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Collection of the Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum

Thonet Brothers

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Michael Thonet opened his first cabinetry workshop in a rural Austrian town in 1819, where he experimented with the process of using steam to bend wood for furniture. Shortly after he founded his company "Gebruder Thonet," or Thonet Brothers (1853). In 1856, he obtained the first patent for the bentwood process. Although his patent expired in 1869, by 1900, Thonet owned fifty-two assembly line production factories for bentwood furniture across Europe. Numerous replicas of his most famous chair, the Viennese cafe chair known as model no. 14, abound today. A New York office opened in the United States in 1873 and was later sold into subsidiaries, whereas in Europe the Thonet family remained involved in the Art Noveau movement.