Our Own Devices: How Technology Remakes Humanity

Our Own Devices: How Technology Remakes Humanity by Edward Tenner Read Free Book Online

Book: Our Own Devices: How Technology Remakes Humanity by Edward Tenner Read Free Book Online
Authors: Edward Tenner
contemporary interest in reclining furniture as equipment for optimal rest. One of his associates,the Bauhaus architect Hans Luckhardt, began to design “movement chairs” in the early 1930s, including a slatted wooden chaise longue with a neck roll and linkages that extended a footrest as the sitter reclined, cradling the back andthighs and supporting the lower legs. A knob mounted at the side edge of the seat could be screwed down against a slotted wooden link to permit continuous adjustmentbetween slight and full reclining. Lorenz helped develop it for Thonet, which called this wooden chair the Siesta Medizinal and still produces it today. Unlike previous convalescent chairs, built by cabinetmakers or metalworking firms, the Siesta had a theoretical agenda: allowing the greatest possible relaxation of the sitter’s muscles. Luckhardt had been studying physiology since 1934, and Lorenzalso began to devour medical texts. Just as coaches and architects helped make the modern running shoe, nonscientists were among the founders of ergonomic seating. Lorenz financed research at the Kaiser Wilhelm (now Max Planck) Institute for Industrial Physiology in Dortmund to validate the chair’s design. Subjects were lightly supported in tanks of salt water, then photographed to determinethe angles that trunk, thighs, and lower legs assumed in near weightlessness. A scientist and later director of the institute, Gunther Lehmann, wrote that this experiment was the first attempt to determine the true resting position of the limbs, although as we have seen, the relaxing position had been known from the 1870s. 28
    The Siesta chair appears to have been successful in a mainly institutionalmarket. Air France was testing an upholstered version before the war broke out. Even the Nazi taboo on Bauhaus design was inconsistent; Anton Lorenz saved in his files an undated photograph of Adolf Hitler himself sitting stiffly in one of Lorenz’s tubular-steel lounge chairs. By 1940, German military hospitals were using a tubular-steel wheelchair version of the Siesta. Lorenz, who happenedto be in the United States on business when the war broke out, remained, escaping the destruction of his Berlin apartment and office. 29
THE ROAD TO BUFFALO
    Lorenz first settled in Chicago, possibly because of his association with Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Though they were once legal adversaries in Germany, they respected each other and at least one U.S. patent bears both men’s names. Cut offfrom his European businesses, Lorenz enrolled in a two-year course in human physiology and claimed to have studied two thousand books and articles in that field. Meanwhile, he was introduced to Nelson Graves, president of the Barcalo Manufacturing Company of Buffalo, New York, at the 1940 Chicago Furniture Show. Lorenz offered him an exclusive license on the reclining chairs he had been developing. 30
    Located near Buffalo’s steel mills, Barcalo had been best known for metal beds, porch furniture, and hand tools. But its management appreciated Lorenz’s passion for human factors. After brass and steel bedroom furniture went out of fashion, Barcalo had turned to making hospital beds. Some of these had cranks to raise the back and knees, achieving an optimal relaxing position, the lazy W, for recoveryfrom surgery.
    Lorenz was soon on the Barcalo payroll. In 1942, the company—like Thonet in Germany—produced reclining wheelchairs based on his patents. Immediately after the war’s end in 1945, Barcalo began to advertise a high-back version of this chair to furniture retailers as a rolling recliner (“more than a wheel chair—it’s luxurious comfort for the thousands of invalids and convalescentsin your market area!”). A popular reclining lawn chair called the BarcaLoafer appeared in 1946. 31
    It took several years for Barcalo to begin producing upholstered chairs. Its license included all embodiments of Lorenz’s “floating in water” position, but it had no facilities

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