Rockers were long used on baby cradles and toy rocking horses well before someone decided they would be of use on chairs. Baby cradles alone date back to as early as the 1400s, depicted in paintings of the time. These cradle designs date as far back as the middle ages of Europe. Later the curved bands were applied to children’s toy horses in Germany and gained popularity throughout the Victorian era.
There is some question as to who invented the first wooden rocking chair, however. There are tales that attribute its origin to Benjamin Franklin. There is, however, no historical evidence to back up this claim. Nonetheless, wood rocking chairs can be traced to North America around the 18th century. Originally they were crudely fashioned and used primarily in gardens. The chairs were basic wood chairs of the times with curved rocker bands attached to the legs. Around 1725, England was introduced to these chairs in the times of King George, where they were constructed with hooped backs for greater comfort.
The backs of these outdoor rocking chairs are rounded in the shape of hoops (meaning a single piece of wood was bent over to form a hoop shape and was connected to the seat area at each end to form the framework of the backrest). Vertical spindles were placed inside the hoop to further the support and integrity of the chair’s back, being pegged into the board of the seat which gave the appearance of a birdcage.
That is where the ambiguity of the history begins as what was to eventually be called the Windsor rocking chair, first believed to be from the garden chairs found at the Windsor castle near the middle of the eighteenth century, England, either right around the time or just before they were made popular in America, there was another record at the time (1708) found in Philadelphia pointing to a will by an unknown person mentioning a Windsor chair. This document, however, has not been authenticated, nor does it mention the chair having rockers so the doubt remains. Regardless of their popularity in England or where they originated, the chairs are attributed to being first produced in North America’s English colonies near Philadelphia as the now world renowned American Windsor.
As popularity spread throughout the colonies, the Windsor took many shapes and was made of varying woods depending on its place of manufacture. Hickory became the favored wood for the backing as it was strong and durable. The backs were spread out enough to set the proportions right and as little wood was used as was necessary in the overall construction of the chair. They were truly works of art and were used almost exclusively as lawn or porch rocking chairs.