A little lesson in early vs. late Metal Lawn Chairs and what to look for.

Bang! The Fourth of July has done been and gone already! Now I guess we just ride out ( in our trusty Lawn Chairs that is!) summer and wait for football and hunting season to arrive!

Today, let’s look into what the makers were doing in the late 1930’s to the days leading up to WW II and then what was happening after. By knowing some of the “tells” I look at, you too can judge for yourself the approximate age of a cool find. To begin, we need to know  little history. We’ve all been taught in school about the Great Depression and how the Nation’s economy was thrust into tumult. Thousands and thousands of people out of work and factories all over closed up. It was a very bad time but you might have to wonder how some got along despite the hard times. Cars were still being made, houses were being built, furniture was widely available as were household appliances and all sorts of other things. What happened is labor became much less costly. A factory could hire more people to make things with more man hours involved but it did not translate into higher production costs.

Now this is a little hard to understand here in 2016 what with so many service workers petitioning for a $15.00/hour minimum wage. Not only were jobs scarce but payment for work was greatly reduced. I’ve read in some old books where a guy with a good job making a rather tidy living as an advertising artist was now working on half scale and then was asked to work on half of that later on. It was either that or no job at all!

When we look at articles made in the Pre-WW II era, we see lots of detail. Handwork being, for lack of a better term, cheap, a factory could well afford to have a worker doing a task that was a bit fiddly. Say for instance in a late 1930’s metal lawn chair, many of these old pieces used a one piece frame. Even though there was a machine doing the bending, it was a person doing the setting up of the part to be made. A one piece frame could not be made in one operation and likely required three. Then, this solid piece had to handed on to another worker for finishing and then on to packaging.

Let’s stop here a moment and talk a little about packaging and shipping. As with worker’s wages, shipping was also a very different animal than in today’s standards. It was not such a big deal to ship bulky items back then because a load was a paying job no matter what. Lawn Chairs in particular were not all that easily broken down for shipping for the most part. Instead, parts simple nested together and were pilled in. I can say with reasonable certainty, several all steel lawn chairs were shipped from the factory to the retailer completely, or near completely assembled. And, their protection device was more than likely just a wad of news paper here and there. This would all come to an abrupt end directly after the War when all sorts of items were re-designed to be more compactly packaged.

Details, details, the devil is in the details! In pre War II America, it was not at all unusual to decorate or build with lots of trouble; speaking today in more contemporary terms. For example, you will notice a large number of the early period pieces utilized rivets to assemble with instead of screws or bolts. Rivets are mostly permanent and yield a piece that is assembled of nearly so. Also, brackets used for attachment points were common which all had to be formed in a machine by a person or persons. And, when a single bolt would have sufficed, the maker may have chosen to use two fasteners or maybe even incorporated some other extraneous something or other. This is when the phrase, “They sure don’t build’m like they used to!” comes from. All these little extras had to go by the wayside after production returned to peace time.

So, when you are inspecting an interesting old lawn chair and you’re asking yourself, is this really an old piece or is it newer, look closely at the way the old thing is built. As I’ve said before, one piece frames are a good indicator it’s Pre-War. Somewhat complicated attachment points are a good tell also. Decorative arms are another point to notice as these pretty much went away by the start of the 1950’s. If the chair frame has slight bends or seems to be more than just straight with no other element to it is a good consideration. The old Calumet chair being made prior to WW II, sold during the War and then into the very early 1950’s saw a few of these small changes. The one piece frame went from being rounded at the back to having square corners (still a one piece frame though). And, on the chair arms, the early examples have a little dog leg bend just before the chair arm makes contact with the chair back. This serves to open the frame up a little. Later models did away with this small bend which took someone to load into a machine and make it, to a smooth straight section.

If you’ve run onto a really nice example and just can’t decide for yourself when it might have been made or if you just want a second opinion, I’m happy to respond! Please send o my email address tmc@torransmfgco.com along with a couple of pictures, I’ll gladly tell you what I can!

Party On Lawn Chair Nation!



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