Wicker furniture started on docks of Boston in 1844

Wicker furniture has been made since the days of ancient Egypt. The cradle for the first American baby born to the Pilgrims was made of wicker. But the glory days of wicker furniture in America started on the docks of Boston in 1844.

Cyrus Wakefield, a grocer, noticed volunteers taking away the rattan used to tie the ship’s cargo. He thought it would be a good material for furniture, so he experimented with the rattan and found it worked for chair parts and seats. He started importing rattan and selling it to others.

The business grew, and Wakefield began importing cane, the strips of bark from the rattan palm tree stalks and rattan. Wakefield continued to experiment and made furniture with bentwood and rattan fancywork. He worked with a machine that split the bark and used it for chairs, tables and other furniture. He was the country’s leading maker of wicker furniture by the 1870s.

Cyrus Heywood, a 19th-century chair-maker, began using wicker, too. He owned a loom that wove cane into sheets to make set-in seats. The two companies were rivals until they merged in 1897. The popularity of ornate Victorian styles and Japanese designs helped increase sales of wicker furniture.

But tastes changed in about 1900. The straight lines of Arts and Crafts furniture, the introduction of forced-air home heating (which dried out wicker) and new furniture styles created by Austrian designers changed the way manufacturers used wicker.

By the 1930s, wicker furniture was scorned and Heywood-Wakefield was making light-colored wooden furniture in new simple, modern designs. Wicker did not regain its popularity until the 1990s.

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