Scattered across the United States are the remnants of a great battle that started over a century ago. Dozens of towns and cities joined the fray, duking it out for an honor like no other: to be the home of the largest chair in the world.
The first of these giant American seats was built in 1905 by the town of Gardner, Massachusetts. It was erected to showcase the town’s chair-making prowess and attract more tourists and furniture shoppers. Its title was eventually challenged, and the race really kicked into gear with the road transportation boom of the 1930s and after Guinness started recording incredible feats around the world in the 1950s.
Though the Guinness title was for the biggest chair in the world (determined by height—from the ground to the top of the back rest), the race particularly took hold in America, where the super-sized roadside attractions were a surefire way to catch the attention of drivers cruising by on the new highways that criss-crossed the country.
The mid-20th century saw the baton being passed around from chair to chair. Towns and businesses built taller and taller chairs with the express purpose of defeating the previous title holder by a foot or two. It was not enough to have a giant chair, it had to be the largest, and this became a point of local pride—not to mention a great tourism ploy.
The race eventually diversified into biggest chairs of different categories: There’s now an official Guinness designation for folding chairs, rocking chairs, Duncan Phyfe chairs, upholstered chairs, jiaoyi chairs, camping chairs, beach/deck chairs, and so on. (Not all of these have current title holders.)
But in recent years, many of the erstwhile American contenders for the throne have been bested by towering furniture creations in other countries, especially in Europe. The current Guinness record has been held for more than three years by a bright red chair in St. Florian, Austria. It stands at a whopping 98.5 feet—more than 40 feet taller than the largest in the States, a 56-foot rocking chair in Casey, Illinois. Before that, the title was clinched by an 85-foot chair in Spain and a 65-foot chair in Italy, both in the early 2000s.
Despite America’s dethronement on the world stage, you can still see dozens of these once record-breaking and otherwise giant chairs at their original sites, with plaques celebrating their days of glory. Here are five places where you can spot these remarkably large seats on your next U.S. road trip.
Gardner has, for over a century, always had a giant chair on display. The current chair, measuring 20 feet and 6 inches tall, was constructed in 1976 for the city’s bicentennial. The mahogany chair briefly brought the world title back to the “Chair City,” though for the final time. The chair was afflicted with rot in the 1990s but was saved from destruction, and is still a local landmark.
Size: 20.6 feet, 3,000 pounds.
The honor of the largest chair on Earth may have slipped out of American hands, but the largest rocker still rules on in the Midwest. Casey, which has created a reputation for its “Big Things in a Small Town,” holds the current Guinness record for the world’s largest rocking chair (among several other world records). For the chair to claim the title, it had to be proven to actually rock, and it took 10 people to move the mammoth piece of furniture. At over 56 feet tall, the super-sized rocker is also the largest chair in the U.S.
Size: 56.1 feet, 46,200 pounds.
When Casey’s record was awarded, it was bad news for another giant rocking chair, located off the iconic Route 66 in the town of Cuba. This one stands next to a Fanning Outpost complex with an archery range, a taxidermy shop, and a general store (with no apparent furniture connections). It was built in 2008 at a height of 42 feet, in order break the world record and drum up more traffic. It is only open for people to sit one day a year, known obviously as “Picture on Rocker Day.” A lift is hired to raise people up onto the seat.
Size: 42.1 feet, 27,500 pounds.
In 1981, facing a crowded race for the world’s largest chair, the folks at Miller’s Office Furniture in Anniston made a strategic decision. They put up a giant version of one of their office chairs, super-sized by simply converting inches to feet, in an empty lot next to the showroom. At 33 feet tall, it was declared the world’s largest office chair by Guinness. After a brief move, the chair is now back to its original location, and its owners say it is there to stay.
Size: 33 feet, 20,000 pounds.
The Washington, D.C. furniture company Curtis Brothers Furniture built The Big Chair of Anacostia in 1959 to advertise the neighborhood business. Calling it the “World’s Largest Chair,” they also took the structure’s fame to the next level by getting a local artist to live on the chair for 42 straight days without ever coming down. The chair was originally made out of wood but after years of being battered by the elements, the monument became unstable and had to be deconstructed for repairs. It was rebuilt with aluminum so that the oversized piece would last for future generations to enjoy.
Size: 19.5 feet, 4,600 pounds.