Looking at the history of the chair is a fascinating way to cross-section the society out of which that chair came. The chair likely evolved in the Stone Age - Neolithic building sites studied by archaeologists have revealed bench-like sitting areas, perhaps used for rituals.
It's not certain when exactly the first seat with a backrest emerged, but we do know that these more supportive seats that were higher off the ground were reserved for the wealthy and powerful.
Early Egyptian Chairs
Some of the earliest examples we have of chairs as we know them today, with four legs, armrests and a back, were found in Egyptian tombs. These date back to around 2,700 BC. The most famous are the seat of Tutankhamun and, pictured below, the chair of Hetepheres, an Egyptian Queen of the 4th Dynasty.
Also found in the Egyptian tombs were early examples of stools - simpler seats reserved for the lower classes.
Chairs in Ancient Greece and Rome
In ancient Greece, chairs, stools, and benches were used by all levels of society, and are depicted or referenced in much surviving art and literature. Chairs were also used, especially by the powerful, in ancient Rome. Particularly elaborate, marble chairs were reserved for use by nobility or religious rulers.
Chairs in China
The first depictions of chairs in China are in sixth-century Buddhist murals, though the practice of actually using chairs was rare at the time. By the 12th century, chairs had become more widespread. Traditionally, however, the Chinese way was to sit in the lotus position or to be knelt on a "sitting mat". This past of sitting without being far lifted off the ground makes scholars disagree on the roots of the chair in China. Some argue that the chair originally arrived there as a form of Bhuddist Monastic furniture. Today, Chinese people no longer usually sit on mats, unlike in Korea and Japan.
From the European Renaissance On
With the Renaissance in Europe, chairs became a common feature of households, for all those who could afford them. So they were no longer reserved only for the nobility or ecclesiastical rulers. Early European chairs tended to be solid and made of heavy woods. More graceful, lighter designs, like the still famous Louis XV chairs, were introduced in Paris in the 1700s.
In modern times, people have experimented with almost every imaginable form and material, making rocking chairs, reclining chairs, metal folding chairs, office chairs that swivel and move on wheels, chairs for outdoor use only, chairs made from moulded plastic and even chairs specifically for sunbathing.
Today the chair is more popular than ever before. Office seating, seats in cars, lounging sofas, bar stools and more all serve various purposes and are available in a wide range of unique designs. We might not always pay attention to chairs, but it's worth considering that every chair has a history and a story to tell about the context it came from and what was important to its designer, such as form or function. As society and its art and architecture have evolved, so too has the chair!