Rattan furniture was conceived of almost by accident. Originally, in the 1840s during the start of the Industrial Revolution, China opened a number of ports and began trading with the United States. When the shipment started coming to America from China, raw cane rattan was used to secure the cargo and keep it from falling off the ship. Typically after it reached America it was tossed away on the docks.
All it took was one man by the name of Cyrus Wakefield to see the potential of this material to create an entire generation of modern patio furniture made of rattan. Wakefield gathered rattan at Constitution Wharf that was left behind from cargo and made a chair out of the material. This was the start of one man’s great empire built of rattan in a town that was eventually named after him.
Wakefield, who was from New Hampshire, once owned a grocery store and was focused on finding a business in the trash and recyclables industry because this could lead to revenue. It was through this search that he stumbled across rattan.
What is rattan? Rattan that is used in today’s modern patio furniture from sofas to tables is a material made from over 600 types of palms in Asia, Africa and other locations. Rattan is popular to use for patio sets because it is durable, weather-resistant and considered somewhat environmentally friendly because the trees grow back much quicker than other lumber that could be used an outdoor sofa for example. Wakefield, now considered the father of modern wicker furniture, additionally saw other opportunities as he realized his customers were struggling to make the furniture such as outdoor chairs because they were having a tough time pulling it apart properly to get to the right part of the rattan to made the outdoor sofa sectionals out of.
Wakefield began competitively making more and more outdoor patio sets and modern loungers from the rattan materials he was heavily importing into the United States. At one point, he had several competitors in which he eventually merged with Heywood Brothers gradually increasing production of modern rattan furniture.
Early in the 1900s wicker furniture began declining in popularity, but has recently seen resurgence in interest of stylish modern outdoor patio sets, modern lounger beds, pool chairs, tables and other stylish rattan. These days some of it is made out of a synthetic rattan as well.