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History of Furniture Casters

Instructor: Anne Butler

Anne has a bachelor's in K-12 art education and a master's in visual art and design. She currently works at a living history museum in Colorado.

Moving furniture or chairs is always easier if there are wheels attached to what you are moving. The wheel is just one part, though; the caster is what attaches the wheel to what you want to be moved.

A World without Wheels

Without casters, nothing would move. Grocery carts couldn't be pushed, hospital workers couldn't wheel their gurneys, and wheelchairs wouldn't go anywhere. Everything would have to be pushed or pulled. But what is a caster? In order to get the object rolling, a caster is used to attach the wheels to the object. A basic caster is made of many parts, but they work together to achieve one goal; to get things rolling.

Patenting the Caster

Even though wheels (and therefore casters) have been around for quite a while, they weren't officially used to move furniture until the 1870s. David A Fisher filed the first patent for a caster in 1876. Fisher worked in the furniture industry and had previously created a joiner's clamp, which allowed workers to bind pieces of wood together without having to stop working on the rest of a furniture piece. Fisher's next patent allowed workers to move furniture with less strain than before. Instead of several men pushing a heavy piece, one man could push the item easily. These early casters were quite heavy, so they were only used in factories at first.

Types and Materials

Today's caster has evolved to serve many purposes. Today's casters can be made of glass, leather, plastic, iron, aluminum, stainless steel, rubber, or nylon. There are four types of casters that are used nowadays. These four types are rigid, swivel, industrial, and braking and locking. A rigid caster is used on various types of furniture and carts and is the most basic type of caster. One of the most common uses of a rigid caster is the back wheels of a shopping cart. They are locked into place, meaning they don't rotate. Swivel casters can also be used on grocery carts but as the front wheels. Swivel casters rotate 360°. Sometimes these can malfunction, which is why some grocery carts have that one wheel that spins constantly or gets stuck while it's being pushed. Office chairs also use swivel casters.

Office Chair with Caster
office chair

Swivel Caster
swivel

Rigid Caster on Furniture
Rigid caster

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