Sometimes I am left scratching my head over human-made products that are so weird, sometimes stupid, often so painful to said humans that one wonders why they were ever invented in the first place. Those very questions roll through my mind every time I pass an Adirondack chair. And pass them is what I do. For me, there will be no sitting.

Can anyone out there tell me who actually can sit in them, I mean, if someone is adult sized? I’m talking about the old-fashioned wooden kinds that hurt people’s back-ends, thighs and knee backs so severely one was left limping after a sojourn of any length.

And limping is the least of it. Those awkward chairs can often leave hands, arms, backs and legs festooned with splinters. And worse, anyone over the age of 40 can’t get back up out of them without the help of mocking relatives, a giant crowbar and a lot of fulcrum savvy.

Adirondack chairs, all the rage for so many years, were usually painted dark green, were very heavy, and built to outlast the pyramids. Dragging them out into the backyard for potential barbecues and cook-outs was an annual spring rite of torture to be repeated when they had to be dragged back into a shed for the winter. It was quite like pulling a Sherman tank with a rope with its brakes locked.

These tortuous chairs were invented by one Thomas Lee in 1903. He owned a big cottage on some nice property in, yes, the Adirondack mountains. He’d go there with his 22 family members and everyone complained that there weren’t enough chairs to go around. So, eager to keep that mob happy and not whining all the time about seating, he cut down one tree (a pine), and out of that one single tree, made a bunch of simple, knot-free chairs for them all to test.

He was proud to be able to make chairs out of no more, no less than 11 pieces of wood. The one everyone liked was the low chair with the “gentle” recline as they called it, and wide arm rests on which the sitter could place their leaky paper plates overloaded with cook-out cuisine. The wooden Adirondack chair was born.
What were they thinking?

Thomas was in business, but alas, he asked for help in manufacturing them from one Harry Bunnell, a trusted friend, who stole his idea, made the chairs himself, calling them Westport Chairs (it’s where he lived), applied for and got a patent, and made a ton of money. There is no record if our boy Thomas went after him in any fashion for recompense, but I personally hope he did, with one thick, knot-free two-by-four in his hands.

There doesn’t seem to be a record of when those chairs from hell became known as Adirondack chairs, but no matter what they were called, they were excruciatingly painful, short-legged people had their blood supply cut off below their knees, and when the cook-outs were over, one had to scream at parting guests to please, please come back and haul the remaining folks with perhaps a bit more avoir du pois than they’d like to admit, up and out of those dreadfully sloped seats.

Those party-goers who had the double handicap of advanced age were special victims who also might need help both getting in and out of their chairs. Smart people positioned those cook-out Adirondack chairs of misery on slanted lawns, reversing the seat angle so they might struggle out of them more readily when nature called or when gatherings ended. I’ve so often thought that if prison wardens were interested in keeping inmates from escaping, they should just seat them in rows of Adirondack chairs.

The chairs made today are smooth, splinter-free plastic and look a whole lot more user friendly than the ones of old. One can sit in them wearing a pair of shorts and not have to be rushed to the hospital for splinter excision. They are beautiful colors now, not that institutional dark green, and look gorgeous on lawns and porches. I think they’ve even been nicely redesigned over the years to now be very comfortable and to have less slant and more propping-up!

Alas, for the likes of me, they are still slanted back to such a degree that it’s a total embarrassment for me to have to struggle grotesquely up and out of them when even a modern Adirondack chair is offered.

So thanks anyway. I’ll just stand, if you don’t mind.