What’s your feeling on rocking chairs? It’s a strange question, but think about it. More than likely if you search through the cobwebs in your mind there’s a memory waiting to be dusted off. Maybe your mama rocked you to sleep on one when you were small. Maybe your grandmother had one on her porch that you would climb into when you went to visit. Either way, chances are it was old and worn and probably creaked. Usually those are the things that elevate a simple, lifeless piece of furniture to almost iconic status. So, in honor of mom, grandma, or even grandpa, lets spend a little time contemplating the rocking chair.
Excellent questions, and I have all the answers. Well, no, actually I don’t. We know rocking chairs were invented in the U.S. probably in the early 1700’s. Unfortunately, we can’t pinpoint the exact where, or even the exact who.
The idea of something rocking goes way, way back in European history. People rocked babies in cradles all the time. The babies got bigger, and if mom and dad could afford it, they might have a rocking horse to play on. Probably somewhere along the line a farmer or cabinet maker decided the young’uns shouldn’t be the only ones to enjoy the peace and tranquility that comes from rocking.
Now, early Americans were thrifty people. I bet we can come up with a pretty good idea of how that first chair came into being. Just think about it. Can’t you just see old Joe, looking at the junk he had accumulated in his barn over the years. In the corner, nearly covered in hay is Grandpappy’s old trunk. Leaning on the side of it is that rusty old ax with the loose handle he’s been meaning to fix. A couple of chairs hang from pegs on the walls, and underneath sits Billy’s old cradle.
Of course Billy’s going on 16 now and doesn’t need the cradle, and Joe could use some more room. That’s when he gets the idea of slapping the rockers on one of those chair. It just makes things even better that Ma’s birthday is a week from Tuesday. Joe can get some junk out of his barn and make Ma’s gift all in one shot. Joe always knew he was a genius, this just proves it.
Up to this point, it is. History can be a little fickle when it comes to giving up information. Sometimes she’ll tell us things sometimes she won’t, but with a few odds and ends we can knit together a bit of history. We know, for example, that the term rocking chair was first found in the Oxford Dictionary in 1787. Therefore, it could obviously be found in England by that time.
Rocking chairs were also popular in Norway. Maybe it reminded them of skiing. Here is a painting done in Oslo, in 1883.
Everyone say hello to Aunt Karen. She was painted by the famous artist Edvard Munch. Edvard Munch, hmm, now where have I heard that name before? Oh yeah, I remember.
Gosh, I hope that’s not Aunt Karen after she saw her picture.
So where else can we find rocking chairs? How about Russia in 1887?
That’s a bentwood rocker she’s sitting on. We know those were invented in Germany by Michael Thonet in 1860. Cool, huh? It looks like our little American invention was pretty big by the mid-1800’s. Boy, they grow up fast.
Nope, see when our old Joe put that rocker together he stumbled upon more than just a cool way to catch a summer breeze on the porch. He found a real good way to relax, and now we have scientific evidence to back that up. A recent study proved that rocking synchronizes brainwaves during a nap, increasing the length of N2 sleep. For those of us too smart to know what that means, it’s the second of three sleep stages you enter before you hit REM sleep. If you’re really into science, you can read about it here.
There’s even something called rocking chair therapy which stems from a study of dementia patients. This study showed rocking causes a release of mood elevating endorphins as well as increased balance, improved muscle tone, and the easing of arthritis and back pain. Kinda makes you appreciate that old chair a little more. Somebody distract grandma, will ya. I think I need to sit awhile in her chair.
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