The chair is known for its antiquity and simplicity, although for many centuries it was an article of state and dignity rather than an article of ordinary use. "The chair" is still extensively used as the emblem of authority in the House of Commons in the United Kingdom and Canada, and in many other settings.
Committees, boards of directors, and academic departments all have a 'chairman'. Endowed professorships are referred to as chairs.
In fact, it was not until the 16th century that it became common anywhere. Until then the chest, the bench and the stool were the ordinary seats of everyday life, and the number of chairs which have survived from an earlier date is exceedingly limited; most examples are of ecclesiastical or seigneurial origin. Our knowledge of the chairs of remote antiquity is derived almost entirely from monuments, sculpture and paintings.
Chairs were in existence since at least the Early Dynastic Period. They were covered with cloth or leather, were made of carved wood and were much lower than today’s chairs, chair seats were sometimes only 25 cm high. In ancient Egypt chairs appear to have been of great richness and splendor. Fashioned of ebony and ivory, or of carved and gilded wood, they were covered with costly materials, magnificent patterns and supported upon representations of the legs of beasts or the figures of captives. Generally speaking, the higher ranked an individual was, the taller and more sumptuous was the chair he sat on and the greater the honor. On state occasions the pharaoh sat on a throne, often with a little footstool in front of it.
The average Egyptian family seldom had chairs, and if they did, it was usually only the master of the household who sat on a chair. Among the better off, the chairs might be painted to look like the ornate inlaid and carved chairs of the rich, but the craftsmanship was usually poor.
During the Tang dynasty (618 - 907 AD), a higher seat first started to appear amongst the Chinese elite and their usage soon spread to all levels of society. By the 12th century seating on the floor was rare in China, unlike in other Asian countries where the custom continued, and the chair, or more commonly the stool, was used in the vast majority of houses throughout the country.
In Europe, it was owing in great measure to the Renaissance that the chair ceased to be a privilege of state, and became a standard item of furniture for anyone who could afford to buy it. Once the idea of privilege faded the chair speedily came into general use. We find almost at once that the chair began to change every few years to reflect the fashions of the day.
In the 1880s, chairs became more common in American households and usually there was a chair provided for every family member to sit down to dinner. By the 1830s, factory-manufactured “fancy chairs” like those by Sears. Roebuck, and Co. allowed families to purchase machined sets. With the Industrial Revolution, chairs became much more available.
The 20th century saw an increasing use of technology in chair construction with such things as all-metal folding chairs, metal-legged chairs, the Slumber Chair, moulded plastic chairs and ergonomic chairs. The recliner became a popular form, at least in part due to radio and television.
The modern movement of the 1960s produced new forms of chairs: the butterfly chair (originally called the Hardoy chair), bean bags, and the egg-shaped pod chair that turns. Technological advances led to molded plywood and wood laminate chairs, as well as chairs made of leather or polymers. Mechanical technology incorporated into the chair enabled adjustable chairs, especially for office use. Motors embedded in the chair resulted in massage chairs.