Michael Thonet

Thonet was the son of master tanner Franz Anton Thonet of Boppard. Following a carpenter's apprenticeship, Thonet set himself up as an independent cabinetmaker in 1819. In the 1830s, Thonet began trying to make furniture out of glued and bent wooden slats. His first success was the Bopparder Schichtholzstuhl (Boppard layerwood chair) in 1836. Thonet gained substantial independence by acquiring the Michelsmühle, the glue factory that made the glue for this process, in 1837. Thonet's essential breakthrough was his success in having light, strong wood bent into curved, graceful shapes by forming the wood in hot steam. This enabled him to design entirely novel, elegant, lightweight, durable and comfortable furniture, which appealed strongly to fashion - a complete departure from the heavy, carved designs of the past - and whose aesthetic and functional appeal remains to this day. In 1849 he again founded an establishment of his own, the Gebrüder Thonet. In 1850 he produced his Nr 1 chair. The World's Fair in London 1851 saw him receive the bronze medal for his Vienna bentwood chairs. This was his international breakthrough. At the next World's Fair in Paris 1855, he was awarded the silver medal as he continued to improve his production methods. In 1856 he was able to open up a new factory in Korycany, Moravia. Its extensive beech woods were of great significance to his enterprise. The 1859 chair Nr. 14 - better known as Konsumstuhl Nr. 14, coffee shop chair no. 14 - is still called the "chair of chairs" with some 50 million produced up until 1930. It yielded a gold medal for Thonet's enterprise at the 1867 Paris World's Fair. As Michael Thonet died 1871 in Vienna, the Fa. Gebrüder Thonet had sales locations across Europe as well as Chicago and New York. Today, a museum in the factory in Frankenberg, Hesse showcases the firm's history and the Thonet design.