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History and Inspiration of Height Adjustable Desks

Height adjustable desks in today's modern technological era are far more versatile than ever. Today we will take a look at the history of adjustable desks & electric desks and explore some famous people who preferred working using standing desks. Sure back in those times, electric motors were unavailable so everything had to be done manually, but many major historical figures accomplished big things working from a standing position. We will also look at the early warning signs that suggest the sedentary lifestyle is adverse to your health.

Origins of Height Adjustable Desks

It is hard for one to give an exact date when the first standing desk came into existence. However, some signs point us back over 600 years ago to the 1400s! During the 1700s, owning a standing desk was a symbol of wealth. An era where having the luxury of a standing desk allowed for the observation of books, maps, and other documents from a "bird's eye view"

In the 18th and 19th centuries, office life involved much less sitting than today. A self-help book from 1858 suggested that people practice penmanship skills on their feet since "nearly half" of all business writing happened from a standing desk. The hype caused a wide spread of patents filed for hand cranks on desks. Birthing the first models of "adjustable desks." Hand cranks allowed for the adjustment of the standing desks to suit different needs of users. 

Famous Adjustable Desk Users

Now you might be wondering who has used a standing desk as it may seem so new. We will chronologically go through history and touch on some monumental people who preferred working while standing. Going back to the 15th century, and potentially the most well known of all, Leonardo Da Vinci. Da Vinci came up with many inventions from a standing desk. Some including parachutes, flying machines, and armoured vehicles. You could say his creative juices were flowing standing up. He also painted some of this most well-known pieces of art, as he frequently preferred to work while standing up to keep his entire body active and mobile. 

The 1600s to 1800s

At the University of Cambridge, standing desks were the new hype in libraries around 1626. The idea of writing while standing became the foundation of intellectual thought. Making its way from England to France in the 18th century, the mental and creative advantages from standing desks fell into the lap of French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon formulated many battle plans and strategies from his standing desk. It allowed him to think quicker on his feet.

At the same time on the other side of the Atlantic, Thomas Jefferson used a standing desk while drafting the Declaration of Independence. He developed a "tall desk" with six peg legs to increase stability. It featured a slanted top that could adjust with a ratchet stand and was large enough for a folio. Jefferson is said to have come up with many famous architectural blueprints from this desk.

The 19th Century

Finally making our way to the 19th century we have Nobel Prize-winning novelist Ernest Hemingway, Great British author Charles Dickens, and Britain's wartime prime minister Winston Churchill. Hemingway, in an interview published in the Paris Review described his behaviour: "A working habit he has had from the beginning, Hemingway stands when he writes. He stands in a pair of his oversized loafers on the worn skin of a lesser kudu — the typewriter and the reading board chest-high opposite him." 

Dickens also had a standing desk in his work space described as having "books all round up to the ceiling and down to the ground; a standing desk on which he writes; and all manner of comfortable, easy chairs." One could argue the standing desk aided the creative process, helping him write such timeless classics — lastly, Winston Churchill. Churchill preferred a standing desk for working on his many books and speeches. Standing up and working allowed him to spot mistakes and corrections with a keen eye.

Early Signs of Sedentary Working

A sedentary lifestyle is a problem today. Studies today might warn, that time spent sitting correlates with heart disease and early mortality, but these worries go back centuries. Job Orton, the Presbyterian minister, advised in 1797: “A sedentary life may be injurious. It must, therefore, be your resolute care to keep your body as upright as possible when you read and write; never stoop your head nor bend your breast. To prevent this, you should get a standing desk."

It doesn't stop there. Dr. Ludwig Wilhelm Johannes Kotelmann in 1899 published a book called School Hygiene. He dedicates an entire section to the ergonomics of the school desk, discussing factors such as backrest positioning, desktop height, and distance between chair and desk. In the chapter, he also mentions the health benefits of working upright and includes a design for an early height-adjustable desk.

Height Adjustable Desks Today

Even though the benefits from standing were well known or suspected long before the 21st century; the Industrial Revolution changed everything. As technology advanced the American workforce, machines replaced the work of what use to be done by humans. More people now find themselves working at a desk, a desk that can't stand. Today 20% of jobs are physically active, back in 1960, only 15.5% of jobs were sedentary.

Trends of standing desks we are experiencing today is a reaction against our increasingly sedentary lifestyle, both at home and work. More and more research is providing data that proves what people have suspected since 1700. Which is sitting too much comes at a cost to one's health. Signs point to adjustable desks being here to stay. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, since 2014 the number of companies providing a standing desk for employees has increased by 33%.

We might have been slow to change from our sedentary ways, but thanks for the momentum of interest in office ergonomics, offices in 10 years will likely have more activity embedded into the work culture compared to today. Ergonomic office accessories will continue to grow in popularity as technology keeps getting better.