No other type of furniture offers greater comfort, style and versatility than bean bags. While they may seem like modern inventions, bean bags have a long and rich history dating back to prehistoric times.
In this article, we explore the colorful history of bean bags and answer the following questions:
- When were bean bags invented?
- Who invented the bean bag chair?
From their radical beginnings to global popularity, read on and discover how bean bags evolved through the years.
When Were Bean Bags Invented?
Some historians believe bean bags first appeared in ancient Egypt around 2000 B.C. Ancient Egyptians would fill small leather pouches with pebbles, beans or grains. They would use these bags to play recreational activities or teach children how to count.
Other researchers argue that Native American tribes filled dried pig bladders with beans for entertainment and ceremonial purposes.
Interestingly, many historians believe that one of the games played with these bean-filled bladders is a delightful predecessor to the beloved activity we know today as “Cornhole.”
In ancient China, bean bags were used as training tools for tai chi, a martial art that originated in the 12th century. Tai chi masters filled small pouches with pebbles, sand or dry beans. Using slow and graceful movements, practitioners would keep these bags airborne by striking them with various parts of their bodies.
The answer to the question, “When were bean bags invented,” remains to be a debated and controversial inquiry among historians. Although they weren’t originally invented as chairs, they boast an extensive history and have evolved remarkably.
Who Invented the Bean Bag Chair?
The first bean bag chair emerged in the furniture industry in 1968. This groundbreaking concept was brought to life by three Italian designers, Piero Gatti, Cesare Paolini and Franco Teodoro, commissioned by a company called Sacco.
They aimed to produce a revolutionary non-chair that appeals to hippies, non-conforming individuals and a younger generation seeking fresh materials and counter-cultural aesthetics. Ultimately, the Sacco chair aimed to be a radical piece criticizing conservative tastes.
The team experimented with various materials for the chair’s structure. However, they discovered air and water-filled structures were too rigid and uncomfortable. They drew inspiration from old peasant mattresses, essentially sacks filled with chestnut leaves or other materials that conformed to the body’s contours and offered greater comfort.
After some time, they tried using marbles or balls that could mold themselves to the body, creating a fluid-like experience. However, these materials proved either too heavy or too expensive. After some experimentation, they discovered synthetic polyvinyl chloride (PVC) beads, a moldable and lightweight material commonly used in the construction industry for sound and heat insulation.
PVC was a perfect fit, allowing the team to produce the prototypes of the bean bag chair.
Featuring a distinctive tear-drop shape, a comfortable seating area and a tall back support, the first bean bag chair definitely stood out. The Sacco shapeless chair was made of leather and filled with PVC beads, providing a comfortable and flexible seating experience.
The first bean bag chair was easily portable and captured the laidback spirit of the 1960s. Unlike conventional chairs, bean bags are designed to adapt to various situations and physical structures. The design of the shapeless chair was so successful that it paved the way for numerous variations up to the present day.
1970s: Transforming Spaces Around the Globe
After gaining popularity in Italy during the late 1960s, bean bags swiftly spread across the globe as cozy seating options that can be used in almost any setting.
In the 1970s, demand for these fascinating chairs increased in Europe, Asia and North America, particularly flourishing on college campuses.
However, it’s worth noting that the commercially successful bean bag chairs of that time differed from the original Italian Sacco bag. These new bean bags were more affordable and many were produced by other manufacturers using innovative fabrics like nylon and more affordable alternatives such as polyester. For fillings, expanded polystyrene (EPS) beans became the alternative material of choice due to their superior strength and longevity.
Despite the difference in quality, the budget-friendliness of these bean bags appealed to a wide range of consumers and millions were sold.
The bean bag chairs of the 1970s captured the aesthetic of that era, characterized by an explosion of lively prints and bold, vibrant colors. They added energy and personality to dorm rooms, living spaces and recreational areas.
Bean bag chairs were standard home furniture during the 1970s due to their unmatched versatility, comfort and adaptability. With a wide range of colors, sizes and styles available, it’s no surprise that bean bags remain incredibly popular today.
1980s to 1990s: A Decline in Popularity
Bean bag sales declined tremendously throughout these two decades.
During the 1980s, demand for bean bags dropped as other types of furniture were introduced to the market. However, several manufacturers continued to produce cheaper bean bags of lower quality.
Unfortunately, these poorly designed products turned out to be unsafe. Tragically, there were cases where children were injured or even lost their lives due to suffocation after climbing inside the bean bags and inhaling the filling. These incidents emphasized the importance of creating and using bean bags safely and properly.
Bean bags made a strong comeback in the 90s as they became available in different shapes and sizes, such as beds, sofas and recliners.
Following the safety concerns of the previous decade, federal authorities in Australia, America and Europe introduced regulations for newly manufactured bean bags.
Manufacturers had to add features like childproof zippers to prevent children from opening the bean bags and climbing inside them. Additionally, all bean bag chairs must include safety warning labels.
These efforts enhanced user safety and minimized the risk of choking and suffocation hazards.
21st Century: The Rise of Safer, Longer-Lasting Bean Bags
Bean bags are back in fashion as more designs, fabrics and sizes are available. They’re stylish and practical pieces of furniture that prioritize safety, making them suitable for households with children.
Modern bean bags come with multiple safety features and undergo stringent durability tests during manufacturing to ensure their security and reliability.
They’re highly versatile and look good in any room. Aside from residential spaces, bean bags are commonly seen in schools, restaurants, bars, hotels and other commercial establishments. With so many styles available, you’ll have no trouble finding a bean bag that complements your existing decor.
Conventional bean bag chairs are typically filled with cheap polystyrene beans. However, regular use can cause these fillings to flatten, compromising the bean bag’s shape and comfort.
To address this issue, manufacturers have explored alternative fillings. Many modern bean bags now utilize foam fillings that offer greater resilience.
Foam-filled bean bag chairs made by Ultimate Sack are filled with 100% new polyurethane foam and feature durable #10 zippers with child safety locks. They also come with removable and washable covers featuring strong double stitching to withstand everyday use. Our bean bags include an inner liner to protect the foam against spills and accidents.
With modern bean bags offering long-lasting functionality, safety and peace of mind, they certainly make an excellent investment that will bring you comfort and enjoyment for years.
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Since its inception in 1968, bean bags have undergone remarkable transformations to meet users’ diverse needs and preferences.
What started as a radical design concept has become a seating solution that adds practicality and visual appeal to any space. Whether looking for a fun seat for your den, bedroom or home office, you can never go wrong with a bean bag chair!
Ultimate Sack is the leading destination for high-quality bean bags and foam furniture. We manufacture our products in the USA and ship them directly from our factory.
Shop our bean bags now and enjoy free shipping!