Thonet in Boppard
Michael Thonet, born on July 2nd 1796 in Boppard am Rhein, had taken over the management of the furniture workshop of his father, Franz Anton Thonet, in 1819.
In 1830 Michael Thonet began his first experiments with producing furniture parts - mainly for chairs and armchairs – from separate thin veneer strips. These were boiled in glue and, while still hot, put in a mould and compressed. After cooling, the furniture parts retained the predefined shape required. The crest rail and splat were the first parts that Michael Thonet produced using this method. Later, the side parts of chairs, the armrests of armchairs and the stretchers of the chair legs were also produced with this technique. Almost no wood was lost with this means of production. Michael Thonet used walnut or cherry veneers for the visible exterior parts, and lesser quality of wood for the invisible interior parts.
„Hence, bent-wood furniture was invented. The Rhineland public liked the elegant shapes and lightness, the durability and elasticity at a relatively cheap price. It was predictable that this type of sitting furniture would soon bring in high sales and enjoy widespread popularity.“
Over time, Thonet further improved and refined his production methods, and by 1836, had standardized them to such an extent, that in a way, the term mass production could be used to describe them. To corroborate his claims about the advantage of his production method, Michael Thonet explained to the Lower Austrian Chamber of Commerce in 1842 that as a result of it he had about 800 chairs in stock.
Michael Thonet wanted to protect the production method that he developed and in 1840, he applied to the royal government in Berlin for a patent „on the specific method of giving an appropriate shape to furniture wood by means of a press“. However, this request was rejected on the grounds of lack of novelty. Between May and October 1841 he therefore filed patents in France, England and Russia, to rehabilitate the company´s now troubled finances through sales. However, the worth of the patents could not be exploited, since orders were few or were placed on the condition that Thonet would be personally involved in the production abroad. The financial pressure on the family grew. During this precarious time, the State Chancellor Prince Clemens von Metternich was on vacation at his castle Johannisberg, just a few Kilometers from Boppard. Just at this time Michael Thonet took part in a regional exhibition in Koblenz and the chancellors attention was drawn to Thonet‘s products.
Being a confirmed advocate of mercantile politics, and always interested in attracting new industries and trades to Austria, he encouraged Michael Thonet to move to Vienna. „My dear, this is all nice and well. But in Boppard you will always remain a poor man. Come to Vienna, I shall recommend you there at court. The trip will cost you nothing. You can travel with the cabinet courier from Frankfurt to Vienna.“ Michael Thonet accepted this invitation in the spring of 1842. The creditors, who had provided the financial means for the application for and granting of the patents, consequently lost all faith in Michael Thonet‘s firm and had the property of the spouses impounded. His wife Anna, the sons Michael and Jakob traveled to Vienna on September 8th 1842. Franz, August, Joseph stayed in Boppard for a while. The eldest son Franz intended, together with a certain Dr. Schmitz, to manage a „partnership company“ in Boppard, „more particularly in St. Martin, where I...already have two carpenter‘s benches“. This plan did not come to fruition, however. In the autumn of 1843, the family permanently moved to Vienna, „after the public auction of the property of Michael Thonet“.