We certainly do enjoy outdoor living in this country; and wicker outdoor furniture has been enhancing the quality of our leisure time, as well as our outdoor decor, for centuries. Of course, as is the case with so many things in this nation, it was not invented here.
In fact, wicker furniture can be traced back, at least, to 3,000 Wicker Porch Furniture B.C., when it was used in Egypt. It is also known to have been common in ancient Rome and Greece. Perhaps that should come as no surprise, considering that basketry is one of the oldest recognized crafts. It was not long after they began making baskets that people started weaving pieces of reeds, rattan, willows, osiers, twigs, and bamboo, around stiffer rods, shaped into various forms, to create furniture.
The first piece of wicker furniture in America made its way here on the Mayflower. However, the wicker furniture industry in this nation actually began shortly after 1850. It was around that time that a young grocer, named Cyrus Wakefield, came across large quantities of rattan on the docks of Boston. Curious to find out about this strange material, he made some inquiries, and discovered that the vines were used on ships that had been to Asia, to keep the cargo from shifting on the return voyages.
Shortly thereafter, Wakefield sold his grocery store, and established his own rattan company in South Reading, Massachusetts. It didn’t take long for his business to start booming, as the rattan was in high demand by basket and furniture makers. Soon, he had his own fleet of ships, which he used to import loads of rattan. Then, he began to make his own wicker furniture, which led to his status as the father of the industry.
Wakefield’s company continued to see staggering growth and prosperity throughout the 1860’s, until he held a virtual monopoly on the wicker furniture market. He also became such a great benefactor to South Reading that, after his death, in 1873, it was renamed, Wakefield, in appreciation for all of the money that he donated to the town, as well as the jobs that he had created.
In the ensuing years, naturally, many other companies began making wicker furniture. Before the turn of the century, the Victorian style reigned supreme, and the furniture was quite ornate, featuring many curves and intricate patterns; but early in the 20th century, people were looking for simpler designs. Although the manufacturers modified their styles, in keeping with the public’s shifting tastes, the demand for the furniture declined over the next few decades.
Of course, it was inevitable that wicker would see a resurgence in popularity, which it did, beginning in the 1960’s. Today, it is one of the most desirable types of , and is central to the decor of millions of porches, patios, decks, sunrooms, and gazebos.