The History of Mass-Produced Furniture in America

Mass Produced Furniture InfographicThe furniture that you purchase for your home is an investment. For generations, consumers looked to handmade wood furniture for its durability and beauty. As technological advancements allowed manufacturers to produce a greater number of home goods in a shorter period, the demand for mass-produced furniture grew. By knowing the differences between furniture produced for mass retailers and quality handcrafted items, such as Amish dining room tables, you will have a better understanding of the benefits of handmade furniture for your budget, health and family, as well as the environment.

History of Mass-Produced Furniture

  • 19th century: Affluent Victorians in the U.S. embraced authentic reproductions of period furnishing found abroad. During this era, furniture craftsmen invented and adopted laborsaving machinery, which created more jobs and lowered the price of furniture.
  • Early 20th century: Northern European furniture designs began dominating American décor trends. During this time, German furniture maker Richard Riemerschmid began designing his popular pieces for factory production. Cabinetmakers sent lumber for planning, sawing and fretting to trade machine shops. As steam engine technologies allowed department stores to sell more mass-produced items, the demand for cheaper furniture grew.
  • 1913: Inventor Friedrich Heinrich August Klatte secured a patent for polymerized vinyl chloride, or PVC. The plastic will soon become an important element in mass-produced furniture.
  • 1939 to 1945: Lumber becomes a scarce resource during World War II, making it necessary for the timber industry to improve the quality of plywood. The improvement in pressed woods, including veneers and laminates, allowed furniture factories to produce more goods at less expensive rates.
  • 1950s: The furniture industry benefited from advancements in adhesives, machinery and materials. As furniture factories grew in number, the demand for custom and handmade furniture fell.
  • 1963: Polypropylene made its first appearance in the furniture industry.
  • Today: The vast majority of furniture in the U.S. market is mass-produced using materials that lack in quality. While there are some furniture factories in the country, many companies outsource production to other parts of the world. Handmade and custom pieces are a rare find in American homes.

Drawbacks of Mass-Produced Furniture

While mass-produced furniture is the norm in the United States, factory-made furnishings threaten the environment. After examining the cost of mass-produced pieces, you might find that they are not as budget-friendly as you thought.

  • Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PDBEs): PBDEs are flame-retarding chemicals used in upholstered furniture. Manufacturers apply the chemicals to foam and upholstery fabric. With time, the toxic chemicals disintegrate into dust. In homes, PDBEs lower the quality of indoor air and pose health risks. In landfills, the chemical affects sewage, soil quality and water. Health risks attributed to exposure to PDBEs include delayed development, decreased intelligence quotient levels, infertility, thyroid disorders, cancer and memory problems. The chemicals are so common that up to 97 percent of Americans have traces of it in their blood.
  • Landfill waste: Most mass-produced furniture is not built to last. Within a few years, the pieces do not perform as well or look as nice as they once did. As a result, mass-produced furniture takes up space landfills, creating a cycle of waste.
  • Volatile organic compounds (VOCs): VOCs are airborne, toxic off-gassing chemicals found in composite wood, plastic, cleaning products, paint and other common items. Some of the chemicals are noticeable, such as the strong plastic smell that accompanies some pieces of new furniture. Others aren’t as simple to detect. The VOCs uses in mass-produced furniture vaporize at room temperature, posing significant health risks, including headaches, worsening asthma symptoms, nausea, sinus irritation, liver and kidney damage, and cancer.
  • Wasted money: You buy an inexpensive piece of furniture that will lose its luster or break in a few years. No problem; you’ll simply replace it with something else. If you purchase a mass-produced dining room set for $400 for your first apartment and replace it every 10 years with furniture that costs the same price, you could spend up to $24,000 during your lifetime on just tables and chairs. Handcrafted Amish dining room tables cost significantly less and will last a lifetime.

Benefits of Amish Furniture

  • Environmentally friendly: Amish furniture makers use locally sourced, sustainably harvested wood, a renewable resource. Unlike plastic, wood is biodegradable.
  • Smaller carbon footprint: Amish craftsmen do not use natural gas, nuclear energy or coal to make their beautiful pieces. Because the furniture is sourced and made in the USA, not overseas, transporting the pieces to showrooms and your home consumes substantially less fuel.
  • Breathe easier: The handmade wood furniture at Gish’s uses a catalyzed conversion varnish, minimizing the VOCs in your home.
  • Durable heirloom pieces: Quality handmade wooden furniture can last centuries with the proper care. Purchasing quality furniture is not just an investment in your home, but is also an investment in your family, who will cherish the timeless pieces for generations.

Purchasing Amish furniture honors a unique tradition that dates back to the late 1800s. When an exquisite piece arrives at your home, you can take pride in the fact that your purchase supports the talented, devout craftsmen who build the pieces, as well as their communities. Visit one of our Amish furniture showrooms today to find the next piece that will make memories in your home.


by amishlegacies

One thought on “The History of Mass-Produced Furniture in America

  1. Tomas Killington says:

    My brother recently moved into his first home. He has been looking for quality furniture to fill the house to make it look elegant and pretty. I didn’t realize that hand-made furniture, like European styles, uses less chemicals making it safer and more naturally beautiful. I’ll be sure to let my brother know about these benefits.

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