Most of us are familiar with the fun-filled, malleable comfort of bean bags. Maybe you had one in the corner of your childhood bedroom, or a few hanging out in your college dorm, but at one point or another, you’ve been able to jump into the middle of the beloved piece of furniture. While you might think they’re a recent development in the furniture industry, bean bags have had tons of uses throughout history and continue to be a popular piece in today’s homes.
Where Did The Bean Bag Originate? While they weren’t quite using them as furniture, ancient Egyptians found many uses for small, leather pouches filled with pebbles or dried beans. Starting in around 2000 BCE, these bags were used for games and recreational activities for thousands of years. In China, Tai Chi practitioners made use of similar small bags by trying to keep them up in the air with their bodies, an archaic version of every college students favorite pastime—hacky sack.
Native Americans also found ways to incorporate these tiny bean bags into their group games. They filled animal bladders with dried beans or corn and played a game similar to today’s popular backyard sport corn-hole, or bean bag toss. Two boards are placed at opposite ends of a space, elevated slightly on one end with a hole cut through the middle. Each side tosses four bags, aiming for the hole or at least attempting to stick a landing on the board.
It wasn’t until centuries later, however, that we started thinking bigger.
The First Bean Bag Okay, it wasn’t actually a bean bag as we know it today, but the first chair created to respond to the user and form around their body was patented by Roger Dean. Dubbed the Sea Urchin Chair, it was a round puff of foam that sank down and around you when you plopped into it. Instead of beans, the foam enveloped the sitter and paved a path to the bean bag we all know and love today.
The first true “bean” bag was designed in 1969 by Italian design firm Zanatta Design. Their team tried to cater to the flower power generation and create something more fluid and modern. Their bean bag was a leather pouch filled at first with thermocol pellets and then later replaced with shredded poly-foams. These fills are pretty similar to what most companies use today, though the outer shells have changed quite a bit with the times.
Today’s Bean Bag In the 80’s, the love affair with the bean bag subsided slightly, but the 90’s brought back bean-filled furniture of all shapes and sizes. You weren’t really living until your room featured a fluffy, soft bean-filled piece of furniture in a funky color (Bonus points for fur!) Bean bags may have just been for kids or teenagers in the 90’s, but they certainly take on a different look today.
The resurgence lead to homes filled with the similar, but safety regulations hadn’t been imposed on these pieces of furniture. By 1995, several children had crawled into the casings and inhaled the filling, leading to the Consumer Product Safety Commission to require all bean bags made moving forward to have childproof zippers. These zippers prevent tiny hands from getting where they shouldn’t, making them much more reliable accessories.
Bean bags have taken on a more modern look, with softer, often interchangeable covers and more luxurious fillings than the foam beads we can all surely remember grinding into the carpet in the living room. The modern designs fit into our environments and contemporary aesthetics well and are comfier than ever—a huge bonus!
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