The Windsor chair likely originated in Buckinghamshire, England in the 16th century, but the design was refined by American woodworkers in the 18th century thanks to the bounty of Eastern White Pine found in New England. This classic furniture design features chair spindles that are based upon wheel spokes. While the original British Windsors typically have elm seats, Eastern White Pine is the wood of choice stateside. Its softness makes it easy to carve into a comfortable, deep-saddled seat.
Master carpenters in New York, Boston and Philadelphia refined the shape of the chair, often giving it a hoop back, with legs joined by three stretchers. Its popularity led to a presence everywhere from rustic farmhouses to the courthouses of the big cities. Compared to other furniture of the period, it was lightweight, inexpensive and fast to make.
According to Gummel Chair Works, George Washington himself was a big fan of American Windsor chairs, purchasing twenty-seven of them for his Mount Vernon home. Thomas Jefferson was said to have signed the Declaration of Independence while seated in a Windsor. Windsors were also the seating of choice for the assembly when the Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4th, 1776.
The many different varieties of Windsor chairs in America can be attributed to the spread of the Colonial population along the eastern seaboard, with furniture makers choosing differing varieties of wood. While English furniture makers had to use what few wood species were available to them, Americans benefitted from lush forests. Today, many modern furniture producers making Windsor chairs still choose Eastern White Pine for the hand-carved seat.