In 1830 Michael
Thonet began his first experiments with Bentwood. Sheets of Veneer lain
parallel to the grain and were cut into uniform sized regular strips.
These were then boiled in a solution of glue. Once bundled together and
attached to wood, or later still to metal frames, they would be bent into
the desired form. This pliable material once curved lost in thickness
and so thin strips of Veneer were added to compensate for the loss.
One disadvantage of this process: the hygroscopic glue gathered water
from the surroundings and lost its strength.
In 1856 Thonet solved this problem: after a lengthy period of watering
and steaming began the bending of solid wood with the help of Sheet Iron
Strips in Casting Moulds. This wood, which was cut as it had naturally
grown, and inthe direction of the grain was, in solid pieces, bent as
the form or shape demanded. Lightness and a greater strength was joined
together with a delicacy and flexibility.
The discovery of to use the natural characteristics of wood and how to
overcome it`s limitations, by influencing and utilising a bending process,
was Michael Thonet`s greatest invention and at the same time the prerequisite
for the mass production of Bentwood furniture.
In 1842 Michael Thonet was granted the Patent „Holz in beliebige Formen
und Schweifungen zu biegen“ (Wood bending, in any Shape and Form) by the
K.k. allgemeinen Hofkammer in Vienna. In 1853 the Patent was renewed
and remained upright until 1869. Once the Patent expired the Bentwood
industry rapidly developed, so much so, that by 1893, 51 companies (25
in Austria-Hungary) were in production. Jacob&Josef Kohn
in Vienna became Thonet`s largest competitor.
While Thonet required one to two hours to make their wooden rods flexible
using steam, their rival Kohn had installed a machine which could produce
these parts within 3 - 5 minutes. This allowed, the 4 factories belonging
to the Kohn brothers to produce 5,500 pieces of furniture daily.
For the Parissiene World Trades Fair of 1900 the Kohn brothers appointed
the Viennesse architect Josef Hoffmann and his pupil Gustav Siegel as
members of their design team. Siegels Exhibition Room won the Grand Prix
of the Fair for the Kohn brothers.
In light of this success the Thonet company expanded their work with architects
and designers. The most famous of the architects and designers who worked
for Kohn und Thonet are: Josef Hoffmann, Otto Wagner, Adolf Loos, Koloman
Moser, Gustav Siegel und Otto Prutscher.
In 1923 the three largest Austrian manufacturers of Bentwood furniture
merged, these were: J. und J. Kohn, Mundus und Thonet.