German-born Michael Thonet (1796-1871) carved wood furniture from European beech until he learned the craft of steam bending. By the mid-1830s he had improved the process to such a degree that mass production of his designs was possible. In 1842 his German workshop was seized by creditors and he moved his family of six daughters and five sons to Austria where his bold determination contributed to the development of Austria’s industrialization.
In 1842, Thonet was given a patent on bending wood and his manufacturing company, Gebruber Thonet, was the only company in the Austro-Hungarian Empire that could legally bend wood for furniture. After his death at the age of 75 in Vienna, his family continued producing bentwood furniture, and though new designs were introduced, the company continues to make bentwood furniture to Thonet’s original specifications.