s that manufacturers switched their advertising focus to relaxation and luxury. Little did you know you were sitting on over two hundred years of history the last time you kicked back and put your feet up on your favorite recliner!